108 members of the U.S. House or Representatives have submitted a “Dear Colleague” letter to Secretary of State John Kerry re: human rights in Honduras. In the letter, the critical human rights situation in Honduras is outlined, and calls are made to evaluate the U.S. role in funding and supporting the Honduran security forces.
This important letter was made possible by the leadership of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) and the advocacy of human rights and solidarity activists. Special credit is due to the Chicago Religious Leadership Network, who worked hard to educate members of U.S. Congress on Honduras and U.S. military aid. It’s always important to remember that without our activist efforts, elected officials may not take action on issues important to human rights and foreign policy in Latin America.
The following is an article by the New York Times on the Dear Colleague letter:
In the past few months, international organizations have raised renewed concern over the targeted killings of journalists and advocates for human and land rights.
The letter to Secretary of State John Kerry was signed by 108 members of Congress, led by Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois. In it, the lawmakers argued that the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández has “adopted policies that threaten to make the human rights situation even worse” by promoting a militarized police force and using its army for domestic law enforcement.
The letter called on the State Department to evaluate Washington’s support and training for the Honduran police and military.
In its 2013 human rights report, the State Department acknowledged the severity of human rights abuses in Honduras. It described the “corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system leading to widespread impunity,” along with “unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces, organized criminal elements, and others.”
The letter from House members mentioned the tear-gassing of opposition legislators and activists during a protest in the Honduran Congress building two weeks ago, as well as the killings of lawyers and human rights defenders, among others.
Other outbreaks of violence over the past few weeks have continued the pattern.
Carlos Mejia Orellana of Radio Progreso, killed in April. Photo credit: Honduras Tierra Libre.
In April, Carlos Mejía Orellana, the marketing director of Radio Progreso, a Jesuit radio station critical of the government, was stabbed to death in El Progreso. His killing prompted a statement at the time from Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, saying, “Too often, Honduran officials have dismissed threats and attacks against journalists, and questioned whether the violence was connected to the victims’ profession.”
Other homicide investigations have been quick to assign personal motives or describe killings as tied to robberies.
Last week Aníbal Duarte, the popular mayor of the municipality of Iriona, was shot and killed in front of his family in a hotel swimming pool in Jutiapa, near the Caribbean port city of La Ceiba.
Mr. Duarte administered a vast and sparsely populated territory in northeastern Honduras where illegal logging and drug trafficking are rampant. Officials in the investigative arm of the national police told local reporters that they believed a personal dispute was behind his killing.
Three days later, a government forester was fatally shot in La Ceiba as he got off a bus. The victim, José Alexander González Cerros, 33, who worked in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, had recently reported illegal logging in the area.
In another case, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement this month condemning the killing of Orlando Orellana, 75, a rights advocate who led a community in a property dispute outside the city of San Pedro Sula, in the northwest. No arrests have been made in these deaths.
The commission also expressed concern about the rising number of children and young people who have been victims of violence in Honduras. Casa Alianza, an organization that works with street children, presented a report last month showing that 270 children and young people throughout Honduras had been killed in the first three months of this year. Two weeks later José Guadalupe Ruelas, the director of the Honduras branch of the group, was beaten by the military police.