US Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Three-Day Fact-Finding Mission in Honduras Confirms Widespread Human Rights Abuses
An Inventory of Reports from Major National and International Human Rights Organizations from Honduras Under Coup d’Etat
By Tamar Sharabi
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
November 13, 2009
TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS, NOVEMBER 13, 2009: Despite the US State Department’s stance for a ‘Honduran Solution,’ some Republican US Senators and House members have openly intervened and strongly supported the de facto government, not recognized by any nation in the world. US Rep. Jan. Schakowsky (D-Illinois), is the first congressperson to visit Honduras since the June 28 coup that did not come in prefabricated support of the de facto regime. She was invited by Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of COFADEH, a human rights organization that has been documenting abuses for the past 27 years. COFADEH has documented more than 3,000 illegal detentions since the coup and over 21 murders in a report published Oct. 22. During her recent mission in Washington, Oliva invited Schakowsky to witness firsthand the Honduran reality of police brutality that is not making the headlines.
Schakowsky’s three day visit from November 10-12 included meetings with family members of victims that have died directly from violence from the coup, media outlets such as Channel 36 and Radio Globo that have been attacked for honestly reporting on the resistance movement, and also a visit to the Brazilian Embassy where ousted President Zelaya and approximately 40 others have taken refuge for the last 53 days. The Chicago Congresswoman commented on her opportunity to hear a recording of some of the sounds bombarded into the Embassy and see the blinding lights set up outside, in addition to the crane set up for the military to spy into the Embassy.
Citing a “serious deterioration of human rights since the coup,” Schakowsky reflected on the executive decree PCM-M-016-2009 (declaring a state of siege) published on Sep. 27 which was set in place to supposedly defend national security and public order but that “seems to be defined as anything that is said against the coup.” This is the same decree that, after even some of the coup plotters publicly criticized it, was promised to be lifted immediately but took until October 19t (when the UN Human Rights Commission began a visit) before it was officially printed in the official ‘Gazette’ to end the decree. Under that decree, any police commissioner present at a resistance demonstration could declare the gathering “illegal” and use violent means to disperse the peaceful crowds.
When asked about whether free and fair elections are possible under such conditions and expressing concern about other media outlets that have been under attack such as Radio Progresso and Radio Tocoa, Schakowsky did not explicitly express her opinion on whether the November 29 elections should take place or not. The question pointed to statements made by Police Commissioner Danilo Orellana, who had appeared on Channel 6 and called for government actions against all media outlets that are calling on the public not to vote. Instead, Schakowsky evaded the question and stated:
“In a democratic country the principal of freedom of the press is really sacred, and as for the timing of the elections, congress should really move forward in an expedited fashion to restore the president and democratic order.”
US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, during the November 12 daily press briefing in Washington, confused matters even more during this exchange with a reporter:
QUESTION: Yeah, I knew that. But still, you know, we’re coming on three weeks now. Is it a legitimate election if the current government has been supplanted by an interim military-backed government?
MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, it’s in everybody’s interest that these elections are seen as free, fair, transparent, and enjoy international recognition.
QUESTION: So that just wipes the slate clean over the past five months?
MR. KELLY: Well, they need to be recognized as free, fair, transparent. There are also – we also need to address this question of national unity and reconciliation. There’s been a fracture in the Honduran body politic, and we need to repair that. And that’s what this accord does. And that’s – again, I’ll just say it again, that’s what we’re focused on is the – this accord.
Why did the ‘historic’ accord claimed by the State Department fail?
The San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord, signed on October 30, included a deadline of completing by Nov 5 the “Formation and installation of the National Unity and Reconciliation Government.” According to the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, its part of the deal had thus been fulfilled. Minutes after midnight on Nov 6 Micheletti held a press conference aired on National TV announcing the new de facto – de facto government (ironically coined the “unity government”) without any representation from Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
The accords fell short of guaranteeing Zelaya be reinstated for two main reasons. Firstly, there was no linkage between having Congress vote on the reinstatement of President Zelaya with the formation of the ‘unity’ government. This left the door open for Micheletti’s representatives to form the ‘unity’ government without considering who would manage the cabinet because it was obvious to them Micheletti would stay in power. Secondly, there was no deadline as to when Congress had to vote on the reinstatement of Zelaya. Thus Honduras is in the situation where the international community is once again demanding the return to democratic order and the original coup d’état plotters get to claim its actions are merely a “succession of power” for the second time.
The international community and the Honduras resistance movement, however, have not taken the bait. Now, US State Department spokesmen speak in support for the developments of the flawed accord to maintain its position for a “Honduran Solution.” Unsurprisingly, Senator Jim DeMint, (R-South Carolina) announced in a November 5 press release that he had secured a commitment from the Obama administration to recognize the elections of Nov 29 regardless of whether Zelaya is reinstated and regardless of whether the the Honduran Congress votes on the President’s return before or after the elections. In return, DeMint lifted his block on the nominations of Arturo Valenzuela to be Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs (Shannon’s previous job) and Thomas Shannon to be U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. According to DeMint’s press release:
“I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections… I take our administration at their word that they will now side with the Honduran people and end their focus on the disgraced Zelaya.”
As to the human rights abuses that Representative Schakowsky had the opportunity to witness along with dozens of delegations that have visited Honduras in the last four months, the State Department looks the other way. From that same November 12 State Department press briefing:
QUESTION: A follow-up on Honduras. What does the U.S. think about the human rights situation there right now? There have been mass arrests, curfews, an emergency decree, and a ban on protests and media closures for three weeks during the presidential campaign. Does that undermine the electoral process, in the view of the U.S.?
MR. KELLY: Regarding the – well, first of all, our real priority here is to see this accord implemented step by step. We’ve only gotten through step one, and we need step two and step three to be implemented.
Regarding the – these reports, I’m actually not aware of these reports of any actions to – you say ban rallies and – no, I’m not just aware of those reports. I think that we would need to have more details about it for us to really comment on it.
For Mr. Kelly’s convenience, here are links to ample documentation from respected Human Rights reports, both from local and international organizations:
COFADEH (Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras)
CPTRT (Center for Prevention,Treatment and Rehabilitation for Victims of Torture and their Families)
Human Rights Watch
The United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (part of the Organization of the American States) have not yet published their respective reports.
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Please join this struggle for justice and true freedom. Our brothers and sisters across the Americas are doing their parts from conditions of extreme hardship and danger. Surely it is time for us to “step up” from here. Please spread this note everywhere. General Joe