US Representatives ask State Department to Revoke Honduras Certification

December 15, 2016

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are writing to express our concern regarding the grave human rights situation and continuing deterioration of the rule of law in Honduras. We are particularly concerned with the State Department’s certification on September 30, 2016 that the government of Honduras has met conditions Congress placed on 50 percent of the aid to Honduras for Fiscal Year 2016, and ask that you revoke that certification.

As you are aware, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 required the State Department to investigate and report on whether the Honduran central government is taking effective steps to “combat corruption, including investigating and prosecuting government officials credibly alleged to be corrupt,” to implement policies to “improve transparency and strengthen public institutions” including the independence of the judiciary, and to “investigate and prosecute in the civilian justice system members of military and police forces who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, and ensure that the military and police are cooperating in such cases.” It also requires that the government take effective steps to create an accountable police force and to “curtail the role of the military in domestic policing.” Absent these findings and a certification by the State Department, Congress required your agency to withhold 50 percent of the foreign aid funding for Honduras.

We believe the State Department was wrong to certify Honduras’ compliance with these requirements. There is significant evidence that impunity, corruption, and human rights violations continue unabated in Honduras. For example, President Juan Orlando Hernández and his ruling National Party have admitted that they stole funds from the National Health Service and diverted those funds into their 2013 election campaign coffers; yet the Attorney General has not prosecuted them. Héctor Iván Mejia, Director of Planning and Operations for the National Police (the third highest-ranking position), is documented to have committed gross violations of human rights and is still in office. Most recently, a captain in the Honduran Armed Forces and former DEA informant has charged that Samuel Reyes, the Minister of Defense, is a drug trafficker.

While an ostensible cleanup of the police is being enacted to much fanfare, the government’s purging commission itself includes a leader of the 2009 coup. The commission reports that a few hundred allegedly corrupt members of the police have been separated, yet as of this writing not a single case has evidently been forwarded to the Public Ministry for prosecution.

Judicial independence also continues to be undermined, contributing to further impunity. In February 2016, a new Supreme Court was elected by the Honduran Congress in a process widely denounced as non-transparent and illegal. Last October, the government announced it would not restore four judges who were illegally deposed for publicly opposing the coup, although their reinstatement has been ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. That same month, the Honduran Congress named judges to a new anti-corruption court in a process widely criticized by civil society as non-transparent and failing to incorporate the mandated input of civil society.

The military’s role in domestic policing also continues to expand, in violation of the Honduran Constitution. In August 2016, the government announced the creation of two new additional battalions of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), which answers to a military command but performs domestic police functions. Human rights groups have documented multiple committed gross violations of human rights by the PMOP, with impunity. In another alarming example of the military’s expansion in domestic policing, the important task force FUSDNA combines multiple civilian and military agencies, including regular police, in a single body under military supervision.

In addition to the previously mentioned requirements, we note that the 2016 Appropriations Act also mandated that the central government of Honduras create an “autonomous, publicly accountable entity to provide oversight’ of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity of the Northern Triangle; implement policies guaranteeing the consultation of affected local communities and civil society groups, including Indigenous groups, in any activities of the plan; improve transparency; cooperate with commissions against impunity and regional human rights groups; and protect the right of the political opposition, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders and other civil society activists to operate without interference.

Nevertheless, no functioning oversight body for the plan has been enacted. In fact, a new “Law of Secrets” sealing off government records has dramatically decreased transparency. Moreover, the assassination of Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres in March 2016 has highlighted the ongoing and illegal failure of the government to consult with Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous people on the construction of hydroelectric dams and other development projects. Moreover, the freedom of activists such as Cáceres to exercise basic civil liberties continues to be threatened, often fatally. President Hernández himself has repeatedly and publicly charged human rights defenders with undermining the country. The government has still failed to implement an already-weak law designed to protect human rights defenders.

The government has also failed to comply with an order of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights mandating protection of over 300 Hondurans. This illustrates the Honduran government’s ongoing failure to cooperate with regional human rights groups, as Congress’s conditions require. A new Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), formed by the Organization of American States in 2015, has reported that the Honduran government has failed to pass new legislation it has recommended, and that the government does not cooperate with it.

Finally, we are concerned by a recent statement in which the Department of State declared that the United States does not oppose presidential reelection in Honduras, although the Honduran Constitution specifically bars reelection and even makes it a criminal act for a sitting president to advocate it. By issuing this statement just days after President Hernández announced his candidacy for reelection, the State Department signals a disturbing lack of respect for the rule of law in Honduras, along with its support for an administration that has along track record of undermining it.

We ask that you immediately revoke the certification of the 50 percent of funds allocated under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 that are subject to compliance with human rights conditions. More broadly, we ask that you rethink U.S. support for a government with such a long, established track record of human rights violations and concerted disrespect for the rule of law.

