International Observation Mission for the Human Rights Situation in Honduras Preliminary Report

  Confirmed systematic human rights violations in Honduras since the coup d’etat


i. Introduction

An International Human Rights Commission composed of fifteen independent professionals (legal experts, journalists, anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and human rights experts) from Germany, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Spain, Nicaragua, Peru, Sweden, and Uruguay, was formed in Honduras on July 17 to verify human rights violations that have occurred in Honduras during and since the coup d’état of June 28, with the aim of presenting observations and recommendations concerning the situation to the OAS, the UN the European Union and their member States.

Divided into four working groups, the mission has received testimony concerning human rights abuses in various parts of the Honduran territory: Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Olancho and Colón. With this aim, interviews have been carried out with different human rights organizations and experts; representatives of social movements, unions and media organizations, journalists, members of the National Congress, representatives from political parties, the General State Prosecutor, the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, General Director of the National Police, international aid agencies, representatives from the United Nations, from the diplomatic corps, the President of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Public Defender, the Department of Immigration, and relatives of President Manuel Zelaya.

The International Mission is made up of fifteen individuals from the following human rights organizations and networks: International Human Rights Federation (FIDH), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Copenhagen Initiative for Central America and Mexico (CIFCA), FIAN International, the Inter-American Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development (PIDHDD), the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES-Colombia), Austria-Suedwind, Human Rights Institute of the Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Cañas (IDHUCA -El Salvador), Association Pro-Human Rights in Peru (APRODEH), the Institute for Policy Studies on Latin America and Africa (IEPALA, Spain), National Coordinator for Human Rights of Peru, Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ-Uruguay), Solidarity World (Belgium), and IBIS (Denmark), Continental Social Alliance, Alternative Connections, and the Center for Tricontinental Studies.

ii. Facts Confirmed by the Mission

1. On June 28, 2009 at 5:15 am, after violently overpowering the presidential guard charged with his protection, soldiers from the armed forces invaded the Presidential House and kidnapped the Constitutional President of Honduras, Mr. Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The capture of the president took place without the presentation of the corresponding court order. Immediately afterward he was transferred to an air base and then taken to Costa Rica, according to testimony taken from the President himself, by means of an airplane that took off at 6:10 am from Honduras.
The attack on the Presidential House was carried out using violence against the goods and occupants of the house. The facts described were reported by members of the guard of the overthrown Constitutional President, as well as by relatives of the President who were present in the Presidential House on the day of the coup.

2. On the morning of June 28, the Congress of the Republic issued a “condemnation of the conduct of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales for repeated violations of the Constitution and the law and failure to observe the resolutions and decisions issued by the relevant administrative bodies,” removing him from his charge as President despite the lack of a constitutional or legal norm that would permit such a removal, and designating Roberto Micheletti Baín as “Constitutional President of the Republic” (Congressional Decree No. 141-09).

3. On June 30 of 2009, although it was dated June 30 of 2008, Executive Decree No. 011-2009 was issued, signed by Mr. Micheletti, suspending the following constitutional rights: personal liberty, “detention and confinement for more than 24 hours” (sic), freedom of association and assembly, the right to freedom of movement, to leave, enter, and stay within the national territory. The aforementioned rights are detailed in articles 69, 71,72, 78, 79, 81, 84, 99 of the Constitution. The Decree established that these rights would be suspended from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am throughout the country – in accordance with a State of Emergency – for a period of seventy-two hours from the passage of the Decree.

The indicated rule, – which as of today and 23 days after it was enacted continues in force – not only does not include a mechanism to extend the suspension of said rights, but also to date the Decree has not been published in the official newspaper of the Honduran Republic. It should also be noted that article 211 of the Constitution of Honduras stipulates that regulations must be published in order to be valid. The Honduran Constitution (art 187) contemplates the restriction or suspension of rights exclusively in the case of invasion of national territory, serious disturbance of the peace, epidemics or other disasters.

4. The order for the suspension of these fundamental rights of the Honduran people continues to be applied despite their expiration after the 72 hours originally stipulated in the decree that issued these restrictions. No subsequent decree exists that has formally extended the suspension of these rights. Furthermore, the hours for the curfew imposed in the capital and in the interior of the country are changed randomly on a daily basis. These changes are communicated via announcements in various media.

