Dept. of State Daily briefing:
Daily Press Briefing
June 22, 2016
QUESTION: Are we good on Honduras now? Okay. So I wanted to ask – there was a report The Guardian yesterday from a high-level deserter from the Honduran army that noted environmental activist Berta Caceres was killed by Honduran Government forces, that her name appeared on a kill list of activists and community leaders that was circulated to multiple U.S.-trained Honduran Government army units – some might say “death squads.” How would you respond to the accusation that she was killed by the Honduran Government?
MR KIRBY: We’ve seen media reports alleging the existence of a Honduran activist hit list, as you’ve described it.
MR KIRBY: The U.S. Government has not previously heard any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths ordered by the military, and we do not have any information which would substantiate this report.
QUESTION: You have not – you’ve not heard of these kill lists?
MR KIRBY: I think that’s what I just said. We don’t –
MR KIRBY: We haven’t heard of any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths —
QUESTION: I mean, since —
MR KIRBY: — and we do have any information that would substantiate this report.
QUESTION: Since the transition of power took place, Honduran human rights activists have documented dozens, hundreds of community leaders, activists, journalists murdered by government forces. I mean, just back in April Honduran rights activists were on Capitol Hill saying that death squads have returned to Honduras. You’re saying you don’t know about this?
MR KIRBY: Sir, I can say it again for you if you want. But we —
QUESTION: You’re saying —
MR KIRBY: — don’t have any – we have not seen any credible allegations of this list. But if you’ll let me finish —
MR KIRBY: — if we were to come into information that would prove that credible, we would obviously take it very seriously. It’s important to note the United States has provided its security and military aid to Honduras in the form of training, equipment, supplies, and other non-cash support, and we’re constantly reviewing – as we always do – our support of Honduran security and military forces in accordance with U.S. law.
QUESTION: So this changes nothing in regards to sort of human rights vetting of Honduras?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. Well, first of all, we haven’t seen credible allegations. As I said, if we do, we’re going to take it seriously. Number three, we’re always reviewing our support and assistance to Honduras in accordance with U.S. law, which we obey and we will continue to obey. So if there’s credible information that backs up these reports, we’re going to take it seriously. And we’ll use that in what is an ongoing constant review of our security assistance with Honduras.
QUESTION: One human rights professor called this “smoking-gun evidence.” If this isn’t credible, what is credible evidence in the level you’re talking about?
MR KIRBY: We haven’t seen, in our view, credible evidence to back up these allegations. If we do, we’ll take it seriously.
QUESTION: Have you met with some of these activists that he’s speaking about in the Capitol?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such meetings.
QUESTION: When you talk about you haven’t seen credible evidence to – about these accusations, is it the accusation that there was a hit list or the accusation that the government —
MR KIRBY: There’s no specific —
QUESTION: Hold on. Wait – I just want to – which accusation are you talking about, the one that there was a hit list or that the military or police may have been involved in these killings? Both or one?
MR KIRBY: Both. We have not seen any credible evidence to support the existence of a hit list. I’m not saying that there isn’t; I’m just saying we haven’t seen it.
QUESTION: I get it.
MR KIRBY: And if we did, we’d take it seriously. And at this time, there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights that exists in this or any other case involving the security forces that receive U.S. Government assistance. And we obey the law. If we see it —
QUESTION: Well, there’s pretty much credible –
QUESTION: There have been hundreds of documented accounts in Honduras of either abuses ranging from beatings to torture all the way up to killings, and you haven’t met with any of these activists or journalists who have documented these things? Can you confirm that?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we didn’t. I said I’m not aware of any meetings.
QUESTION: Well, there’s clearly abuses going on. It’s a question of who’s committing them, right? You’re saying that you don’t have any – you haven’t seen any credible evidence that the security forces are playing a role in this?
MR KIRBY: I’ll say it again. At this time, there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights.
QUESTION: Yeah, I get it. I think the reason you’re being asked to repeat it is because it’s kind of hard to believe.
QUESTION: Have you investigated it, or you’re just waiting for credible evidence to land in your lap?
MR KIRBY: We don’t have credible evidence to support —
QUESTION: I know – you don’t – please stop saying that. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I mean, I don’t know how else to —
QUESTION: I’ll return to my question, which is: What credible evidence —
QUESTION: No, no, no, but you haven’t said —
QUESTION: What evidence do I have to bring you —
QUESTION: No, no, no, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.
MR KIRBY: Hey. Hey, relax.
