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Danger continues for Honduran protestors

Many indigenous Hondurans and others who oppose the de facto government of Honduras are still in danger according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which conducted another series of interviews and investigations in the country from May 15 – 18. The IACHR has visited Honduras on three occasions after the forced removal of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009.

The new findings support its earlier observations and recent reports from indigenous rights and other human rights organizations.

“… the Commission expresses its deep concern over the continuation of human rights violations in the context of the coup d’état that took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009. Without prejudice to the progress made toward the restoration of democratic institutions, the IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression have received information about the murders of a number of persons, including journalists and human rights defenders,” reads an IACHR press release issued May 19.

“The IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur have expressed their deep concern over the absence of effective investigations that could lead to the clarification of these events. Without prejudice to the high rate of criminality that in general exists in Honduras, the IACHR believes that the complaints received could correspond to the same pattern of violence that the IACHR reported in ‘Honduras: Human Rights and the Coup d’État,’ published Jan. 20, 2010.”

In the January report, the IACHR found more evidence of severe human rights violations including murder, arbitrary detention, attacks on media equipment and journalists, harassment and rape, among other crimes. Among those who were targeted, as noted in the first report, were indigenous protestors. This assertion is repeated in the new findings.

“… the IACHR would like to state that human rights violations particularly affect those sectors of the population that have been marginalized historically and are most vulnerable, such as. … indigenous and Garifuna people,” according to the statement. The Garifuna are descendants of escaped African slaves and the indigenous Caliponan people.

For members of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) the violations listed in the IACHR statement were the main themes addressed in a recent protest. On May 3, COPINH activists gathered outside President Porfirio Lobo’s house in the capital Tegucigalpa, with tape over their mouths they held signs saying “No More Human Rights Violations,” “I Don’t Want a Murderous Regime” and “No More Intrusions into Education” (referring to mass firings of professors and other staff in various universities) and against a False Truth Commission (convened in April).

Salvador Zuniga, COPINH president, asserted in a press statement that the protestors were forced to leave the area by soldiers who beat them.

“This shows that we continue with the coup d’état with Porfirio Lobo who remains unmasked, again, and is repressive.

“There exists the expectation of arriving at the truth, but in truth, the Truth Commission is a maneuver by Washington to whitewash the coup.”

Another human rights agency that has been involved in the Honduran struggle, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), did not use the word “whitewash” in its assessment, but it saw problems with the recently formed Truth Commission in Honduras.

In its analysis of the new Truth Commission, CEJIL staff noted that the de facto Honduran government had charged the new commission to “clarify the events that occurred before and after June 29, 2009 with the goal of identifying the acts that lead to the crisis situation and providing ways of avoiding them in the future to the Honduran people.

“This definition does not expressly include the obligation to investigate human rights violations that occurred as a result of the coup d’état. … they will continue with impunity and particularly the voices of the victims will not be heard.

“CEJIL is calling on all social, national and international agencies to urge the Honduran government to rectify this.”

Mauricio Herrera, CEJIL’s communications director, said they have approached many international organizations as well as sending a letter directly to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He added that along with the IACHR, the U.N.’s High Commission on Human Rights is also advocating for significant change in Honduras.

The complete report of the IACHR’s May investigation will be released in the next few months. In the meantime, international pressure is still being placed on Honduras, and indigenous activists plan on more protest actions.