|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immmigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||1 June 1994|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Update, 1 June 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a80a14.html [accessed 4 March 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
1. POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
After an election where campaigns reached levels of "vitriolic Cold War insults" from all sides, new president Carlos Reina, sworn in on 27 January 1994, promised a "moral revolution" in which efforts will be concentrated against corruption and impunity (Caribbean and Central America Report 9 Dec. 1993, 1; CAR 4 Feb. 1994, 1-2). The new president, leader of the Partido Liberal and former justice of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, has a reputation for honesty and respect for human rights, and expectations of the population have been running high (ibid.; LP 16 Dec. 1993, 3).
Before being replaced, the previous congress, dominated by the National Party, approved a constitutional reform package, which included provisions for plebiscites on issues of national interest, reforms to the Electoral and Political Organization Law, and a controversial provision of lifelong immunity for former presidents of congress (CAR 21 Jan. 1994, 5). The implementation of the reforms is not yet certain, as the measures have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in two successive legislatures. Although 18 Liberal legislators voted in favour of the package there is some apprehension about the possibility of presidential re-election stipulated in the proposed reforms, and opponents say that the lifelong immunity for former presidents will only contribute to corruption (ibid., 6).
Other changes are already taking shape. Members of both the government and the opposition had objected to the armed forces' sole control over drug-trafficking efforts, noting that some military personnel had become involved in the criminal activity (AFP 13 Oct. 1993). Just before its December 1993 recess, the Honduran congress approved the creation of the new Public Ministry, which is intended to represent, defend and protect the general interests of society, collaborate and lobby for the prompt, upright and efficient administration of justice, especially in the prosecution of criminals; [and] fight drug trafficking and corruption in any of its forms (CAR 14 Jan. 1994, 5).
The military is reported to have protested the transfer of an anti-narcotics unit and a criminal investigations unit to the new civilian-controlled ministry (ibid.). The National Investigations Division (DNI), a police intelligence unit which has been repeatedly accused of gross human rights violations, will be absorbed and replaced by the new Criminal Investigations Division (DIC) following the appointment of the head of the Public Ministry and a "purge and professionalization of DNI ranks" (ibid.; Human Rights Watch Dec. 1993, 111). Both the DIC and the new anti-narcotics units will be headed by civilians subordinated to the civilian Attorney General (CAR 14 Jan. 1994, 5).
2. HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION
Americas Watch reported that in 1993 "while political violence significantly diminished, the military, including the FUSEP [police force], were accustomed to settling economic and personal differences with violence," adding that torture and mistreatment while under police custody are common practices (Human Rights Watch Dec. 1993, 110, 113). The organization also reported weakness, inefficiency and corruption in the criminal justice system, and stated that military and police abusers are rarely held accountable or are simply punished with transfer to another region where violations can be repeated (ibid.).
The government's response to Americas Watch stated that it has taken forceful steps to improve the administration of justice, but admitted that the country still has a problem of abuse of authority (CAR 17 Dec. 1993, 381). Under public and international pressure, the outgoing government named a special commission to make recommendations for improving the situation of human rights (Human Rights Watch Dec. 1993, 111). Based on the recommendations, a number of reforms were carried out, including the creation of the Public Ministry and the replacement of the DNI with the DIC, as mentioned above.
Two armed rebel groups, described as "minuscule" by one source, are considered to remain active--the Morazanista Patriotic Front and a splinter of the Cinchoneros (Human Rights Watch Dec. 1993, 113). Both suffer a scarcity of material and human resources and are not considered a threat to the government (ibid.). Nonetheless, the Morazanista Patriotic Front claimed responsibility for the detonation of a fragmentation bomb in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city, a few days before the elections in November 1993 (NOTIMEX 23 Nov. 1993). In April 1994 three individuals, who claimed to be foreigners belonging to the Cinchoneros movement, kidnapped a deputy in Olancho department and demanded a large ransom; the deputy was released the next day, and no further details were reported among the available sources (Voz de Honduras 14 Apr. 1994).
Many rebel groups and their militants have left the underground or returned to Honduras under an amnesty passed in 1990 and are now working to promote the newly formed Democratic Unification Party, the country's first legal "leftist" political party (IPS 14 Dec. 1993; CAR 23 July 1993a, 213; Miami Herald 21 Feb. 1994).