5. There is uncertainty about the schedule of the curfew and the scope of the suspension of rights. In questioning people about the curfew, officials interviewed by the Mission reported varying hours and expressed differences about the content.

6. The Mission was puzzled by the attitude of support for the coup demonstrated by the highest ranks of the Honduran Catholic church and by representatives of various evangelical churches, as well as by the implication of their active involvement in organizing demonstrations of support convened by and for the de facto government.

7. The International Mission for Human Rights in Honduras has identified the existence of grave violations of human rights since the coup d’etat. It has also confirmed the lack of protection for numerous individuals as a result of the inadequate response from the institutions that are constitutionally responsible for monitoring respect for the fundamental human rights of Hondurans. In particular, the Mission calls attention to grave omissions in the fulfillment of the functional obligations of the National Human Rights Commissioner, Mr Ramón Custodio.

8. The fundamental rights violations reported to the Mission included a significant number of extrajudicial executions, hundreds of arbitrary detentions, multiple threats, curtailment of freedom of expression and information, as well as undue restrictions on the freedom of movement, altogether signaling a clear context of political persecution that especially affects political and union leaders, human rights defenders, social activists, journalists, foreign citizens, and others.

9. Indeed, since the coup d’etat took place, and in relation to it, several distinct sources confirmed by the Mission have reported the following individual deaths: ISIS OBED MURILLO MENCIAS, 19 years old, killed by shots fired by the Armed Forces during the July 5 march on the Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa by supporters of the ousted president; GABRIEL FINO NORIEGA, journalist with Radio Estelar in the Department of Atlántida, assassinated by seven bullet wounds on July 3 when he was leaving his place of work; RAMON GARCIA, a leader in the Democratic Unification party (UD), who was forced off a public transport vehicle upon returning from a demonstration and then riddled with bullets by unknown persons in the area of Santa Barbara; ROGER IVAN BADOS, ex-chairman of the textile worker union and current activist in the UD and the Popular Resistence Front (BP), who received death threats following the coup and was shot to death after being taken by force from his home on July 11 in San Pedro Sula; VICKY HERNANDEZ CASTILLO (SONNY EMELSON HERNANDEZ) , member of the LGTB community, killed in San Pedro Sula during the curfew by a bullet wound to the eye and displaying signs of strangulation, and an unidentified individual, wearing a t-shirt imprinted with the so called “cuarta urna,” was found dead on July 3 in the “La Montañita” sector of Tegucigalpa, a place where a clandestine cemetery for extrajudicial executions during the 80’s was located. The Mission is continuing to verify other reports of extrajudicial executions.

10. From the Center for Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH), the Mission has received related reports of forced disappearances of: ANASTASIO BARRERA, 55 years old, affiliated w/ith the National Union of Rural Workers, kidnapped in San Juan Pueblo, Atlántida, on July 5, 2009 by four individuals wearing police vests. It was also reported that MANUEL SEVILLA, 19 years old, was disappeared in San Pedro Sula on July 12 after returning from a demonstration.

11. In terms of violations of personal integrity, the Mission took note of threats taking place since the coup affecting diverse sectors of Honduran society: journalists critical of the de facto government, mayors, union members, leaders of popular organizations, human rights defenders, teachers, and congressional representatives. We have documented more than a hundred individuals in this situation.

12. We have received information relating to politically motivated uses of the legitimate State capacity to investigate and sanction individuals linked to criminal acts. A case that illustrates this tendency is the father of Isis Obed Murillo, DON JOSÉ DAVID MURILLO SÁNCHEZ, who was captured after giving testimony to the Prosecutor for Human Rights concerning the murder of his son. His capture and subsequent detention was justified on the basis of an old legal process that had been discontinued, and which was reactivated after Murillo turned to the justice system to report the murder of his son. From a reading of the dossier and interviews with judges, witnesses, lawyers and Mr. Murillo himself, a series of violations were deduced regarding the right to due process, defense, liberty, etc. Other reports received by the Mission concern legal proceedings related to officials of the deposed government.

