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Updated 11/17/2006

Honduras News in Review—October 31, 2006

1. Inter-American Court rules against Honduras in extrajudicial murder case

2. U.N. group investigating detentions in Honduras

3. Inter-American Commission admits complaint on penitentiary fire

4. U.S. Embassy denounces threats and bribes in murder case

5. Report underscores alarming rates of “femicide” in Central America

6. Environmental investigators threatened for work against illegal logging

7. Teachers protest late payments

8. Government seeks to reduce maternal and infant mortality

9. More than 1.5 million Hondurans are malnourished

10. New legislation will provide free DNA tests to determine paternity

11. 70 villages to receive solar power

1. Inter-American Court rules against Honduras in extrajudicial murder case

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Oct. 24 released a ruling against the state of Honduras for violating the rights of four young men arbitrarily detained, tortured and murdered in 1995. The victims, two of whom were minors, were among a group of 128 suspected delinquents or gang members arrested as a preventive measure prior to an Independence Day celebration in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 15, 2005. The following day a judge ordered the release of most of the detainees, including the victims in this case; however, according to witnesses, the four men were taken from their cells and tortured. Their bodies were found later that day in four different points in the city; forensic evidence showed that the same weapon had killed them all. According to state attorneys, the state did not even argue the “four cardinal points” case because the evidence was so conclusive. The state was ordered to pay more than $500,000 to the families of the victims, Marco Antonio Servellón García, 16, Rony Alexis Betancourt Vásquez, 17, Diomedes Obed García, 18, and Orlando Alvarez Ríos, 32. In addition, the court said the state must take all steps necessary to identify and punish those responsible, train security personnel on the state’s responsibility to protect the rights of young people, and name a street or plaza for the victims. This is the fourth time the human rights court has ruled against Honduras. [EFE News, 10/25/06; El Heraldo, 10/25/06; Inter-American Court sentence, 09/21/06]

2. U.N. group investigating detentions in Honduras

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention arrived in Honduras on Oct. 25 to conduct a nine-day investigation at the invitation of the Honduran government. The group, traveling to Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba, will meet with police, judges, public prosecutors and defenders, and other civil employees. It will also visit jails and detention facilities to interview prisoners, whose testimonies will make up part of the group’s final report. The aim of the investigation is to evaluate how well Honduras is complying with international human rights laws. In a report presented to the U.N. Committee for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights a few days earlier in Geneva, Honduras admitted that more than 1,000 complaints of arbitrary detention have been registered in the country. Sandra Ponce, the special prosecutor for human rights, also told the committee that the state owed a human rights debt to its citizens because of forced disappearances and violent deaths of youths that have not been investigated. [Hondudiario, 10/23/06; Hondudiario, 10/25/06]

3. Inter-American Commission admits complaint on penitentiary fire

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced it has admitted a complaint filed by the bishop of San Pedro Sula for the deaths of 107 prison inmates killed in a May 2004 fire. The victims were all members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. The complaint questions why Honduras has not punished those responsible for the fire, and the commission will determine whether the country has violated its obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and other international norms to which it is a party. [El Heraldo, 10/25/06]

4. U.S. Embassy denounces threats and bribes in murder case

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras publicly denounced alleged threats and bribes of witnesses and judges in the trial of Presidential Guard Joel Nahúm Espinoza, who is accused of the 1999 murder of U.S. Sgt. Francisco Morales. According to the embassy, presidential guards and others have put pressure on witnesses to change their testimony and on judges to rule in favor of Espinoza. Morales, who was killed in the eastern department of Colón, was in Honduras to assist with reconstruction following Hurricane Mitch. [EFE News, 10/23/06]

5. Report underscores alarming rates of “femicide” in Central America

Central America is seeing high rates of “femicide,” or the murder of women, according to a report by the Central American Committee of Human Rights Prosecutors and the Inter-American Institute on Human Rights. The report, which was presented in Honduras on Oct. 26 as part of Human Rights Week, said there have been 3,988 such deaths in the region since 2002. Honduras has the third highest rate of femicide, with 613 deaths; Guatemala has the highest rate, with 1,398 deaths, followed by El Salvador, with 1,320. Investigators found that the perpetrators are often relatives, estranged or current boyfriends and husbands, and members of organized crime units such as gang members and drug traffickers. Victims are found shot, beaten, burned, suffocated, decapitated and tortured. The majority of such cases go unpunished. [EFE News, 10/27/06; El Heraldo, 10/27/06]

6. Environmental investigators threatened for work against illegal logging

Employees of the special office of the prosecutor for the environment are being intimidated because of their work against illegal logging, authorities of the Public Ministry announced on Oct. 19. This office of the public prosecutor has been working for some time on investigations into illegal timber trafficking, especially wood logged from the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve. In a recent seizure in Olancho, technicians and lawyers for the environment office were filmed while surveying the seized sawmill, and one of the technicians was followed to his house. In addition, some of the lawyers have received threatening phone calls. Authorities said that investigations into the source of the threats are under way. [El Heraldo, 10/20/06]

7. Teachers protest late payments

Teachers in Honduras again took to the streets when the government failed to pay thousands of teachers who have not received a salary since February 2006. Massive protests had previously shut down many schools for weeks. The government had agreed to begin paying the teachers it owed on Oct. 15; when that deadline passed, teachers began protesting. A new agreement between protestors and the government was made and teachers returned to work after three days of striking. The government has promised to begin paying the teachers on Oct. 27. [EFE News, 10/17/06; EFE News, 10/19/06]

8. Government seeks to reduce maternal and infant mortality

The Honduran minister of health announced that 67 million lempiras ($3.5 million) have been marked to support programs to reduce maternal and infant mortality. The funds will be distributed over a period of 4 years, and the government hopes to see reduction rates of 78% by the end of that period. According to recent studies, 34 of every 1,000 infants in Honduras die annually and 108 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. The programs will target poor communities and will open more 24-hour clinics. [El Heraldo, 10/16/06]

9. More than 1.5 million Hondurans are malnourished

A World Food Day celebration on Oct. 16 revealed sobering numbers for Honduras, whose chronic malnutrition rate has been increasing since 1997. According to studies by the U.N. World Food Program, over 1.5 million people in Honduras are malnourished and 10 to 15 people die each day because of hunger, poverty and contaminated water. Food scarcity affects the 66% of Hondurans who live below the poverty line, and Hondurans who live in rural areas are the hardest hit. According to a WFP representative, food production in Honduras is sufficient, but food distribution is inadequate because of disparities in purchasing power. To improve consistency in food supplies in the country, the WFP and the Honduran government are investing in programs designed to train rural residents in food production not only for commercial purposes but also on local and household levels. [El Heraldo, 10/16/06; El Heraldo, 10/17/06]

10. New legislation will provide free DNA tests to determine paternity

The Congressional Child and Family Commission in Honduras is working with Unicef to develop a new legislation that would demand child-care payments from irresponsible fathers. The Law for Responsible Motherhood and Fatherhood would require DNA tests to determine disputed fatherhood or motherhood claims. DNA tests will be free for low-income people. [Hondudiario, 10/16/06]

11. 70 villages to receive solar power

Funds from the European Economic Community will be used to provide solar-powered electricity to about 70 villages in Honduras. The communities chosen for the project are poor towns without electricity, and many of their residents are ethnic minorities. In each town, electricity will be provided in both public places and private homes. [La Prensa, 10/19/06]

 

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