Nevertheless, concerns about the safety of at least some of these former guerrillas has been voiced. Local human rights groups pointed to three murders as proof that political murders continued in 1993: the October murder of Roger Torres, a former Cinchonero, on a bus in San Pedro Sula, which the government attributed to common crime; the 13 November murder of the treasurer of a cooperative involved in a land dispute in Yoro, which has been attributed to four men, including two soldiers; and the murder of a former militant of the Communist Party on 24 November which, according to the Party's leader, bore the marks of a death squad hit (CAR 17 Dec. 1993, 381; LP 16 Dec. 1993, 3).
In December 1993 a former guerrilla, who had approached the governmental Human Rights Commission asking for protection, disappeared (IPS 14 Dec. 1993). The head of the independent Human Rights Commission of Honduras (CODEH), Ramon Custodio, expressed his mistrust regarding the protection offered by the state, and claimed that the military may have used the apparent divisions within the leftist groups as an explanation for the deaths of several guerrillas who had returned to Honduras under the amnesty (ibid.). These deaths had not been conclusively investigated (ibid.). The human rights commissioner, Leo Valladares, expressed his concern for the apparent lack of protection but added that the police version of events must also be heard. He went on to say that although "murders by members of the armed forces may seem to have a political cast or background, they are mostly done for personal gain" (ibid.; Human Rights Watch Dec. 1993, 111).
Early in 1993, a former police agent publicly stated that the army battalion 3-16 was still operating out of an infantry brigade in San Pedro Sula (Human Rights Watch Dec. 1993, 111). Battalion 3-16, which was involved in counterinsurgency efforts and held responsible for many disappearances and other abuses during the 1980s, was believed to have been disbanded in 1987 (ibid.). The military has also been accused of tapping private telephones through the state-owned telephone company operated by the armed forces (Country Reports 1993 1994, 479; LP 30 Sept. 1993, 6; IPS 30 Apr. 1993), of involvement in drug trafficking (LP 30 Sept. 1993, 6; CAR 8 Oct. 1993, 304; LP 30 Sept. 1993, 6). However, the new government has, with the acquiesence of the military, resumed control of the telephone company and other government institutions (Tiempo 15 May 1994).
Honduran society was united against military impunity in the case of the rape and murder of a 17-year old girl which took place in July 1991. Although the case resulted in the unprecedented conviction of two officers by a civilian court, doubts about accountability remain (CAR 23 July 1993a, 209-10). The sentences (16 years for a colonel and ten years for a sergeant) were considered lenient by many, and the fact that the main charge was manslaughter (and thus liable for presidential pardon) and not murder fomented scepticism (ibid.). The judicial process dragged on for some years and was rife with controversy and danger, including repeated threats against the judge hearing the case and the lawyer for the victim's family (ibid.).
In January 1994 the human rights commissioner presented a report blaming the army for the "disappearance" of more than 180 "political activists" in the 1980s (Caribbean and Central America Report 27 Jan. 1994, 4; CAR 14 Jan. 1994, 4-5). The study was ordered by the Supreme Court and begun by a commission of public prosecutors (ibid.). The report cited the current commander of the armed forces, General Luis Alonso Discua, as the head of the intelligence unit responsible for the abduction, torture and murder of the political activists, and the commissioner demanded his resignation (ibid.; Caribbean and Central America Report 3 Mar. 1994, 2).
General Discua, however, received a public vote of confidence from the Armed Forces' Superior Council, a gathering of the 60 highest ranking officers of the country, and the prosecutor who had been ordered to open a case against the general excused himself from duty (ibid.; LP 3 Feb. 1994b, 3). Discua refused to accept accountability for past abuses and, while arguing that he only served briefly with the infamous Battalion 3-16 and never ordered any arrests during that time, claimed to be the victim of a smear campaign ultimately aimed at the dissolution of the Honduran armed forces (ibid.).
In what some interpreted as a veiled threat to those pushing for punishment, General Discua stated that the army has people who "sometimes do not follow orders and do things that escape our control" (LP 3 Feb. 1994, 3). The human rights commissioner has denounced before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission "the threats I have received from General Discua, who is discomfited at being implicated in the case of the disappearances" (LAWR 3 Mar. 1994, 96). The commissioner has also claimed to have received anonymous threats (IPS 28 Jan. 1994).
Although the military and the former president, Rafael Callejas, acknowledge a degree of responsibility for the disappearances, they have demanded amnesty from past abuses, which they allege were committed under a doctrine of protecting Central America from communism (LP 3 Feb. 1994, 3). President Reina, on the other hand, has been an advocate of ending impunity (ibid.).