QUESTION: You haven’t said that you – have you investigated this?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigations because there’s no specific or credible allegations to support such an investigation. But if the presumption in the question is that we don’t take this seriously —
QUESTION: It wasn’t.
MR KIRBY: — it’s false and baseless.
QUESTION: It —
MR KIRBY: Of course we take it seriously.
QUESTION: It wasn’t. You said that there’s no credible evidence and the question is: Have you been looking for evidence or you’re just waiting for it to fall into your lap, in which case you would launch an investigation?
MR KIRBY: We constantly – as I said earlier, we constantly review our relationship with security forces in Honduras. It’s not something that we just sit back and wait. We actively, constantly review that kind – that relationship, as we do with other military relationships around the world. I mean, it’s not that we’re just sitting back waiting for somebody to drop something in our lap. And —
QUESTION: Have you contacted The Guardian? And what would be your timeline to investigate this (inaudible) it seems very serious?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we’ve contacted The Guardian – the newspaper – about this. Okay? Thanks.
QUESTION: Wait. No, no, no, no.
QUESTION: Can we – can we do one (inaudible)?
QUESTION: No, no, no. No, no, no, no.
MR KIRBY: You guys are the ones who said you wanted to —
QUESTION: Just —
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one more on this Honduras thing. Does the United – say it were true that there was a hit list, that these were U.S.-trained people, they had one and they went out and killed these people. Do you – does the United States take responsibility just because these people were trained by the U.S.? Do you feel that you have some kind of a responsibility to either the Honduran Government or people for the actions of security forces that you may have – that you trained?
MR KIRBY: What we have a responsibility to do is to properly manage the aid and assistance that we give to foreign militaries —
MR KIRBY: — and if there’s – no, wait, let me finish – if there is – if there’s evidence that proves that there are human rights violations and abuses by security forces that we are supporting, whether that’s through training, material equipment, we absolutely have a responsibility to alter that relationship and to hold them to account for those human rights abuses, and we do do that. I mean, that is the foundation of the law that we must obey.
If you’re asking, are we going to blame ourselves for the specific human rights violations of another human being in that regard, that’s a pretty difficult connection to make. But we certainly will hold —
MR KIRBY: — that unit to account.
QUESTION: Can you – it just seems – there just seems to be a level of incuriosity on the part of the —
MR KIRBY: No, I would refute that, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, if you say —
MR KIRBY: I would refute that 100 percent.
QUESTION: Well, can you take the question, then, to find out exactly what it is the department is doing to look into these – you say there aren’t any credible allegations, but an allegation has been made – several, numerous, many. Are you looking into those allegations to see if there’s any credence to them?
MR KIRBY: We —
QUESTION: Or are you just not?
MR KIRBY: We constantly review allegations of misconduct. There’s ongoing – I’m not going to take the question because I don’t need to. We absolutely – ongoing review —
QUESTION: Well, I —
MR KIRBY: — of the military relationship.
QUESTION: But does that include this specific allegation —
MR KIRBY: And we take allegations – we take them —
QUESTION: — that was in the newspaper?
MR KIRBY: We take them seriously, and if they – if they are —
QUESTION: It doesn’t sound —
MR KIRBY: If they are credible, we look into them.
QUESTION: How many times —
QUESTION: Okay. But it doesn’t sound like you’re taking it seriously if you say, “Oh, it’s just in a newspaper report, we haven’t looked into it.” So I just want that – so specifically, what I’m asking is: Are you looking into this specific hit list, U.S.-trained people report, or are you not? Maybe you’re not. I don’t know.
MR KIRBY: As I said, we took – we’ve seen the press report. Yes, we take that seriously, and we don’t have any credible allegation, other than the media report, of hit lists of deaths ordered by the military. Now, if —
QUESTION: So you’re saying that this report is not a credible allegation?
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Elise, please. Let me finish.
QUESTION: Well, you’ve said that 40 times, so I —
MR KIRBY: Let me – well, apparently, I need to say it 50. If we – if there – if any additional information comes to light that proves there’s credibility to these allegations, obviously, we’re going to take that very, very seriously.
QUESTION: How do you determine the credibility of the allegation? If there’s an allegation made in a major British newspaper, how many times from that podium have you said, “We’ve seen the reports and we’re seeking further clarification”? And you don’t seem to be saying that here.
MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re concerned by the press report, and of course we’re looking at that. Of course we are.
QUESTION: Thank you, end of question.
MR KIRBY: But I don’t have additional, credible information about it.