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Updated 05/11/2006

Honduras News in Review—March 27, 2006

1. U.S. federal judge hears testimony against former Honduran colonel

2. Inter-American Court condemns Honduras in Garífuna case

3. Human rights groups ask OAS to investigate the prison system in Honduras

4. Government accuses illegal loggers of starting forest fires

5. Casa Alianza campaign seeks to decrease glue addictions among Honduran youth

6. Over half of military recruits desert police training program

7. Honduran Parliament passes reforms necessary for CAFTA

8. Honduras may have lost $10.5 million in expired medication in 2005

9. Ombudsmen meet in Panama to discuss torture in Central American prisons

10. New domestic violence law enters into force in Honduras

11. Government employees strike, demanding salary increases

12. Northern coast of Honduras is a trafficking corridor for sexually exploited minors

13. New human rights degree now available in Honduras’s largest university

1. U.S. federal judge hears testimony against former Honduran colonel

A federal judge in Florida heard testimony on March 16, 2006, against Colonel Juan López Grijalba, the former head of national and military intelligence in Honduras. During Grijalba’s tenure in the early1980s, many activists, students and other perceived leftists were tortured and disappeared. Judge Joan A. Lenard has already found López Grijalba responsible for human rights violations and will rule on the amount of punitive and compensatory damages that he must pay to each of the six plaintiffs, who include torture survivors and family members of the disappeared. López Grijalba, who made no provision to have legal representation at the damages hearing, was deported from the U.S. in 2004. [CJA press release, 3/13/06; read more about the plaintiffs’ case histories]

2. Inter-American Court condemns Honduras in Garífuna case

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has condemned the state of Honduras for the arbitrary detention of Garífuna leader Alfredo López Alvarez. The state was ordered to pay reparations to López and members of his family. The sentence also encouraged the state to adopt measures to improve the prison system and to provide human rights training to those working within the prison system. López was arrested in April 1997 on drug charges. He was absolved of wrong doing in January 2003 but was not released until August of that year. [EFE News, 3/17/06]

3. Human rights groups ask OAS to investigate the prison system in Honduras                   

Sandra Ponce, the special prosecutor for human rights in Honduras, announced that she and other human rights organizations in Honduras have requested the presence of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty of the Organization of American States. The request comes after an informative meeting before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the prison system in Honduras. The meeting was attended by several human rights organizations as well as representatives for the state. According to one human rights organization, the purpose of the meeting was not to place blame but rather to identify the problems with the penitentiary system and to propose solutions. Overcrowding is a major issue in Honduran prisons; there are currently 11,545 inmates living in spaces built for only 6,450 persons. Currently, 62.73% of the prison population is awaiting sentencing. Since 2000, 438 inmates have died violently in prison and few of the cases have been adequately investigated, making security one of the main concerns of human rights groups. [CPTRT press release, 3/8/06; Hondudiario 3/15/06; EFE News, 3/16/06]

4. Government accuses illegal loggers of starting forest fires

Government officials in Honduras are accusing illegal loggers of starting hundreds of forest fires in retaliation for increased military and police operations to stop illegal wood trafficking. These fires are currently engulfing areas throughtout the country. Illegal loggers may also hope to be granted permits to cut fire-damaged trees, officials said. In 2006, 4,700 hectares of forest have been consumed by fire. Six forests around Tegucigalpa were simultaneously burning, causing a thick veil of smoke to cover the capital. One person has been killed and five injured in the fires, which have effected several departments of Honduras. [Hondudiario, 3/22/06]

5. Casa Alianza campaign seeks to decrease glue addictions among Honduran youth

Casa Alianza (Convenant House) in Honduras has announced a new campaign called “Break the Cycle” designed to decrease glue addictions among children and youth. José Manuel Capellín, director of Casa Alianza in Honduras, says that between 25,000 and 35,000 children in Honduras sniff the highly addictive shoe glue. In addition, around 99% of the children that are helped by the humanitarian organization are, or have been, glue sniffers. Capellín warns that the problem is not only seen among street children but also children in both public and private schools, some of whom are starting to use the drug as young as 12. The Break the Cycle campaign will target glue sellers in urban areas, encouraging them not to sell to minors; Casa Alianza is advocating prosecuting those sellers that do. [EFE News, 3/20/05]