Various concerned parties await the outcome of the case of General Discua, which is currently in the hands of a National Reconciliation Commission led by Archbishop Oscar Andrés Rodríguez (ibid.). In the meantime, in negotiations with the new civilian government, the army has given way in some of the most pressing human rights concerns: it has accepted the transfer of the police from military to civilian jurisdiction and the abolition of the press-gang method of recruitment (IPS 8 May 1994). The army also accepted a 10 per cent budget reduction and a halving of its manpower, scheduled to begin in June 1994 with the dissolution of four batallions (NOTIMEX 27 Apr. 1994).
Forced recruitment had the greatest impact on the rural poor, with soldiers resorting to lethal force to induct approximately 5,000 new recruits every year (IPS 8 May 1994; Human Rights Watch Dec. 1993, 113). By May 1993 the military had supposedly suspended press-gang recruitment, yet soldiers chasing a potential recruit fired shots at him, hitting a bus he was escaping from and killing a teenage girl and injuring three other passengers (ibid., 113-14; UPI 21 May 1993).
In May 1994, as a result of pressure applied by many sectors of Honduran society including the Private Business Council, and of the army's own admission of the "inhuman and unjust" nature of forcible recruitment, congress approved a presidential bill abolishing obligatory military service and replacing it with "a voluntary system stressing education, democracy, and social and human rights" (IPS 8 May 1994).
Corruption is regarded as one of the major problems facing Honduras. Of particular concern is the perceived impunity of corrupt officials: during the administration of Callejas there were more than 200 charges of corruption lodged against officials, yet not a single case was pursued in the courts (CAR 4 Feb. 1994, 2; LP 16 Dec. 1993, 3). The "rampant corruption" in the judicial system is believed to help protect perpetrators of human rights abuses (ibid.; Country Reports 1993 1994, 475). Corruption is also said to be rampant at many levels of government (CAR 16 July 1993, 207; Reuters 14 Apr. 1993). In an unusual departure for an international body, the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) recently published a document which called for the removal of the army from participation in the economy of Honduras and noted in its rationale for this suggestion, the "notorious corruption of the Honduran judicial system" (IPS 17 Apr. 1994). Human rights commissioner Valladares has stated that "as corruption in Honduras has grown, and power is more and more used for profit, human rights violations grow" (LP 16 Dec. 1993, 3).
The new president has outlined measures to keep public departments and employees under close surveillance and "promised to pass through Congress a code of ethics to hold all public servants accountable and to immediately name special auditors to each public institution to prosecute officials accused of corruption" (Caribbean and Central America Report 3 Mar. 1994, 2; CAR 4 Feb. 1994, 2). His first measures have included the elimination of the president's US$10 million confidential slush fund and the appointment of a "Top-Level Intervention Committee" to investigate the best known cases of corruption (LP 10 Mar. 1994, 3).
The president's drive against drug-trafficking and corruption has apparently resulted in an assassination plot which was uncovered in early April 1994 (IPS 9 Apr. 1994). One Honduran and three Nicaraguans had allegedly been paid a large amount of money to carry out the assassination (ibid.). Although the armed forces are apparently investigating the case, the president and members of his staff have interpreted the plot as "an act of gangsterism and drug trafficking" (ACAN 9 Apr. 1994; IPS 9 Apr. 1994).
In early May 1994, at the end of his first 100 days in office, President Reina stated his government's immediate priorities as follows:
the reorganization of the internal and external supervision of the executive branch; juridical and institutional reforms of the system of constitutional rights; the defense, strengthening, and development of human rights, and the strengthening of the Attorney General's Office, as well as sweeping reform of the judicial system (La Tribuna 11 May 1994).
ACAN [Panama City, in Spanish]. 9 April 1994. German Reyes. "Man Arrested for Murder Plot Pleads Innocence." (FBIS-LAT-94-070 12 Apr. 1994, p. 25)
Agence France Presse (AFP) [Paris, in Spanish]. 13 October 1993. "New Counternarcotics Police Force Begins Operations." FBIS-LAT-93-199 18 Oct. 1993, p. 41)
Caribbean and Central America Report [London]. 3 March 1994. "Reina Holds Talks on Coexistence."
Caribbean and Central America Report [London]. 27 January 1994. "Honduras: Missing Activists."
