Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

State Department Discovers Human Rights Concerns

On November 13, State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked for US reaction to the Human Rights conditions in Honduras since the coup. He professed total ignorance of the reports issued by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even the IACHR. Here's the exchange from the October 13 daily press briefing:

QUESTION: A follow-up on Honduras. What does the U.S. think about the human rights situation there right now? There have been mass arrests, curfews, an emergency decree, and a ban on protests and media closures for three weeks during the presidential campaign. Does that undermine the electoral process, in the view of the U.S.?

MR. KELLY: Regarding the – well, first of all, our real priority here is to see this accord implemented step by step. We’ve only gotten through step one, and we need step two and step three to be implemented.

Regarding the – these reports, I’m actually not aware of these reports of any actions to – you say ban rallies and – no, I’m not just aware of those reports. I think that we would need to have more details about it for us to really comment on it.

Just to remind you, the Minister of Security issued an administrative rule on October 21 that prohibited all public gatherings, be they birthday parties or political rallies, without prior notification and permission of the National Police. Executive decree 124-2009, published on October 5, enjoined the military to monitor radio and television broadcasts and to denounce those of "general abhorrence" to CONATEL so that their broadcast licenses can be revoked.

Today the State Department suddenly expressed Human Rights concerns about the situation in Honduras since the coup, and claimed they've always had these concerns.

It all started with a question about a Human Rights Watch report on conditions in Cuba. Kelly replied that "human rights is at the center of our Cuban policy." He went on to elaborate that "So this is a real priority for the United States, and it will continue to be so." The questioner, seeking clarity asked, "Is that - human rights in the hemisphere?" to which Kelly replied, "Sure." Then the questioner reminded Kelly of his being asked about Human Rights in Honduras last week.

QUESTION: I believe last week, or maybe a little bit before then, you were asked about human rights abuses in Honduras, and reports from the same organization that Dave just mentioned as well as Amnesty International and local human rights groups who have catalogued 4,234 violations since the coup, including 21 murders, or executions as they call them.
There are growing calls from trade union movement here for the U.S. not to recognize the elections unless these things are corrected. Is this something of concern to you guys?

MR. KELLY: It is. It has been and remains a concern. There have been a number of human rights violations since the coup, and we have consistently called on the regime to respect the rights of individual citizens. And we’ve been particularly concerned about some of the moves against the media. And the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa is closely monitoring the situation. It has reported back to us about a number of allegations of arbitrary arrests, disproportionate use of force, and, in particular, restrictions on freedom of expression. So yeah, we are concerned about it.

So somewhere between last week and this week, the State Department discovered to its surprise that Human Rights violations were going on in Honduras, that "it has and remains a concern."

However, in response to the question of what they're doing about it, if it's a concern, the reply was "we're monitoring very very closely." Makes you warm and fuzzy all over.

When asked if the media restrictions and human rights violations have any bearing on recognition of the elections, Kelly at first allowed as how "The lack of freedom of media, of course, is an important – would be an important indicator of this", the "this" being the freedom and transparency of the Honduran elections. He took it all back a few minutes later when he said "we’ll look at restrictions on the media, particularly restrictions of access to candidates in the campaign before the elections themselves."

Sure, one important thing is access by the candidates to media. So its good to hear that the US State Department cares about that.

But the bigger issue is more fundamental: restrictions on what the media can say, with the threat of losing their license hanging over them
everyone freedom of speech.

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