6. Over half of military recruits desert police training program

According to security officials in Honduras, 138 of the 250 soldiers transferred to the National Police deserted the necessary transition training. Officials speculate that low education levels among military recruits (some had not finished primary school) and a lack of psychological preparedness for the training contributed to the high desertion rate. In response to the mass desertion, 200 former police officers will reenter the force. President Manuel Zelaya had implemented a program to transfer 250 soldiers every three months to the police in order to increase security. [Hondudiario, 3/17/06; La Prensa, 3/22/06]

7. Honduran Parliament passes reforms necessary for CAFTA

In the early morning hours of March 16, 2006, the Honduran Parliament passed a package of legal reforms necessary for the implementation of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The reforms included changes to intellectual property laws, employment laws and the penal code. Only five representatives – all from the Democratic Unification Party – opposed the reforms. President Manuel Zelaya said the passage meant a “day of celebration” for Honduras. Democratic Unification dissenters said it was a day of celebration but only for big business and multinationals. With the necessary reforms in place, it is likely that the trade agreement will enter into force on April 1, 2006. [EFE News, 3/16/06]

8. Honduras may have lost $10.5 million in expired medication in 2005

Honduran Health Minister Orison Velásquez has accused the previous administration of costing the state 200 million lempiras ($10.5 million) in 2005 through purchases of nearly-expired medication. Velásquez said he also found some medications with lower amounts of milligrams than stated on the labels. The former health minister, Elías Lizardo, has denied the accusations, saying that the government always purchased medicines within the confines of the law, which states that all medicine purchased must have at least one year before expiration. Velásquez has promised to investigate. [El Heraldo, 3/13/06; El Heraldo, 3/14/06]

9. Ombudsmen meet in Panama to discuss torture in Central American prisons

Ombudsmen from various Latin American countries will meet in Panama March 21-24 to discuss ways to prevent torture and abuse in Central American prisons. Participants, who include experts from the U.S., Mexico, the U.N. and the Organization of American States, will discuss experiences with the intention of identifying strategies and best regional practices. [EFE News, 3/21/06]

10. New domestic violence law enters into force in Honduras

Changes to Honduras’s Domestic Violence law, which was passed by the previous Congress, have entered into force. New security and precautionary measures will make the law’s application easier for law enforcement officials. For example, police will no longer have to wait for a warrant to detain an aggressor. [La Prensa, 3/20/06]

11. Government employees strike, demanding salary increases

Around 35,000 government employees are on strike in Honduras, demanding higher salaries. Strike leaders are asking President Manuel Zelaya to fulfill his campaign promise and increase public salaries by $17 per month. The strike affects government agencies and public hospitals. There is an average of 20 strikes every year in Honduras in the public and private sector. The minimum wage in Honduras is $112 per month, and public employees’ salaries average $150 per month. [EFE News, 3/16/06]

12. Northern coast of Honduras is a trafficking corridor for sexually exploited minors

During a training session on the sexual exploitation of children in Honduras, the special prosecutor for children, Nora Urbina, presented a report showing that the northern coast of Honduras is a trafficking corridor for minors. The coast’s proximity to the border means that the majority of the trafficked minors end up working in prostitution rings in Guatemalan nightclubs. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that 2 million children and youth are sexually exploited every year. [Hondudiario, 3/20/06; El Heraldo, 3/20/06]

13. New human rights degree now available in Honduras’s largest university

The National University of Honduras has announced the creation of a new Master’s degree in human rights and development. University leaders hope the new field will fill a vacuum and move the school towards a more humanistic mission. [Hondudiario, 3/21/06]

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