(IPS) – Local and international human rights organisations and left-wing legislators condemned the suspension of constitutional rights in Honduras during the night-time curfew, which tightened the state of siege in effect since President Manuel Zelaya was ousted Sunday.
Parliament approved a decree Wednesday issued by Roberto Micheletti – who was appointed by Congress to replace Zelaya – that suspends the right to freedom of association and movement from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM and allows people to be arrested and held without charge for more than 24 hours.
Congresswoman Doris Gutiérrez of the leftist Democratic Unification (UD) party told IPS that "this suspension of guarantees is a temptation and an open door to the declaration of a total state of siege at any time, under hazy arguments."
Human rights defender Bertha Oliva commented to IPS that the suspension of four constitutional articles is "an extremely grave violation of human rights; we are on the threshold of a total state of siege."
The decision targets protesters who have taken to the streets since Sunday’s coup d’etat to demand the return of Zelaya, who was pulled out of his house at gunpoint by military troops early Sunday morning and put on an air force plane to Costa Rica.
The media have reported a brutal police crackdown on demonstrators and a government-imposed media blackout in the main cities since Sunday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Organisation of American States (OAS) to "press Honduras’ de facto government to ensure full respect for human rights guarantees."
In its letter addressed to OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza Thursday, the New York-based rights watchdog expresses "concern over reports of serious abuses against demonstrators, and the Honduran Congress’s approval of an emergency decree suspending fundamental rights".
"[A]ny attempt to suspend non-derogable rights should be categorically condemned," HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco said in the letter. "The authorities should be clearly reminded that acts of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and enforced disappearances are absolutely prohibited and subject to prosecution as international crimes."
The international community has unanimously condemned the coup. The United Nations General Assembly demanded "the immediate and unconditional restoration of the legitimate and constitutional government".
And the OAS gave Honduras until Saturday to return Zelaya to power or be suspended from the hemispheric body, under article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Representatives from the OAS member nations instructed Insulza to conduct "diplomatic initiatives aimed at restoring democracy and the rule of law and the reinstatement" of the democratically elected president, whose term ends in January.
Zelaya, who alienated his own party as well as the wealthier conservative elites after taking a turn to the left, antagonised the other branches of government, including Congress and the Supreme Court, by trying to hold a non-binding referendum on the possibility of amending the constitution.
The legal authorities and parliament declared the informal ballot unconstitutional because referendums cannot be held in an election year, precipitating a series of events that culminated in Sunday’s coup.
Congressman Antonio Rivera of the right-wing National Party (PN) told IPS that the suspension of fundamental rights "does not affect freedom of expression, and was adopted to guarantee peace and public safety."
All European Union ambassadors have been withdrawn from the country, as have the ambassadors from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and a number of other Latin American countries. The United States announced the suspension of joint military activities, and the three Central American countries bordering Honduras – Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala – suspended cross-border trade.
Micheletti defied the OAS ultimatum, saying he would not resign "because there was no coup here, as has been misreported.
"What happened here was a constitutional succession, where by law it was my position (as head of Congress) to replace Zelaya because he violated the constitution and put himself above the law."
After announcing that he would return to the country on Thursday with Insulza and accompanied by other Latin American presidents, Zelaya postponed his return until Saturday.
A warrant has been issued for his arrest on 18 different charges.
Demonstrations both against and in favour of Zelaya continue in the streets of Tegucigalpa and several other cities.
His supporters marched to OAS headquarters Thursday. "Our resistance is peaceful, and as you see, we are in the streets exercising our right to protest," Rafael Alegría, a leader of a small farmers’ movement and one of the organisers of the demonstration, told IPS.
"It doesn’t matter when President Zelaya comes back; we are not leaving, we are going to wait for him here," he said, adding that he did not rule out the possibility of a "constitutional" uprising, because the constitution states that no one owes obedience to a "government of usurpers."
The polarisation of society was also reflected by Wednesday’s candlelight march to the local U.N. offices to ask the international community to "listen to the arguments of the Honduran people," as Armida López of the Democratic Civic Union, an umbrella group of anti-Zelaya organisations of young people, civic groups, churches and citizens, remarked to IPS.
Analyst Isolda Arita told IPS that "the Zelaya case not only shows that what we have witnessed was a coup d’etat, the product of the failure of the political and economic elites to solve their crises, but also reflects an unprecedented level of confrontation, division and polarisation."