Caribbean and Central America Report [London]. 9 December 1993. "Prospects for Next Year Turn Around."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 4 February 1994. "Honduras: Presidential Inauguration."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 21 January 1994. "Honduras: Contested Reforms."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 14 January 1994. "Honduras: Comprehensive Report on Disappearances."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 17 December 1993. "Honduras: Americas Watch Reports on Human Rights."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 8 October 1993. "Honduras: Colonels and Drugs."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 23 July 1993a. "Honduras: High Military Officers Condemned."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 23 July 1993b. "Honduras: The Left Regroups."
Central America Report [Guatemala]. 16 July 1993. "Honduras: Accustomed Corruption."
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. 1994. United States Department of State. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.
Human Rights Watch. December 1993. Human Rights Watch World Report 1994. New York: Human Rights Watch.
Inter Press Service (IPS). 8 May 1994. Thelma Mejia. "Population Celebrates End to Forced Recruitment." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 2-15 May 1994, p. 9)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 17 April 1994. Thelma Mejia. "International Development Bank Calls for Cancellation of Subsidies and Army Businesses." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 18 Apr.-1 May 1994, p. 9)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 9 April 1994. Thelma Mejia. "Plot Announcement Worsens Army-Government Relations." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 4-17 Apr. 1994, p. 10)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 25 February 1994. Thelma Mejia. "Honduras: Reina Seeks to End Compulsory Military Service." (NEXIS)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 24 February 1994. Thelma Mejia. "Congress Will Debate Lifting Military Service Obligation." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 21 Feb.-6 Mar. 1994, p. 9)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 28 January 1994. Juan Ramon Duran. "Human Rights Commissioner Fears Military." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 24 Jan.-6 Feb. 1994, p. 10)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 14 December 1993. "Police Deny Harassing Ex-Guerrilla Member." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 13-26 Dec. 1993, p. 7)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 9 November 1993. Juan Ramón Dur n. "Paramilitary Revives With Death of Ex-Guerrilla." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 1-14 Nov. 1993, p. 9)
Inter Press Service (IPS). 30 April 1993. "Honduras: Military Linked to Telephone Tapping." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 3-16 May 1993, pp. 9-10)
Latinamerica Press (LP) [Lima]. 10 March 1994. "Honduran President Begins `Moral Revolution'."
Latinamerica Press (LP) [Lima]. 3 February 1994. Thelma Mejia. "New Honduran President Pushing Investigation."
Latinamerica Press (LP) [Lima]. 16 December 1993. David R. Dye. "Honduran Elections May Boost Human Rights."
Latinamerica Press (LP) [Lima]. 30 September 1993. Larry Luxner. "Honduran Election Focuses on Two Candidates."
Latin American Weekly Report (LAWR) [London]. 10 March 1994. "Honduras: Passing the Ball."
Latin American Weekly Report (LAWR) [London]. 3 March 1994. "Honduras: Threats Denounced."
Los Angeles Times. 23 November 1993. Tracy Wilkinson. "Central Americans Fighting a New Wave of Street Crimes." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 29 Nov.-12 Dec. 1993, p. 1)
Miami Herald. 21 February 1994. John Otis. "Honduran Leftists leave Underground, Give Politics a Try." (Central America NewsPak [Austin] 21 Feb.-6 Mar. 1994, pp. 7-8)
NOTIMEX [Mexico City, in Spanish]. 27 April 1994. "Armed Forces to Deactivate Four Battalions." (FBIS-LAT-94-084 2 May 1994, p. 31)
NOTIMEX [Mexico City, in Spanish]. 23 November 1993. "FPM Guerrillas Detonate Bomb in San Pedro Sula." (FBIS-LAT-93-225 24 Nov. 1993, p. 30)
Reuters. 14 April 1993. "Corruption Could Threaten Democracy in Honduras, Official Says." (NEXIS)
Tiempo [San Pedro Sula, in Spanish]. 15 May 1994. "Army Chief Says Executive Decisions on Military 'Correct'." (FBIS-LAT-94-096 18 May 1994, p. 16)
La Tribuna [Tegucigalpa, in Spanish]. 11 May 1994. Speech by President Carlos Robert Reina. "President Reviews Government's First 100 Days." (FBIS-LAT-94-094 16 May 1994, p. 21)
United Press International (UPI). 21 May 1993. "Honduran Soldiers Kill Bus Passengers, Wound Three Others." (NEXIS)
Voz de Honduras Network [Tegucigalpa, in Spanish]. 14 April 1994. "Deputy Alvarado Kidnapped, Released by 'Los Cinchoners'." (FBIS-LAT-94-074 18 Apr. 1994, pp. 23-24)