13. According to information given to the Mission by the General Director of National Police, Mr. Escoto Salinas, at this time 1275 arrests related to curfew violations and other reasons related to the anti-coup protests have been registered.

14. With regard to the arbitrary arrests of foreigners, it bears mention that these have risen significantly in recent weeks; in partcular, the arrests of Nicaraguans who have been affected disproportionately by arbitrary and irregular detentions. During this week alone there have been warrantless forceful home entries and arbitrary detentions of at least 20 Nicaraguans.

15. On the 20th and 21st of July, members of the Mission confirmed that the human rights of the following Nicaraguan youths had been violated: JARLEN MANUEL TORRES TORRES, NOE EMILIO AVELLAN RUIZ, TULIO RAFAEL BENDAÑA MEJÍA, ALEJANDRO JOSÉ GARCÍA OBREGÓN, PABLO YASE BENOARIA, JORGE DANILO FLORES, FRANCISCO ISRAEL CONNOR, CARLOS DAVID BENDAÑA MEJÍA, JOSE GONZÁLEZ, DARWIN ANTONIO REYES LAZO, MIGUEL ÁNGEL AGUILAR FERNÁNDEZ, HENRY GEOVANY MARTÍNEZ LÓPEZ and DAVID JIRÓN. They were arbitrarily detained, accused of administrative visa-related infractions, were subject to bad treatment, were not offered consular assistance, nor were they held in adequate conditions of detention. In some cases they were held in police cells with other people accused of common crimes, and had access to neither a judge nor to a public defender. These acts were carried out by members of the National Civilian Police.

16. The authorities justify these arrests citing the existence of “external threats” to the de facto regime. To date, the arrests have not provided any evidence whatsoever that the more than 100 people affected were engaged in actions that could have compromised national security. To the contrary, many of the arrested are businesspeople, workers and migrant, some of them with solid family ties, deeply and legally rooted in Honduras.

17. Numerous local media outlets contribute to this xenophobic policy and practice by providing sensationalist coverage of the detention of Nicaraguans and asking the population to denounce the presence of foreign citizens engaged in suspicious activities.

18. The Mission has received multiple complaints related to the forced conscription of youths by the Army in rural zones, with the aim of integrating them into the reserves.

19. In terms of freedom of expression, we have confirmed grave restrictions on freedom of expression following the coup d’etat. In Tegucigalpa, Channel 36, Radio TV Maya and Radio Globo were militarized as part of the operation of silencing the media that took place along with the coup. Transmission of Channel 36 was temporarily suspended and we have received reports, which we have confirmed, of assaults on various media stations and death threats against journalists, as well as the blocking of transmission, phone tapping, and blocking internet access to media stations.

20. The Mission was informed of the machine gunning, after the coup, of the studio of Radio Juticalpa in Olancho, and of the death threats made against journalists like the director of the newspaper El Libertador, Mr. JHONNY JOSÉ LAGOS ENRIQUEZ, and LUIS GALDANES, host of the radio program “Tras la Verdad” [“Going After the Truth”]. Mr. Lagos is also being subjected to a judicial lawsuit filed by the Attorney General of Honduras Dr. Luis Rubi, based on article 349 of the Penal Code of Honduras which only applies to those employed as public servants, and Mr. Lagos Enríquez is not a public servant.

21. In the city of Progreso, on the other hand, the armed forces are occupying Radio PROGRESO and silencing their broadcasts, harassment of the Jesuit priest ISMAEL MORENO, temporarily detaining the journalist ROMELL ALEXANDER GÓMEZ MEJÍA, and in the case of the journalist ROMEL ROMERO, have made death threats via the cell phone of his wife, Mrs. MIRIAM ESPINAL. Likewise, the Reflection and Communication Team (Equipo de Reflexión y Comunicación – ERIC) , the collaborative arm of Radio Progreso, has been the target of threats and harassment on behalf of the armed forces that have permanently placed themselves outside their headquarters in the Casa San Ignacio, Canán Boulevard, in Progreso.