Members of Congress Call for Suspension of Security Funding to Honduras

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2016

Reps. Ellison and Johnson Call for Accountability for Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

WASHINGTON– Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Hank Johnson (D-GA), along with 27 Members of the House, sent a letter today to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew expressing growing concern about human rights violations in Honduras. This letter coincides with the nine-month anniversary of Berta Cáceres’s tragic murder.

The full text of the letter appears below, and the signed letter can be viewed here.

Dear Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew:

We write to follow up on our letter of March 17, 2016, signed by 62 Members of Congress, in which we expressed our concerns regarding the murder of Berta Cáceres — the internationally-renowned Honduran Indigenous rights advocate– and regarding human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras more generally. Since that time, our fears have only increased.

​We are concerned that the Government of Honduras continues to unduly limit access to the investigation into the murder of Ms. Cáceras and Gustavo Castro, a key witness who was shot along with Ms. Cáceres. Under Honduran law, victims and their families have the right to actively participate in the prosecution of the case; however, Ms. Cáceres’s investigative file remains secret seven months later. This significantly constrains the family’s legally guaranteed involvement in the case and limits its ability to advocate for a speedy prosecution of those implicated.

We are also alarmed that Honduran authorities were careless in handling the case file, as the file was allowed off government property and subsequently stolen. This raises further questions about the ability of Honduran authorities to manage Ms. Cáceres’s case and impartially prosecute the case.

​We were pleased to learn that five suspects were arrested in connection with Ms. Cáceres’s murder in May 2016 and a sixth suspect was arrested in September. Those arrested include: a current employee of the hydroelectric dam development company DESA, the builder of the dam that Ms. Cáceres and the Lenca Indigenous communities in Rio Blanco actively opposed; an active duty major in the Honduran military; and two former members of the Honduran military, one of whom was also a former employee of DESA.

Concerns remain that authorities have not brought into custody those that allegedly masterminded Ms. Cáceres’s murder, and authorities also did not seize relevant evidence during searches of DESA headquarters. On June 21st, the Guardian reported that a former soldier in a U.S.-funded Special Forces unit recounted he had seen Ms. Cáceres’s name on a death list allegedly belonging to the Honduran military. This, along with the identities of those previously arrested, suggests the involvement of high-ranking Honduran military figures in Ms. Cáceres’s assassination.

We welcome the November 14, 2016, announcement of the creation of the International Expert Advisory Panel (GAIPE), which was formed at the request of the Cáceres family with the support of COPINH and multiple civil society organizations. We hope that GAIPE can contribute to an impartial and independent examination of the pending criminal investigation. However, the GAIPE does not have access to information beyond that available to the family. In our March 2016 letter, we requested your assistance in pressuring the Honduran government to support an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) -led independent international investigation of Ms. Cáceres’s case. Despite offers of assistance from the IACHR, the Government of Honduras has not allowed such an investigation to proceed nor has the State Department taken a clear and public position in support of an independent IACHR investigation. We ask that you do so immediately.

Furthermore, violence against rights activists continues. COPINH activist Nelson García was killed in March 2016 and threats have forced his family to flee Honduras. In October 2016, Tomás Gómez Membreño, Ms. Cáceres’s successor as the general coordinator of COPINH, and Alexander García, a local COPINH leader in Llano Grande, survived assassination attempts. Most recently, on October 18, 2016, four masked men gunned down two land reform advocates from the cooperative MUCA in the Aguán Valley — an area where over 150 land rights advocates have been killed since 2009. MUCA members are protected by the IACHR, as was Ms. Cáceres, but the Honduran government has not yet complied with the commission’s protection order.

Finally, American taxpayer money should not be given to a government facing accusations of operating outside the rule of law and collaborating in targeted assassinations. We request that the U.S. government immediately suspend all police and military aid to Honduras until these mounting human rights concerns are addressed. We were disturbed to learn that on September 30, 2016, the Department of State certified the Honduran government had complied with the human rights conditions placed on aid in the FY2016 Appropriations Act, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Act’s requirements for aid included the protection of human rights defenders and other political activists, prosecution of security forces who have committed human rights abuses, and the removal of the military from internal policing. Violations of these and other threshold requirements for aid have not been adequately addressed. We ask for the Department of State to reconsider immediately its decision. In addition, we reiterate the concerns expressed in our March 2016 letter regarding the termination of the Agua Zarca dam and reconsideration of U.S. support for loans from multilateral development banks to Honduras.

It is our hope that Ms. Cáceres’s death will lead to greater justice for the Honduran people. We appreciate your assistance in the realization of that goal and the consideration of the above requests.

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Guardian-Berta Cáceres murder: international lawyers launch new investigation

A group of international legal experts has launched an independent inquiry into the murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres amid widespread concerns over the official investigation.

Five lawyers from the US, Guatemala and Colombia are in Honduras to try to uncover the intellectual authors behind the assassination of Cáceres and the attempted murder of her colleague the Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro.

