Human rights are taking a beating in Honduras in the aftermath of the June 28 coup d’etat which sent left-wing President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya into exile. Although the corporate controlled media are not reporting it, the de-facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti is employing heavy handed tactics to silence opposition activists and media.
Amnesty International has issued a report based on testimony of witnesses and other evidence that points up the nature of this repression. The full report can be read on the Amnesty International website at www.amnesty.org. It is based on a visit by an AI delegation to Honduras from July 28 through August 1, which interviewed a number of people including some that were being held in detention by coup security forces at the time. It focuses particular attention on police and military repression of a pro-Zelaya, anti-coup demonstration in the community of El Durazno, just outside Tegucigalpa, on July 30. Amnesty International accuses the police, some of whom had disguised their faces with bandanas, on that occasion of charging into a peaceful crowd of demonstrators, arbitrarily detaining people and beating them both while they were trying to escape and while they were in police custody. The report is illustrated with photographs showing welts and other injuries which resulted from police beatings. It also reports that police and soldiers attacked demonstrators by pelting them with rocks.
The AI report also says that the Micheletti coup government has targeted pro-Zelaya media and human rights defenders. Some media outlets have been closed down and others have faced threats. Alex Matamoros, of the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH), tried to come to the defense of some youths who were being beaten by police while in custody on August 12, and found himself targeted also.
When he explained to the police that he was a human rights monitor, they shouted “here there are no human rights’. He was eventually forced to sign a paper saying that he was being charged with “supposed acts of destruction of private property public disorder and terrorism”. The coup government has been claiming that the demonstrations for the return of Zelaya are carried out by foreigners, including Cubans and Venezuelans, and are being financed by the Colombian FARC, Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution. But there is no evidence for any of this; the demonstrators are clearly Honduran citizens, organized by Honduran labor unions and other mass organizations.
The Amnesty International Report points out that the behavior of the Micheletti regime in repressing peaceful protest and freedom of expression is in violation of several articles of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and calls on the regime to cease these violations and punish the perpetrators.
Last week, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (CIDH in Spanish), an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS) carried out a week long study visit to Honduras to assess the human rights situation. Although their full report is not yet available, a preliminary statement by CIDH president Luz Patricia Mejia presents conclusions very similar to those of Amnesty International. According to Telesur, she cited “a pattern of disproportionate use of the public forces [i.e. army and police], arbitrary arrests and control of information directed at limiting public participation” of those sectors of the population who are opposed to the coup. Mejia also denounced the use of curfews, and cruel and degrading treatment of people arrested.
The number of dead resulting from the coup and its aftermath is not fully known, but is believed to be at least eight or nine, including one journalist, two activists of the pro-Zelaya Democratic Unification Party, at least one person killed while demonstrating at the airport when Zelaya tried to return soon after the coup, two schoolteachers killed more recently while demonstrating against the coup near Tegucigalpa, and at least one person murdered near the border when Zelaya made a symbolic re-entry some weeks ago. As there are other people unaccounted for, there may have been more fatalities.
Women’s rights organizations claim that the coup military and police have been using sexual harassment and even rape as mechanisms of political control. The Cuban news agency Prensa Latina reports that Feministas en Resistencia (Feminists in Resistance) and the Centro de Derechos de Mujeres (Womens’ Rights Center) have documented 19 cases of rape carried out by coup military and/or police. “These observations were corroborated by an “International Feminist Observation Mission which included observers from Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the U.S.A. and Guatemala. The Amnesty International report also contains complaints of sexual abuse.
Several regional organizations, including UNASUR, MERCOSUR and the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of America (ALBA), among them encompassing the majority of South American countries, have announced that if these conditions continue and if President Zelaya and constitutional normality are not restored promptly, they will refuse to recognize the results of the presidential and legislative elections presently scheduled for November 29, 2009, meaning that they will consider the government that results from those elections to be illegitimate.