[News] Honduras: Lawyers Question Basis of Zelaya Ouster

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 25 16:04:56 EDT 2009

Honduras: Lawyers Question Basis of Zelaya Ouster

Written by Jennifer Moore
Friday, 25 September 2009

Since June 28 when the Honduran military shot 
their way through the backdoor of President 
Zelaya's private residence, kidnapping and 
forcibly expatriating him to Costa Rica, the de 
facto regime has maintained that Zelaya's removal 
was a constitutional transfer of power. For its 
part, the Obama Administration has condemned the 
ouster, but stopped short of defining the events 
as a military coup. By US law, this would require 
the suspension of the majority of aid to the Central American country.

However, a preliminary report by an international 
delegation of lawyers that visited Honduras in 
late August affirms that a military coup is what 
took place. The report considers the lack of an 
independent judiciary in Honduras as part of the 
context in which this occurred and points to 
powerful economic and political groups opposed to 
social advances promoted by President Zelaya as 
the driving force behind the coup.

The report, drafted by members of the American 
Association of Jurists, the National Lawyers 
Guild, the International Association of 
Democratic Lawyers and the International 
Association Against Torture, further states that 
the military overthrow was a clear violation of 
Honduras' 1982 Political Constitution. Among 
various constitutional articles that the report 
claims were violated includes Article 102, which 
states: "No Honduran may be expatriated nor 
delivered by the authorities to a foreign state." [1]

Building upon observations pertaining to human 
rights violations detailed in the report, the 
National Lawyers Guild released a press bulletin 
on Tuesday concerning the de facto government's 
most recent abuses since Zelaya arrived at the 
Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa on Monday. Coup 
leader Roberto Micheletti used Zelaya's return as 
a pretext to unleash a new wave of aggression by 
his security forces against Hondurans opposed to 
the coup. The Guild also expressed special 
concern for threats to the life of the democratically-elected president.

Zelaya's arrival, it concludes, should motivate 
the US to denounce the violence, further isolate 
the de facto regime and "no longer avoid 
officially declaring a military coup d'etat." The 
Guild also urges UN bodies, including the UN 
Security Council and the UN Economic and Social 
Council, to "initiate proceedings for an economic 
blockade" and to "consider deploying a 
peacekeeping mission to facilitate the return to 
power of the legitimate constitutionally elected 
government." The UN already announced Wednesday 
that it would withdraw all support for upcoming 
elections on November 29th.[2] The UN Security 
Council is also anticipated to make an announcement this week.[3]

Dangerous Territory: Constitutional Reform

The most immediate trigger for the coup was a 
non-binding, national opinion poll scheduled for 
June 28. It was decreed by Zelaya under the 
Citizens' Participation Law, notes the delegation 
report, and would have taken place the same day 
as he was ousted. Hondurans would have answered 
the following question: "Are you in agreement 
that during the 2009 general elections that a 
fourth ballot box be installed in which the 
people will decide whether to strike a Constituent Assembly? Yes/No."

According to the report, the opinion poll was a 
"determining factor" in the coup. They explain 
that "powerful economic and political sectors 
including those who control the Honduran media 
vehemently opposed the move and recurred to the 
courts and the legislature to put in motion a 
very accelerated lawsuit, lacking assurances of 
due process in order to justify actions without 
grounds against President Zelaya, who they 
intended to try." Other reforms Zelaya was 
enacting which enraged to the business class 
included the rise in the minimum wage, the 
exclusion of intermediaries from state fuels 
purchases and the decision to purchase oil from 
the cheapest provider - the Venezuelan oil company Petrocaribe.

The speed with which the Supreme Court processed 
legal measures to block the survey raised 
suspicions among the delegation. "In contrast to 
the speed with which they acted against the 
constitutionally elected President Zelaya, [the 
Supreme Court] has not made any decisions with 
regard to any legal process since then - up until 
this report was drafted [on September 12th] - to 
sanction those responsible for violations of the 
constitution and legal order [as a result of the coup]."

Furthermore, one delegation member comments, "the 
de facto government clearly avoided using its 
legal power to arrest Zelaya when he tried to 
re-enter Honduras, compounding the violation of 
rule of law and furthering the appearance that 
there is no basis for claims that Zelaya 
committed crimes justifying his removal from 
office and claims that he lacks support within Honduras."

Concerns over weaknesses in Honduras' judiciary 
have been raised before. The Inter American Human 
Rights Commission has criticized the country for 
lack of an independent and efficient judiciary, 
notes another member of the delegation. 
Furthermore, a report from Freedom House states, 
"The judicial branch of government in Honduras is 
subject to intervention and influence by both the 
elected branches and wealthy private interests." 
[4] The US State Department profile of Honduras 
also mentions that "Although the constitution and 
law provide for an independent judiciary, the 
judicial system was poorly funded and staffed, 
inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and 
subject to patronage, corruption, and political influence." [5]

Also worrisome to the delegation was the contrast 
found between the ease with which Zelaya's ouster 
was executed and the delays in addressing civil 
society requests for habeas corpus and 
constitutional protection as a result of police 
and military excesses over the last three months.

