By Thelma Mejia
HAVANA TIMES, Aug. 23 (IPS) – Military repression against demonstrators protesting the coup d’état in Honduras is at odds with international norms, alerted representatives of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of (CIDH) at the end of their five-day visit to this country.
When presenting their preliminary report, the high-level mission of the Commission indicated that it has received hundreds of complaints and taken several testimonies on violations of human rights committed after the military-civilian coup against President Manuel Zelaya, who was kidnapped from his residence on the morning of June 28 by soldiers that forced him onto an airplane bound for Costa Rica.
“Although the armed forces can be called in to participate in the control of demonstrations in exceptional situations, this exercise should be limited to the maximum extent possible because these troops lack the necessary training for controlling internal disturbances,” the CIDH pointed out in its preliminary 15-page report.
The de facto régime alleged that the constitution authorizes the military and police to act jointly to “control disturbances.”
“However, as the Commission and the Inter-American Court have been told, the use of force on the part of state security bodies should be defined by its exceptional application, and such an application should be proportionally planned and limited by the authorities,” the CIDH pointed out.”
Chile’s Felipe Gonzalez, the second vice-president of the CIDH, who attends Honduras, said, “The training that they (the military) receive is directed at defeating an enemy, not at the protection and control of civilians, which is characteristic of police entities.”
The CIDH delegation said it had verified “the use excessive force” against demonstrations supporting the return of the deposed Zelaya.
Coup Has Jeopardized Human Rights
CIDH President Luz Patricia Mejia, from Venezuela, reported “serious excesses” and four people killed in repressive actions, presumably at the hands of uniformed troops. Though all of these incidents are under investigation, she denied the existence of “dozens of dead,” as has been alleged by national and international humanitarian groups.
In a message before returning to Washington on Saturday, Mejia said, “The CIDH considers that the coup d’état executed to remove the constitutional president has had an immediate impact on the validity of the rule of law and human rights in Honduras.”
“The Commission could verify… that the rupture of constitutional order caused by the coup has been accompanied by a heavy military presence in different spheres of civilian life, the suspension of guarantees through the implementation of a curfew that does not meet the standards of the Inter-American System, and the ineffectiveness of judicial bodies in safeguarding the essential rights of people,” it indicated.
The curfew implemented by the illegitimate régime headed by Roberto Micheletti, according to the CIDH, violated basic humanitarian principles and lacked a solid legal foundation when it failed to meet a series of requirements established by the American Convention on Human Rights.
The first of those requirements, Mejia explained, is that the suspension of guarantees can only be applied by a government that exercises power in a legitimate form and within the context of a democratic society.
“The suspension of guarantees lacks all legitimacy when it is used to act against the democratic system, that provides insurmountable limits to the ongoing validity of a person’s essential rights,” Mejia said in quoting the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Since the coup, the rights and guarantees of thousands of people have been affected, either by the curfew or by the repression of protests, alerted the report of the CIDH, which is attached to the Organization of American States (OAS).
The OAS suspended Honduras as an active member on July 4, but it did not exclude it from the Inter-American System of Human Rights, of which the CIDH is a part.
The CIDH, with headquarters in Washington D. C., is one of the two entities of the Inter-American System of Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in America. The other organization is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, headquartered in San José, Costa Rica.
As an autonomous body of the OAS, the CIDH has a mandate of the Inter-American Charter and of the American Convention on Human Rights. Its main function is “to promote the observance and the defense of human rights.”
Inspections in Northern and Eastern Honduras
The mission traveled to several sites in northern and eastern Honduras to gather testimonies, allegations and other information.
Regarding human rights violations, the Commission confirmed the control of information through the temporary closing of some media outlets; the prohibition of broadcasting by certain cable television channels that reported on the coup d’état; the selective application of blackouts, and attacks and threats against journalists that took editorial positions opposed to the régime.
It also found evidence of attacks, threats and intimidation used against reporters and the media who showed sympathy or rejection of the return of Zelaya. The Inter-American Commission noted sharp polarization in the press, which is making the providing of balanced information difficult.
Activist Reina Rivera, of the Center for the Promotion and Investigation of Human Rights in Honduras, told IPS that the preliminary report of the CIDH “reaffirms what many of us have been saying with regard to the excessive use of force, as well as attacks and abuse against people, in addition to attacks on the exercise of freedom of speech.”
Concern over Military in Police Operations
“We share their concern about the presence of the military in police operations,” she added.
What the CIDH just disclosed is that “those responsible for the control of the security forces, such as the public ministry – though ignorance, complicity or tolerance – have not been doing their job,” Rivera pointed out.
She considered that the final report of the CIDH mission will be completed in two months, contemplating a series of recommendations for the State.
Those recommendations “should be immediately adhered to by the de facto régime of Mr. Micheletti, because if it continues repressing people as it has up until now, the only path remaining is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights,” Rivera noted.
De facto Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez Contreras said the content of the CIDH report “was foreseen, and we will make arguments and present a defense against each of the points raised at a later date.”
During their stay, the CIDH met with representatives of the de facto government, authorities of the three branches of the government, various sectors of civil society, human rights defense advocates, political and social leaders and non-governmental organizations.
In addition to Mejia and Gonzalez, the mission was made up of the first vice-president, Argentinean native Victor Abramovich; Commissioner Paolo Carozza, from the United States; Executive Secretary Santiago Canton, from Argentina; the relator for freedom of speech, Catalina Botero, from Colombia; and personnel from the executive secretariat.