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.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Pragmatic" Human Rights

"A commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and holding everyone accountable to those standards." Hillary Clinton, Dec. 14, 2009.
In a Wilson Center event in Washington, D.C. on December 8, Craig Kelly reportedly said that "we [the State Department] spoke up very vocally about human rights abuses" [in Honduras], which Adrienne Pine called "a claim contradicted by reality" in her blog post about the event. It is worth delving into the details of actual US statements on human rights since the coup d'etat of June 28, especially now, as we watch the body count of resistance activists rise steadily.

First, we need to ask: what precisely is current US policy?

Speaking at Georgetown University on December 14, 2009, Hillary Clinton outlined the State Department's new Human Rights policy. I will only touch on the highlights and I urge the reader to go back and read all of Clinton's statements on pragmatic Human Rights.

The policy focuses on four key elements, Clinton tells us. The first element is stated in the quote that starts this post. In her speech Clinton outlined how the US is applying the standards to ourselves as well as others. This gives us moral authority, Clinton said, but the application of universal standards is variable. In some cases we will use them to publicly hold another government accountable, as (she said) in the case of the coup in Honduras, while in others we'll use it in "tough negotiations". Here she pointed to US dealings with China and Russia in particular. This element also involves getting foreign governments to put human rights into laws and embed them in government institutions.

"Second," she says, "we must be pragmatic and agile in pursuit of our human rights agenda - not compromising on our principles, but doing what is most likely to make them real." This includes using all the tools in the US arsenal, and when one approach doesn't work, coming up with others. Examples cited include cutting off Millennium Challenge Corp. grants to Madagascar. Here, Secretary Clinton quoted President Barack Obama, who said "We must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time." This she calls "principled pragmatism."

The third element is that we will support change driven by citizens in their own communities, and the fourth element is that we will widen our focus.

So has the State Department been vocal in supporting human rights, and in denouncing human rights violations, in Honduras since the June 28 coup, as would be implied by the claim that the first element of "pragmatic" human rights, publicly holding another government accountable for universal principles, has been followed in US policy toward Honduras?

Not exactly. It appears instead, despite citing Honduras as the key example here, the record does not support the claim. At best, perhaps the US has chosen to use the quiet "tough negotiations" mode of the first element, cited in relation to China and Russia.

Here's what the statements on the State Department's own website show about their stance on human rights in Honduras since June 28.

On July 6, in the daily press briefing, Ian Kelly, in speaking about the OAS's action (which the US supported) to remove Honduras from participation in the OAS, said "[the suspension] does not relieve Honduras of its legal obligations to the organization, particularly full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." This was the day after Isis Murillo was shot to death by the military during a massive demonstration at Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa. Another 20 protest participants were treated for gunshot wounds at local hospitals.

On September 3, Phillip Crowley said "we remain concerned about human rights, intimidation by various- by the police, others, some episodes of violence." This statement was made while debate continued in public and in the State Department about whether to call the events of June 28 a military coup or not.

On September 28, Philip Crowley again shared the State Department's concern.
"Well, first of all, we are concerned about the issue of civil rights and human right in Honduras. It is having a significant impact on the Honduran people. But its also the reason why we have said clearly to the de facto regime that because of the environment on the ground, we will not recognize an electoral result as free and fair under the current circumstances."
This of course, was a statement made just after the de facto regime suspended constitutional guaranties, including the right of habeas corpus, for the 45 days leading up to the elections, and shut down opposition media. This is also one day before Lew Anselem suggested to the OAS, on our behalf, that we would recognize the results of the November 29 elections, regardless of what transpired in Honduras.

The State Department made no statement with respect to human rights in Honduras at all during the month of October.

On November 12, Ian Kelly professed not to know about the reports by the IACHR, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, on human rights abuses in Honduras and said he needed more information. This was in response to questions from the press in a discussion of Craig Kelly's return from a mission to Tegucigalpa in which he met with both Micheletti and Zelaya.

A week later, on November 19, in the daily press briefing, Kelly responded to a question asking if human rights was a concern in Honduras, given that he had just said it was central to US policy in the Hemisphere:
"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."
This concern was reechoed in a statement by "a senior State Department Official", who briefed the press on November 20, saying:
"We have expressed concerns about human rights abuses under the de facto regime and will continue to do so. Those principles are very important.

Well, we’ve denounced several times the abuses that occur. There was a decree that the regime put in place which was lifted in part because of strong international protests. But there still are – we still do get reports. We have said repeatedly to the regime that they are to be held accountable for the actions that violate abuses. And I was in Honduras two days ago and I made a public statement calling on the regime to respect human rights, and also calling on all sides to refrain from provocation of violence. This is very important."
Finally, Arturo Valenzuela said, in a closed meeting of the OAS on November 23 that "we do view with concern reports of human rights violations and deliberate efforts to incite violence and confrontation on both sides of the political divide in Honduras that might taint the electoral process."

It is perhaps instructive to consider how the State Department has apparently used the newly articulated policy of four "elements" in Honduras with regards to human rights violations. While the State Department responded to direct questioning by reporters, it never actually issued an independent statement on human rights violations. We thus conclude that the State Department has chosen to employ the "quiet" mode on human rights in Honduras. It has not chosen to employ all of the options open to it under the second element, suspending only some of the aid it gave to Honduras, and doing so very late compared to other countries.

