Human rights workers and journalists find themselves under renewed assault by the corrupt system of a troubled Central American nation.
The defenders of progress and freedom in Honduras are facing tough times.
After a military coup in 2009, law enforcement officials and agents of the government took part in widespread human rights violations, including attacks on various organizations and individuals who presented opposition to the takeover.
The government later established a truth and reconciliation commission in 2010 to examine the events around the coup and attempt to investigate abuses and make things right with the public; despite this, however, impunity for those who commit abuses in Honduras remains a serious problem to this day.
One such group under attack is the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras, or COFADEH. For 30 years the organization has sought justice for those citizens who have been imprisoned, tortured, or simply vanished under the government’s oppressive regime.
Since the start of 2012 members of the group have received threatening messages and violent assaults. Dina Meza, who heads the committee, says she was menaced with sexual violence; other members testify to receiving phone calls playing recordings of calls they had made earlier, to signify that they are being watched, and some have even been attacked by thugs while arriving to work.
As Cofadeh is one of Honduras’s largest human rights organizations, the Inter-American Court has ordered Honduran authorities to take better care to protect members and their families; however, the government has only partially complied with protective measures.
Honduras is rife with such crimes against people who are only trying to help improve the situation in the country, and those who perpetrate these heinous acts are rarely brought to justice.
For example, in September a Honduran attorney named Antonio Cabrera was shot and killed after attending a wedding south of the capital of Tegucigalpa. Cabrera was an expert on human rights law and an advocate in that regard; he was the long-time head lawyer in defense of peasants in the Bajo Aguan Valley, where a longstanding territorial dispute between impoverished famers and their landowners is still ongoing, and was detained in August after protesting outside Honduras’s Supreme Court building.
Together with a group of similar-minded lawyers, Cabrera presented a constitutional challenge on September 5 to the high court to stop the creation of cities known as “special development regions” in Honduras. The cities would have been granted powers and trade conditions to promote investment, including their own laws, police and justice systems that would not be accountable to anyone.
For his opposition to these and other plans that violated human rights, Cabrera had received death threats starting in 2011. He even at one point filed a formal complaint with federal authorities, but the Honduran government never investigated.
Cabrera was shot multiple times and died shortly after being taken to a hospital. Police say the circumstances of his murder strongly suggest it was a targeted killing.
After calls from international organizations such as the Human Rights Watch, the Honduran justice system has opened an inquiry into Cabrera’s murder, Whether or not anyone will be charged remains to be seen.
Journalists in Honduras are also facing danger and adversity in their attempts to tell the truth about what is really going on in their country. In addition to having the highest murder rate in the world, Honduras is also noted as the most dangerous nation for members of the press, with at least 22 journalists killed in the last four years.
It has gotten to the point where Honduras has created an environment where journalists are afraid to report on land conflicts or human rights violations, lest they be caught on the wrong side of the issue and taken care of by either the government of random groups of thugs.
This September, a new group of sub-committees in both the governments of Honduras and the United States have been formed to investigate the crimes plaguing journalists in Honduras, human rights activists and members of the country’s LGBT community, which is also under heavy fire. They are all victims of gangs and local political groups, some backed by the government, who wish to silence dissent and eliminate those who are not like them.
The committees for justice seem to have made some progress since; one man was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the murder of a television producer, and another for the killing of journalist and LGBT activist Erick Martinez. A vast number of other cases, however, still remain unsolved, and in a country where no one will speak out for fear of reprisals, the work of justice will be long and hard.
There can be no doubt that the road to justice in Honduras faces many obstacles; it will take a great deal of time and effort to overcome years of state and local oppression so that citizens are finally able to speak their minds without worrying about how they could be punished for it.