President Carlos Flores Facussé took office in January.
In July a new Police Law came into force which places the police under the civilian supervision of the newly created Ministry of Security. Elizabeth Chuiz Sierra was appointed as its head in September. In February the Law to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Domestic Violence against Women came into force.
Human rights defenders were the victims of human rights violations, including threats, harassment and possible extrajudicial execution. In February Ernesto Sandoval Bustillo, regional coordinator of the Comité de Defensa de Derechos Humanos en Honduras (CODEH), Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Honduras, was shot dead by unidentified men as he walked to the CODEH offices in Santa Rosa de Copán. He had been involved in investigating the killing of Cándido Amador Recinos (see below) and had reportedly received several death threats. In a statement issued in December 1997, a group calling itself Los Justicieros de la Noche (Avengers of the Night) had made death threats against 75 people and accused human rights defenders of causing an increase in crime by "protecting" criminals. Following the murder, the Attorney General reportedly said that there seemed to be no doubt that death squads were resurfacing in Honduras. The Dirección de Investigación Criminal (DIC), Directorate of Criminal Investigation, opened an investigation. Three days after the murder there was a shoot-out between police and those suspected of the murder, members of an armed gang allegedly connected to military personnel. One gang member was killed and six were arrested. They were released 10 days later but a new arrest warrant was issued after ballistic evidence came to light linking a weapon seized from the leader of the gang to the one used to kill Ernesto Sandoval. The six were held awaiting trial at the end of the year. In August the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities strongly condemned the murder.
Dr Ramón Custodio López, President of CODEH, and Bertha Oliva de Nativí, General Coordinator of the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras, Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, were among those who continued to receive threats or were subjected to harassment. In April the head of the Armed Forces in Honduras, General Mario Hung Pacheco, accused Ramón Custodio of forging documents linking General Hung with the "disappearance" of a student in 1988, and asked a court to order his arrest. By the end of the year the court had not acted on the request.
There were no investigations into threats and attacks against human rights defenders in 1997. No one was prosecuted for the attack in September 1997 on Benigno Ramírez García, a human rights defender working with the poor, in which his three-year-old son was killed (see Amnesty International Report 1998). No one was brought to justice for the killings of leaders and members of indigenous groups in previous years, including Cándido Amador Recinos, Ovidio Pérez, Jesús Álvarez Rochez and Jorge Manueles (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Investigations into the killings either made no progress or were never initiated.
Judicial proceedings in connection with past human rights violations continued. In February the First Criminal Court in Tegucigalpa, the capital, ruled in favour of applying amnesty laws to a member of the armed forces charged with human rights violations committed in the 1980s (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 to 1998). The Court found that the 1991 Amnesty Law had to be applied to Colonel Juan Blas Salazar, who was found guilty of the attempted murder, torture and unlawful detention of six students in 1982, and nine other army officers charged with the same offence, and that no penalties could be imposed. An appeal against the court's decision by the Attorney General's Office to the Court of Appeals was rejected on procedural grounds. A further appeal to the Supreme Court was still pending at the end of the year. In October procedures were initiated by the Honduran authorities for the extradition from Spain of retired Captain Billy Fernando Joya Améndola, also a defendant in the case, to stand trial for human rights violations.
In April arrest warrants were issued against Major Mario Asdrúbal Quiñónez and a former sergeant, Jaime Rosales, in connection with the extrajudicial executions of Miguel Angel Pavón Salazar and Moisés Landaverde in 1988 (see Amnesty International Reports 1989, 1990 and 1998), allegedly carried out by members of a death squad. Miguel Angel Pavón, President of the San Pedro Sula chapter of CODEH, had given evidence highly critical of Honduran authorities to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in October 1987 regarding three "disappearances" (see Amnesty International Report 1989). On his return to Honduras, Miguel Angel Pavón received several death threats. Moisés Landaverde, President of the Regional Committee of the Teachers' Union, had reportedly been under surveillance by unidentified men in the days before his death. Although an investigation was opened into the killings, it made no progress. It was reopened in 1994 by the Public Ministry's Special Prosecutor for Human Rights and in 1996 two investigators were appointed to work on the case. Major Asdrúbal, who was still on active duty, was taken into custody in April 1998. According to reports, he was provisionally released after six days for lack of evidence, and the main witness was imprisoned for giving false testimony. The arrest warrant could not be served on Sergeant Rosales who was resident in the USA.
There were reports of torture and ill-treatment, and deaths in police custody. In January, two teenage boys were reportedly driven away in a blue pick-up van by two men identified by witnesses as members of the DIC. The mutilated bodies of the two boys were found the next day in San Manuel, Cortes Department; they showed signs of torture. An investigation initiated by the Attorney General's office was continuing at the end of the year.
In January at least six demonstrators were injured, one requiring hospital treatment, when police attempted to disperse a group of people from the Colonia Canaán neighbourhood of Tegucigalpa. They were peacefully protesting outside the US embassy at the deportation of illegal Honduran immigrants from the USA. Officers belonging to a special police unit known as cobras, reportedly used excessive force against the demonstrators. No investigation was known to have been initiated into the incident.
Amnesty International appealed to the authorities to investigate the killing of Ernesto Sandoval Bustillo and urged that steps be taken to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders. It called on the authorities to take steps to end the impunity enjoyed by members of the military and security forces involved in human rights violations. The Director of the DIC replied in March informing Amnesty International about the steps that had been taken to investigate the killing.
In February Amnesty International expressed concern that the decision to apply amnesty laws in favour of a member of the armed forces involved in human rights violations was incompatible with Honduras' international obligations, and perpetuated impunity.
In April Amnesty International published Honduras: Still waiting for justice, which examined the lack of progress in investigations into "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions which took place in the 1980s.
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