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Honduras: Risk to potential witnesses / whistleblowers on military abuse

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 15 January 1998
Citation / Document Symbol HND98002.asm
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Honduras: Risk to potential witnesses / whistleblowers on military abuse, 15 January 1998, HND98002.asm, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3df0a5524.html [accessed 19 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Query:

Have members of the Honduran military targeted individuals within its own ranks who may serve as witnesses against human rights abuses by the military, or who may act as whistleblowers to reveal corruption and other wrongdoing by members of the military? Have nonmilitary individuals who attempt to bring members of the military implicated in human rights abuses or corruption to justice been targeted?

Response:

An October 1997 report by the Research Directorate of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada states the following:

Human rights organizations claimed that paramilitary groups murdered 86 suspected criminals from January to October 1996, including some former military members involved in past disappearances. These groups allege that high-ranking military men may have participated in the deaths in order to ensure that testimony pointing to their own involvement would never be heard. In mid-July 1996, CODEH [Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras] alleged that "at least 11 police officers had been killed, presumably by members of the Honduran military." Further, according to Amnesty International and Latin American Regional Reports, in June and July of 1996 at least five former DNI [Dirección Nacional de Investigaciones] members were killed under suspicious circumstances leading some to speculate that their deaths were extrajudicial executions. One of the victims, Rene Orellana, who was shot to death in June, had been scheduled to give testimony about a murder allegedly committed by DNI members in 1994.

According to The Economist, the military was implicated in the murders of several former members of Battalion 3-16 in October 1995, which were committed to "presumably keep them silent and make sure others stay so." According to Latin American Regional Reports, CODEH has implored former members of Battalion 3-16 to seek exile and thereby escape possible execution at the orders of those military members anxious to block any detrimental evidence against them that may be forthcoming. On 9 May [1996] Central America Update reported that Honduran prosecutors received the written testimony of four former Battalion 3-16 members who had claimed asylum in Canada. The testimony will be used in prosecutions of other military members accused of past human rights violations (IRB Research Directorate, October 1997).

Earlier in 1996, the Canadian government tried to deport one of the former Battalion 3-16 members, Florencio Caballero, on grounds that he had participated in crimes against humanity. Human rights groups and refugee advocates came to his defense due to their concern that the military would attempt to silence him permanently if he were returned to Honduras (Inter Press Service, 10 May 1996).

An August 1996 article reported that a search of military archives in connection with cases being brought against individuals accused of human rights abuses revealed that the military was continuing to spy on the population, including high officials of the judiciary and the security forces. "The military acknowledged as much but said the surveillance was for the targets' ‘protection'" (Latin America Weekly Report, 15 August 1996). Attempts by the current Honduran government to prosecute present or former military members for human rights abuses have been frustrated due to lack of cooperation by the military, protection of accused individuals, and destruction of documentation and other physical evidence (Center for International Policy, September 1997).

The Baltimore Sun reported that more than a dozen bombing incidents related to civilian investigation of military abuses occurred in 1996. The bombings targeted government agencies or officials, primarily police stations and courts. Judge Roy Medina, who is overseeing the investigations of human rights abuses by the military and has received death threats, speculated that those responsible wish to intimidate police and judges (Baltimore Sun, 12 January 1997).

In early 1997, the Honduran military brought charges against an officer, Col. Guadalupe Reythel [sic] Caballero, who had denounced corruption among members of the armed forces. It was expected that Col. Reythel would be given a dishonorable discharge. He was confined to his home and given protection by the government's National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights. (Reuters, 8 January 1997) However, shortly afterwards, he was imprisoned on charges of attempted murder after he shot and wounded Col. Cesar Augusto Antunez, who, Reithel [sic] claims, was sent to kill him. CODEH president, Ramon Custodio, said that the military was behind the imprisonment (Ecocentral, 10 April 1997).

The 13 December 1997 issue of Honduras This Week, an English-language weekly published in Honduras, reported that the key witness, José Esteban García, in the Riccy Martínez case was found dead on the morning of December 9th. Ms. Martínez was raped and murdered allegedly by an officer in the Honduran military, Col. Angel Castillo Maradiaga, in July 1991. Castillo was sentenced to 16 years, but was awaiting the results of an appeal at the time of the witness García's murder (Honduras This Week, 13 December 1997).

References:

Immigration and Refugee Board, Research Directorate. Honduras: Changes in the Armed Forces, Question and Answer Series (Ottawa: October 1997), p. 18-19.

Center for International Policy, Open the Files: A Chance to Aid Demilitarization in Honduras (Washington, DC: September 1997), p. 6.

"Key Witness in Riccy Martínez Case Dead," Honduras This Week (Tegucigalpa: 13 December 1997), p. 1.

Attachments:

"Canada-Honduras: Deportation May Jeopardize Human Rights Cases," Inter Press Service (New York: 10 May 1996) - as reported on NEXIS.

Army Resistance Backfires: Internal Spying Revealed; Audit of Budget Ordered," Latin America Weekly Report (London: WR-96-13, 15 August 1996), p. 371 - as reported on NEXIS.

Thompson, Ginger. "Hondurans Accuse CIA of Stalling on Documents; Delay Impedes Cases Against Army Abusers," Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD: 12 January 1997), p. 1A - as reported on NEXIS.

"Honduran Military May Discharge Corruption Critic," Reuters (London: 8 January 1997), - as reported on NEXIS.

"Honduras: News in Brief, Ecocentral (10 April 1997) - as reported on the Latin America Data Base, .

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