The International Advisory Group of Experts (Gaipe, by its Spanish acronym) has been convened at the behest of Cáceres’s family, whose calls for an independent international investigation have been rejected by the government.

Read more here.

As killings and attempted killings continue in Honduras, State Department decides to give passing grade.

From: “U.S. Department of State” Daily Press Briefing – October 14,

QUESTION: Uh, yeah. Yes. And then the second one is on Honduras.

MR TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you guys certified that they have met their human rights obligations? I think I asked about this a couple weeks ago and then it slipped my —

MR TONER: Sure. So we – yes. We certified that Honduras is taking effective steps to meet the criteria specified in the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations – appropriation legislation. So that’s not to say that all is well and good. Obviously, corruption, crime, impunity are real problems, continue to be real problems in Honduras. But we have seen, I think, a demonstration of political will by the Honduran Government that has taken on and made progress against some of the country’s security and developmental challenges. So we want to see that progress continue.

QUESTION: When was that certification done?

MR TONER: My understanding is it was – oh, September 30th, 2016.

QUESTION: Any reason why it’s taken so long to —

MR TONER: Publicly announce it?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: I don’t know. Honestly, I mean, I don’t —

QUESTION: I mean —

MR TONER: I don’t know how we generally make —

QUESTION: Was it published in the Federal Register?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I’ll ask.

QUESTION: All right. And then can you be more specific about what effective steps they have taken? Because as you are aware, there have been numerous reports over the course of – well, over a while, but certainly this – over the course of the last couple months about new abuses and about new —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — committed by the police and by the – by security forces there.

MR TONER: I mean, I can speak a little bit about what our assistance programs do in Honduras, but I don’t have specific —

QUESTION: No, no, no. I want to know what —

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have a specific – I’ll get that for you.

QUESTION: So when you made the certification, there wasn’t any attempt to define what it was that you think they’re doing —

MR TONER: I’m sure there was. I just don’t have it in front of me. And I’m not following as closely as I probably should —

QUESTION: All right. What’s the —

MR TONER: — Honduran human rights situation.

QUESTION: What’s the total assistance that this frees up?

MR TONER: I will get that for you as well. I don’t have it in front of me. I apologize.

QUESTION: All right. I – and please, if you could get the actual – the —

MR TONER: Yeah. So what I propose, we’ll do —

QUESTION: — because these reports have been —

MR TONER: — we’ll do this as a formally – we’ll do this as a formal taken question. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, because there have been persistent —

MR TONER: You have my pledge.

QUESTION: — reports of violations.

MR TONER: I understand that. No, I understand that, Matt. And I understand – again, I’m not trying to create the appearance that all is well, that —

QUESTION: Well, I know. But if all is not well and all is not good, why did they get certified?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we look for progress. And we’ve seen significant enough progress in their efforts – and I should have more detail to provide to you —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: — on that; I apologize for it – but to give them a passing grade.

That it, guys? Thank so much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)

End U.S. Support for the Thugs of Honduras

“I have no doubt that she has been killed because of her struggle, and that soldiers and people from the dam are responsible, I am sure of that,” her 84-year-old mother told a local radio station. “I hold the government responsible.”

Read More.

Berta Cáceres: September 2, 6 Months On

Friday September 2nd just before midnight Honduras time (Sept. 3 EST) is the 6-month anniversary of Berta’s assassination, and nothing has changed in the investigation. The government has still not captured the intellectual authors, nor have they provided any new information to the family about the proceedings as we have a right to under the Honduran constitution (Article 16).

There are events planned in La Esperanza, Honduras where Berta’s family lives. But, if you can’t be there then we hope you will join us on social media by sharing videos, news reports, and statements from those who worked with Berta who supported indigenous, civil, human and environmental rights.

We encourage you to use the hashtags listed below and help us create a whirlwind online atmosphere calling on support of for the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act HR5474 in Congress and for the government of Honduras to allow an international independent investigation into her assassination as has been requested by her family and many on Capitol Hill including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Hashtags:
English
#HR5474
#JusticeforBerta
#BertaCaceres

Spanish:
#6mesessinjusticia
#BertaCaceres
#JusticiaParaBerta

New Yorker: Should the U.S. Still Be Sending Military Aid to Honduras?

When the activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated in Honduras, in March, the news was devastating but not exactly surprising. Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates, and social activists are frequently targets—more than a hundred have been killed in the country since 2010. Cáceres, though, was someone with a significant international reputation. Ever since she won the Goldman Prize, a high-profile environmental award, in 2015, many had assumed that her prominence gave her a degree of protection. The fact that it didn’t—that her killers didn’t care about any potential fallout from her murder—was a reminder of the staggering impunity afforded to criminals in a country where ninety-eight per cent of crimes go unsolved. In the five months since Cáceres’s murder, two more members of the group that she led, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (copinh), have been killed.

Read more.