Human Rights Commissioner Compromised

Human rights abuses have escalated again this 
week since Zelaya's arrival on Monday. The de 
facto regime has enforced a continuing military 
curfew, while state security forces have 
arbitrarily detained, beaten and even killed 
people. The security of the Brazilian Embassy 
where Zelaya is staying has also been threatened. 
The international group of lawyers raises deep 
concerns about the significant rise in human 
rights violations since June 28 and observes the 
lack of attention to such grievances by state 
institutions such as the Office of the Public 
Prosecutor and the Human Rights Commissioner's Office.

While visiting Honduras, the delegation received 
complaints about violations of political and 
civil rights, as well as economic, social and 
cultural rights. Among those they report are 
violations of the right to life, physical 
integrity, liberty of expression, access to 
information, the freedom of association and due 
legal process. They also received testimonies 
concerning cruel and degrading treatment against 
women and abusive treatment of minors, including 
forced military recruitment among poor sectors of the population.

Additionally, they note at least four deaths 
since the coup, although other estimates were up 
to about 11 at the start of this week. [6] In 
this context, they point out, "A lack of will on 
the part of the public attorney's office to 
immediately and diligently investigate what took 
place in order to bring those responsible to 
justice, which contrasts with the swiftness and 
efficiency with which governmental organisms 
processed claims against the deposed president."

They also concluded that many people have avoided 
presenting complaints to the National Human 
Rights Commissioner's office given that the 
Commissioner is an open supporter of the coup. 
Instead people were forced to file reports to 
civil society organizations such as the Committee 
of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of 
Honduras (COFADEH) because of a lack of 
confidence that their cases would be properly addressed.

Seeing such weaknesses in human rights protection 
by the state since the coup, the lawyers' report 
recommends that "organisms such as the National 
Human Rights Commissioner, whose mandate is 
specifically to protect human rights, be led by 
persons committed to the defense of human rights 
and not by those who have declared themselves in 
favor of the coup, such as is the case with Commissioner Dr. Ramón Custodio."

Custodio was quoted by Europa Press this week 
openly criticizing international human rights 
delegations, accusing them of having political 
interests in trying to make a victim out of 
Honduras and stating that they, including 
participants of an upcoming mission from the UN, 
"are looking for a mechanism to once again aggrieve the Honduran people." [7]

Serious human rights violations and the use of 
excessive force by state forces have been 
documented and denounced in recent months by the 
International Federation of Human Rights, the 
Inter American Human Rights Commission (an 
autonomous body of the Organization of American 
States), Amnesty International and now Human 
Rights Watch (HRW). Yesterday, the Spanish news 
agency EFE reported that HRW "asked the OAS to 
demand the government of Robert Micheletti to 
desist in applying force against protesters and 
to guarantee fundamental human rights." They 
noted one confirmed death this week and at least 
150 arbitrary detentions. A HRW representative 
also mentioned four unconfirmed deaths as a 
result of police violence in Tegucigalpa. [8]

Whereas coup leaders lacked constitutional 
grounds upon which to oust Zelaya, those in 
Honduras who oppose the coup do have the right to 
insurrection. Article 3 of their 1982 Political 
Constitution states, "No one owes obedience to a 
government which usurps power nor those who 
assume public functions or employment through the 
use of arms or through means or processes that 
break or fail to recognize what the constitution 
and laws establish. The verified acts of such 
authorities are null. The people [of this 
country] have the right to recur to insurrection 
in defence of constitutional order."

The pro-democracy movement, perhaps the least 
anticipated outcome of the coup, has now managed 
to sustain itself for almost 90 days.

The World's Turn

Finally, members of the American Association of 
Jurists, the National Lawyer's Guild, the 
International Association of Democratic Lawyers 
and the International Association against Torture 
conclude their report by calling upon the 
international community to echo efforts toward 
the restoration of democratic order in Honduras, 
and ultimately the region, by concertedly 
promoting the unconditional return of President Manuel Zelaya.

Indicating the need for ongoing human rights 
vigilance and accompaniment in the current 
period, they insist that upcoming elections not 
be recognized and that much stronger economic sanctions be implemented.

They further add that resulting abuses "cannot 
remain in impunity" and recommend that an 
international tribunal be established to try 
those responsible. Furthermore, given the 
brutality with which state forces have come down 
on Honduran people in recent months, they propose 
that reforms be considered "to assure the 
subordination of the armed forces to civil 
society, including that proposals that could 
result in the elimination of the armed forces and 
their permanent abolition be studied such as has 
taken place in Panama and Costa Rica."


1. For news and updates from the delegation: www.nlginternational.org
2. "ONU suspende asistencia a elecciones en 
Honduras" Prensa Latina, 23 September 2009; 

3. "Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU se pronunciara 
sobre el Golpe en Honduras" Pulsar, 23 September 
2009; http://www.agenciapulsar.org/nota.php?id=15869
4. "Countries at the Crossroads 2007: Honduras" 
Freedom House; 
5. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100644.htm
6. "The Road to Zelaya's Return" Ben Dangl, 
Truthout, 22 September 2009; http://www.truthout.org/092209A
7. "Gobierno 'de facto' denuncia que los 
relatores de DDHH de la ONU 'buscan un 
instrumento para agredir'" Europa Press 19 
September 2009; 

8. "Human Rights Watch pide a la OEA que exija el 
cese de la represion en Honduras" EFE 23 
September 2009; 

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