The Honduran government is deploying dangerous and illegal tactics to silence any dissenting voices in the aftermath of one of the country’s worst political crisis in a decade, including preventing lawyers and human rights activists from visiting detained demonstrators, Amnesty International said after a visit to the country following contested presidential elections on November 26.
“Honduras seems to be on a very dangerous free fall where ordinary people are the victims of reckless and selfish political games,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“Evidence shows that there is no space for people in Honduras to express their opinions. When they do, they come face to face with the full force of the government’s repressive apparatus.”
“Halting all use of illegitimate or excessive force against protesters by security forces, ending arbitrary detentions, and investigating all instances of human rights violations would be a good start to undo some of the many wrongs we have documented in recent days.”
An Amnesty International delegation visited the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, to meet with human rights activists and victims of human rights violations following the crisis and state of exception that unfolded after the Presidential election on November 26. Amnesty’s experts also met with members of the National Police and the office of the Ombudsman.
During their visit, the organization’s delegates documented a plethora of human rights violations against protesters and other people.
Violence against protesters
At least 14 people died, most of them from bullet wounds, and dozens were injured in the context of largely peaceful demonstrations since the elections on Sunday, December 26, according to information provided to Amnesty International by both human rights defenders and public servants.
On December 1, authorities imposed a curfew that many believe increases risks to people’s integrity and life.
One human rights defender told Amnesty International that severe harassment and beatings by security forces during demonstrations have been common in Honduras over the past few days and the situation has become more dangerous for everybody walking on the streets.
Security forces used tear gas, chased and arrested protesters. In some instances, they used firearms against them. Levels of violence are comparable to those that followed the 2009 coup.
Only one police officer has been brought before a judge for firing an arm against a protestor, according to information provided to Amnesty International by the National Police.
Human rights violations under the curfew
During the curfew imposed by the Honduran authorities on December 1, security forces operated with the greatest impunity.
Raúl Antonio Triminio, a 39-year-old builder from Tegucigalpa, was killed during the night of 3 December 2017. His family told Amnesty International that he was peacefully demonstrating outside his house when military police personnel arrived, shot out the street lights and then shot him directly in the face. His relatives could not immediately assist him, since they were too afraid of going out and facing potential attacks by police. One of his sisters said: “They should have arrested him, not shot him. He wasn’t doing anything wrong … we only want justice.”
Military police appear to be implicated in several cases of human rights violations in the context of the demonstrations and during the curfew.
Amnesty International researchers also documented the case of a young man who was attacked by military police in Tegucigalpa as he was trying to put his motorcycle into his home on the night of December 3.
According to eye witnesses, the police did not warn him or try to arrest him. They simply hit him until he lost consciousness. He was hospitalized for days and is still in a serious health condition.
The family told Amnesty International’s researchers that when his siblings tried to assist him, the military police agents pointed their guns at them and told them not to report the case, since they knew where they lived and could come back to kill them.
In both instances, relatives had to call the National Police to take the victims to the hospital, unable and afraid to do this themselves.
The curfew is affecting every aspect of people’s daily lives. Many people have to constantly change their schedules while others loose work hours or are prevented from visiting friends and family. If they fail to leave the streets by the time the curfew starts, they face the risk of not being able to return home or face violence on the streets.
People arrested for breaching the curfew are held in police stations until the end of the curfew, at 5 am. During that time, they are deprived of legal assistance, since lawyers or human rights defenders cannot breach the curfew to visit them or to file legal proceedings on their behalf.
The curfew, which has been amended twice in terms of its time and geographical reach since initially issued, does not follow international law provisions and seems too broad to handle limited cases of violence.
If the government is to further extend this measure, it should sufficiently and adequately argue its necessity and follow all required constitutional and international procedures, including by sending official notifications to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States and to the United Nations.
Either way, effective safeguards should be urgently put in place to prevent more human rights violations and all alleged human rights violations should be properly investigated and prosecuted.
On November 26, 2017 presidential elections were held in Honduras.
In the early morning of 27 November, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Electoral, TSE) published an initial indication of results, based on the revision of 57 percent of the votes, which indicated that the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla had a five-point lead against the current president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández.
Both candidates declared themselves winners. According to the preliminary report from the Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States in Honduras, published following the elections, “the system of publication of the results, available to the public online, was not updated [following the first announcement from the TSE] on 27 November. Upon review, the Mission observed how the difference between the candidates narrowed down”.
On the afternoon of November 29, the TSE published official data that current president Juan Orlando Hernandez was leading the election’s results.
Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world, with high rates of murder and insecurity. There is a high level of mistrust of institutions, fueled by the fact that impunity prevails in the majority of crimes, and by repeated signs of corruption or the involvement of state forces in criminal activities.
Human rights defenders are particularly exposed to violence. Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for human rights defenders, especially for defenders of land and the environment.
As a result of the coup of June 28, 2009, during which various states of exception and curfews were approved, serious human rights violations at the hands of Honduran security forces were reported.