22. OSMAN DANILO COREA, journalist of Channel 26 TV Atlántica, in the Department (like a state) of Colón is experiencing a similar situation as the aforementioned cases. He told Mission International that the military has indicated to the communication department that they may not transmit alternate versions or information from those of the de facto president Micheletti. Mr. Corea explained that he received a call from the Captain Tercero, Chief of the Castilla Naval Base near Trujillo, prohibiting him from broadcasting information regarding the various marches of the “white shirts” (supporters of the de facto government), threatening him with decommission of the station if he refuses, adding “because we have ordered it, the armed forces have the power.” Mission International also received a formal complaint of harassment and persecution suffered by the journalist of the television program “La Cumbre” [The Summit], Mr. JORGE ORLANDO ANDERSON of the town Bonito Oriental, on behalf of the soldiers of the previously referenced Castilla Naval Base.

23. The journalist NAHUM PALACIOS of Tocoa, related that he has been threatened by the same Captain Tercero of the Castilla Naval Base on 28 June 2009, who subsequently ordered the detention of 4 members of Aguan Television, Channel 5. Mr. Wilfredo Paz, journalist, President of the Teachers Union of Tocoa and Director of the news program at the Center for News of Colón, has received anonymous threats to burn down the station if he continues to broadcast, and the same Captain Tercero ordered the cable company to cut off transmission of Mr. Palacios’s program.

24. The Mission has also received concrete reports of the intervention of paramilitary groups composed of civilian allegedly linked to drug-trafficking cartels and to private security firms providing services to certain businesses. They wear camouflage uniforms and operate in conjunction with members of Battalion XV of the army Honduran Army in the Department of Colón.

25.The Mission has confirmed, as well, threats and coercion of workers in their places of work in response to their attendance of marches against the coup; They have also experiences coercive action to guarantee their obligatory attendance in marches called together by the de facto government and private businesses.

iii. Conclusions

The International Mission confirms the existence of grave and systematic violations of human rights in Honduras subsequent to the coup d’état. Some of these violations originate from the application of norms in open violation of the international agreements for the protection of human rights, the militarization of security functions and state institutions, abuses on the part of the State security forces, and lack of response from the guaranteed mechanisms of the State.

One of the fundamental conclusions of this visit consist of the determination that Decree 11-2009, the suspension of guarantees, establishes restrictions of a wide gamut of fundamental rights, including personal freedoms, mobility, among others, such that its application would substantively violate international obligations of the State as it is written.

The faults of Decree 11-2009 render illegitimate the methods adopted on the basis of the decree, for example, the detention centers for curfew, unlawful entry of homes by armed forces, and restrictions on freedoms of mobility on the highways.

The International Mission considers that one of their fundamental observations consists in the disestablishment of protection for the numerous persons affected by the grave violations perpetrated before the inadequate response of the institutions that are responsible for overseeing the guarantees of fundamental human rights of the Hondurans. This is evidenced by the obvious lack of resources of the Special Budget for Human Rights, as well as the ineffectiveness of the Supreme Court to decide the legality of the decree for the suspension of guarantees and other protections regarding the violations of fundamental rights occurring in relation to the coup, and the negligence of the National Commission for Human Rights.

Moreover, it is possible to maintain that certain institutions of the right have assumed an open role complicit with the de facto authorities, making the case for the omission of their constitutional and legal functions.

The coup has culminated in a highly precarious situation in the guardianship of the rights of various collectives that were considered vulnerable since before 28 June 2009, as has occurred with the LGTB community.

We have confirmed serious limitations on freedom of expression and intimidations intended to restrict the circulation of information criticizing the de facto regime. At this time, we consider a portion of the mass communication intermediaries of the country have had an attitude inconsistent with the plurality of ideas and democracy. On occasion, these intermediaries have echoed the openly repressive positions and incited violence against the supporters of the deposed government.

