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POLICY ANALYSIS: Violence and Impunity Force Migration from Honduras

October 1st, 2010

Despite Hilary Clinton’s claims that Honduras has taken the needed steps to address human rights violations under Porfirio Lobo, who took over the presidency in January 2010, serious human rights abuses and impunity remain widespread.  Among those affected the worst by the post-coup violence are members of the resistance movement, journalists, women and members of the LGBT community. Threats to these groups have forced some to flee and migrate out of fear.

Blanca Dole is one of over 150  exiled resistance members who fled Honduras after the coup last year.  Blanca began receiving threats against her life for her work as the executive director of the Collective of Feminist University Women (COFEMUN). She is now residing in New Jersey after being granted asylum in the United States.  Blanca is not the only member of COFEMUN to receive threats; other activists have been forced into hiding or have also fled Honduras.

Blanca’s recent asylum illustrates a disconnect between different departments of the United States government in treatment of Honduras. The Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security have recognized the continued threats to the safety and personal liberties of women’s rights activists in Honduras by granting asylum in cases like Blanca’s. However, the United States Department of State continues to describe the situation as stable. 

Officials at the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa noted in a briefing with a recent Witness for Peace delegation that the human rights situation in Honduras has been poor for years, including under ousted President Manuel Zelaya. While it is true that Hondurans experienced high levels of violence in the past, since the June 2009 coup and the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo this year human rights violations have been more extreme.  For example, femicides almost doubled in the year of the coup.  The first six months of 2010 show that 407 femicides have already been recorded.  Of these, only ten have been investigated. Another disturbing trend is sexual assault of female political opposition following the coup. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has documented incidents of female protesters being raped, sexually assaulted and harassed by police or military during detention, a practice that sadly continues under Lobo’s administration. 

Gang violence and other civilian crimes remain serious threats to the safety of groups affected by post-coup violence, such as women and the LGBT community, but the lack of investigations into the crimes and abuses conducted by the military and police against political protesters  create opportunities for greater hostility.  In the words of a human rights activist from the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), “if the people who are supposed to protect you are the ones that you are afraid of, where do you turn?” The violence forced people like Blanca  to leave the country in search of safety.  

If the United States is serious about defending human rights in Honduras , Secretary Clinton must stop validating the current government through international recognition and vote against the reintegration of Honduras into the Organization of the American States.