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Updated 02/04/2008

Honduras News in Review—December 2007/January 2008

1. Human rights prosecutor to reactivate disappearance, torture cases against former military officers
2. Honduran foreign minister resigns after incident with police
3. Transparency and Access to Information Law inaugurated, critiqued
4. Honduras set to join Petrocaribe, some officials worried
5. Mobile court brings free judicial services to low-income Hondurans
6. Police seize weapons and electronics from gang cellblock in National Penitentiary

1. Human rights prosecutor to reactivate disappearance, torture cases against former military officers
The Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor in Honduras will reopen proceedings against former military officers accused of involvement in kidnapping, torture and forced disappearance cases in the 1980s, official sources reported on Dec. 5. According to Bertha Oliva, coordinator for the Committee of Relatives of Detained-Disappeared in Honduras, the decision came about during a three-day training program, “Prosecuting Human Rights Crimes in National Courts,” sponsored by the San Francisco, Calif.-based nonprofit Center for Justice and Accountability. In 1994 the prosecutor’s office opened proceedings against some 26 military officers allegedly involved in human rights crimes; since then, Oliva said, many cases have been “forgotten in the courts.” Human Rights Prosecutor Sandra Ponce noted that the cases have never actually been closed, but that only six had as yet come to court and also that the efforts of the prosecutor’s office have been directed more toward recovering the remains of victims from clandestine graves. However, she said, “the trials are going to continue.” According to Oliva, one of the first cases to be addressed will be that of six university students who were kidnapped and tortured in 1982. Among them was Milton Jimenez, the recently resigned Honduran Foreign Minister (see story below). [El Heraldo, 12/5/07]

2. Honduran foreign minister resigns after incident with police
Honduran Foreign Minister Milton Jimenez announced his resignation on Jan. 3 after admitting to driving while intoxicated and throwing punches at a group of policemen who had arrested him for driving a car without license plates. In a press conference Jimenez showed reporters bruises on his arms that he said were the result of aggressive treatment by police. According to police, Jimenez refused to identify himself when they stopped him, but Jimenez claimed police “reacted violently,” throwing him into the back of a patrol car and “mistreating” him before he could identify himself. Once at the station house, Jimenez said he lashed out against police in response to the abuse he had received. Police then forcibly restrained him. The incident was made public when video recorded on a mobile phone was posted to the website YouTube.com and broadcast on a local television station the previous day. In 1982 Jimenez was one of six university students detained, interrogated and tortured for several days, allegedly by members of the Honduran Armed Forces. Dr. Juan Almendares, executive director of the Center for the Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Their Families, a Honduras-based nonprofit, issued a public statement in defense of Jimenez, noting that his behavior could be tied to posttraumatic stress disorder. He said, “The trauma of torture is one of the most horrific and Mr. Jimenez was subjected to a retraumatization process that revived the memory of what he suffered during the 1980s.” [La Prensa, 1/3/08; Red de Desarollo Sostenible-Honduras, 1/8/08]

3. Transparency and Access to Information Law inaugurated, critiqued
On Jan. 21 Honduran President Manuel Zelaya commemorated the inauguration of the country’s new Transparency and Access to Information Law. The law, passed in November 2006 and instituted on Jan. 19, 2007, made provisions for an initial year of implementation, including the establishment of an oversight body, the Institute of Access to Public Information (IAIP), and an enforcement body, the National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA). The Honduras-based nonprofit Democracy Without Borders Foundation issued a statement following the Jan. 19 implementation deadline calling for quick adherence to the law, which has long been sought by citizens as well as human rights organizations. In addition to highlighting the yet unmet responsibilities of the IAIP and CNA, the foundation called for quick passage of complementary legislation including a general law on access to archives, without which, CNA head Juan Ferrera said in a concurring statement, the transparency law “will always be limited.” The global anticorruption nonprofit Transparency International, in a Jan. 17 statement by its Central American delegate, Manfredo Marroquín, went further, saying the law is, as of yet, “practically unimplemented,” adding that corruption in Honduras ranks among the worst in Latin America. [Hondudiario, 1/17/08; Hondudiario, 1/17/08; Hondudiario, 1/19/08; El Heraldo, 1/22/08]

4. Honduras set to join Petrocaribe, some officials worried
During a visit from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Jan. 15, President Manuel Zelaya and his ministers signed a two-year, $1.5 billion agreement with Venezuela’s Caribbean Petroleum Organization, Petrocaribe, an oil initiative that provides small nations with crude shipments at preferential prices and with a payment plan. Petrocaribe will supply virtually all of the Honduras’s bunker fuel and 30 percent of its liquid propane gas, fuel, gasoline and diesel needs for 2008 and 2009. The deal—60 percent of which would be paid within 90 days and the remaining 40 percent over the next 25 years—would receive a one-percent annual interest rate, and be paid, at least in part, in equivalent agricultural products. The agreement stipulates that the savings (the 40 percent not paid up front, which is equivalent to about 10.5 billion lempiras) be put into a trust, of which 30 percent would be used for the recovery of the National Electric Power Company, another 30 percent for investment in social projects, especially those strengthening the agricultural and housing sectors, and those deemed “high impact” infrastructure. The remaining 40 percent would be slotted for small- and mid-sized hydroelectric dams, with a priority on state-owned projects or those that directly involve local communities or civil society. The agreement still needs ratification by the national congress, which is worried that it does not guarantee supply, citing a 60-day termination clause on Venezuela’s side, as well as recent supply problems in the Dominican Republic. The 20 million daily barrels of promised bunker fuel consititute roughly 70 percent of Honduras’s total energy needs, and disruption or delay of that flow could significantly compromise the country’s energy security, according to congressional officials. Additionally, energy industry leaders are concerned about long-term relationships with other suppliers once the contract period is over. [La Prensa, 1/15/08; El Heraldo, 1/22/08; El Heraldo, 1/30/08]

5. Mobile court brings free judicial services to low-income Hondurans
Honduran Supreme Court President Vilma Cecilia Morales on Jan. 16 inaugurated the country’s first Juzgado de Paz Móvil, or mobile court. The refitted modern bus will carry judges, court reporters and other assistants to districts around the capital and throughout the center of the country, providing free services to low-income citizens. The mobile court will deal with civil matters such as family and labor disputes, and minor criminal offenses such as petty theft. The court will also offer mediation services, and it will not require claimants to have a lawyer. Another mobile court is expected to be launched soon to serve the northwest region of the country. [Hondudiario, 1/16/08; El Heraldo, 1/18/08]

6. Police seize weapons and electronics from gang cellblock in National Penitentiary
Officials are trying to determine who helped inmates in the National Penitentiary, north of Tegucigalpa, smuggle in a large stash of weapons and banned electronics. Prison officials said the contraband found in the cellblock occupied by the Mara 18 gang included AK-47s, an Uzi, shotguns, grenades and explosives, some of which could only be launched by aircraft. The inmates had also constructed cubicles outfitted with air conditioning, refrigerators, large beds, televisions and audio equipment. The previous week two skeletons were found in a pit in the cellblock, prompting authorities to order the relocation of the prisoners to determine if more dead were buried there. However, Human Rights Prosecutor Sandra Ponce, citing past events of negligence that have led to the deaths of dozens of inmates in other national prisons, has blocked the move because the proposed new location doesn’t meet minimum requirements of hygiene and safety. [El Heraldo, 1/18/08]


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