We wish to emphasize the outstanding role that various defenders of human rights have played and continued to play at this moment, who despite adversity, lack of resources, and the risk to their integrity and lives, have lifted their voices to renounce the abuses, protect victims, and defend the institution of democracy.

iv. Recommendations

To the International Community of Nation States

1- Take all action necessary to guarantee the pleasure and enjoyment of the human right of the Honduran population;

2- Maintain a firm position condemning the coup d’état, demanding the restitution of President Zelaya, and the reestablishment of constitutional order;

3- Maintain the suspension of diplomatic relations with the de facto regime, as well as any economic support or financing managed by the institutions of the State involved in the coup;

4- Refuse recognition of the results of elections called by the de facto government, as was also expressed by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, in addition to refusing recognition of any decision adopted by said government;

Concerning bilateral relations with Honduras

5- The ambassadors present in the country should continue and reinforce the appropriate methods to contribute to the protection of the defenders of human rights, civil society activists, among others, by means of visits to the offices of the people and organizations at risk

Constant invitations and exchanges with the same

Logistic support that is pertinent to their security

Implementation of an Alert and Emergency System immediately accessible to persons at risk

In conjunction with international NGOs, open additional support to Honduran civil society, to reinforce their capacity to protect and monitor human rights. In particular, it is important to increase the human and financial resources so that they can tend to the needs within the country

6- International cooperation should maintain suspension of budgetary and programmatic support to State Institutions that have been involved in the coup d’état; maintain humanitarian aid , cooperation con the municipalities and with the Honduran civil society organizations;

7- The Unites States should take action against those actors principally responsible for the coup, such as the suspension of visas and freezing overseas bank accounts.

Relations between the European Union and Honduras

8- With respect to the relationship between Honduras and the European Union, they should initiate the following actions:

The democratic clause as articulated in Article 1 of the Marco Accord of Cooperation between the European Union and Central America of 1993, that calls for the suspension of cooperation in the case of serious interruption of constitutional order

Abstention of diplomatic relations at the level of vice-ministers of the illegitimate government, as well as with all of the diplomatic representatives of Honduras in the European Union that support the de facto government

Suspension, most importantly of budgetary support, of all of the programs directed at support of the State institutions that have been involved in the coup d’état

Maintain the decision to suspend negotiations of the Association Accord between the European Union and Central America until constitutional order is restored in Honduras

Suspension of Honduras from the General System of Preference (SGP plus) of the European Union

To the International Organizations

9- The Interamerican Commission for Human Rights should continue to monitor the human rights situation in Honduras and submit recommendations to protect the population in Honduras, in this sense we urge the following actions:
Continue to execute cautionary measures to protect the persons in at-risk situations
Briefly visit the situation in the country and submit a report with the recommendations the ICHR finds advisable

10- The Security Council of the United Nations Organization (UN) should denounce the coup d’état in Honduras and should take measures that will contribute to the reestablishment of constitutional order

11- The UN should activate the appropriate mechanisms within their systems of protection of Human Rights to confront the Human Rights situation in Honduras, in particular the should consider the pertinence of:
Adopting a resolution at the level of the Human Rights Council
Establishment of permanent office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Honduras
Make visits to verify the especially compelling accounts concerning the freedom of expression, human rights defenders, and the independence of judges and lawyers

12- The International Criminal Court (ICC) should act preemptively. Accordingly, we solicit the General Prosecutor of the ICC to take immediate steps leading to a possible criminal investigation according to regulation of Article 7, Number g of the Rome Statute, which outlines the standards for the crime of political persecution.

In light of the gravity of the human rights situation, the national and international organizations involved in Mission International have decided to create a Human Rights Observatory in Honduras as a follow-up to this mission.

The members of the Observation Mission concerning the Human Rights situation in Honduras have been the following people:

Luis Guillermo Pérez (CIFCA)
Marcia Aguiluz (CEJIL)
Viviana Krsticevic (CEJIL)
Martin Wolpold-Bosien (FIAN International)
Jorge Rojas (CODHES)
Benjamín Cuellar (IDHUCA)
Miguel Jugo (National Coordinator of Human Rights Perú)
Javier Mujica (FIDH)
Efraín Olivera (PIDHDD, SERPAJ)
Enrique Santiago (IEPALA, The Federation of Association for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights Spain)
Ellen Verryt (World Solidarity)
Hans Peter Dejgaard (IBIS – Denmark)
Katrin Erlingsen (Presidential Assessor for the Commission for
Development and Economic Cooperation of the German Parliament)
Leo Gabriel (Institute of Cooperative and Intercultural Research – Austria)
Katia Nouten (CIFCA)
Dolores Jarquín (Alianza Social Continental)
Francois Houtart (Center for Tricontinental Studies)