It is also possible to give at least a preliminary assessment of the effectiveness of the policy that has been newly articulated. If we judge by the evidence of continued violation of freedom of the press, and continued harassment of activists, the increasing number of assassinations, the quiet approach has failed. It has not stemmed a rising tide of human rights violations in Honduras.

Judged strictly on its own criteria, the State Department's new human rights policy, as outlined by Clinton, has been ineffective in Honduras. Human rights abuses have escalated in December. There has been no corresponding response from the State Department. It has not proved agile in either recognizing the failure of the current "quiet" strategy or agile in adopting a new strategy for holding the de facto regime accountable for the new round of human rights violations. What human rights principles does this policy profess? Clinton offered none.

Perhaps this is what is implied by having a "pragmatic" human rights policy. If so, it is hard to see how it constitutes any kind of advocacy for human rights.


Boehmaya said...

They should say that it is pragmatic to ignore human rights, which is exactly what they do.
The U.S. Department of State, Hillary Clinton, Valenzuela, and all that hypocritical clowns managed from the start to always handle the coup from slighly warm to lukewarm, "neutralizing" public opinion and not facts(since they can't be neutralized) because:
1) you cannot call on the side who does not control the state and the army and at the same time intend to put them at the same level who do. You cannot criminalize the peoples in resistance, which is a significant part of the population and put them to the level of the usurpers of power, who are a few despots.
2)you cannot call on unarmed civilians who are attacked by soldiers,thrown grenades at, shot at for no reason other than protesting peacefully against the regime, or for simply having a different opinion in the same way you call the armed ones in power to remain peaceful(how they started it), to stop violence (how they took a step further).

catracho at heart said...

Your readers might be interested in the following report from the U.S. State Department from February 2009

This was the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report for Honduras 2008 under the presidency of Mel Zelaya.

Where were the human rights activists then?

Where was the outrage?

Human rights has been a problem in Honduras for a long time. It's not like it just magically appeared on June 28 with the coup.

Let's get real here.

RAJ said...

Well, we cannot speak for others, but we have always been concerned about human rights in Honduras. So we are actually familiar with the content of this annual report, as well as earlier ones. We understand that these abuses stem from problems of social inequality and concentration of control of institutions, including government, in the hands of a small elite-- those also responsible for the coup d'etat.

But let's be clear here: nothing in recent years has come close to the last six months suppression of free speech, the violence against thousands of people, and the open attacks on unarmed civilians exercising their free speech rights, including those killed by the police or army with the open approval of the de facto regime. Comparing the report on human rights prior to the coup to international rights' organizations reports since then shows a clear deterioration of conditions in Honduras.

So let's share a bit of the report while encouraging others to read it.

On elections, the US State Department had this to say:

In 2005 Liberal Party candidate Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales won the presidency in elections that were considered generally free and fair by international and domestic observers.

While the US may want to say the 2009 elections were "free and fair" that is not the conclusion of other international groups, nor was there the same level of impartial observers to provide those opinions.

On the strength of civil government, the US review of Honduras in 2008 said

While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority.

Today, an honest assessment would have to acknowledge that the military has taken an unconstitutional hand in governance, rolling back conditions to those of the 1980s.

While space does not permit us to reiterate all the points in the State Department report, there are several worth considering for the light they shed on the fundamental problems of Honduran governance. In its report, the US State Department expressed concerns about the honesty of the court system:

Although the constitution and the 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.

Low wages and lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery, and powerful special interests exercised influence in the outcomes of court proceedings.

These are the conditions that made the Supreme Court and other courts insufficiently independent to avoid being complicit in illegal acts during and after the coup.

Further, this report (like others) noted that fundamental rights to presumption of innocence and due process were routinely abused:

Although the law provides that the accused is presumed innocent and has the right to an initial hearing by a judge, to bail, to consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, to have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and a right to appeal, these rights frequently were not observed.

Equally worth consideration are those human rights violations the US did not report in 2008, that are taking place today: then, there were no political prisoners or detainees; there were no reported restrictions on access to the internet; academic freedom and cultural events were not interfered with; freedom of assembly was respected; freedom of movement was respected, and there was no practice of internal or external exile.

Perhaps most prescient, in retrospect, was a single line in the section of the report dealing with governance:

Many observers argued that the considerable institutional control exercised by the country's elite created the potential for abuse of the country's institutions and democratic governance.


catracho at heart said...

Well as long as we are cherry picking excerpts from the 2008 HR report, here are a few that should be included:

"The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings by members of the police and government agents; arbitrary and summary killings committed by vigilantes and former members of the security forces; violence against detainees by security forces; harsh prison conditions; corruption and impunity within the security forces; failure to provide due process of law; lengthy pretrial detention; politicization of the judiciary, judicial corruption, and institutional weakness; erosion of press freedom; corruption in the legislative and executive branches; government restrictions on recognition of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); violence and discrimination against women; child prostitution and abuse; trafficking in persons; discrimination against indigenous communities; violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor."

And regarding freedom of the press...

"The news media continued to suffer from venality, politicization, and outside influences.

According to NGOs, government ministers and other high-ranking officials obtained press silence through hiring journalists as public affairs assistants at high salaries and paid journalists to investigate or suppress news stories.

Some media members claimed that, when they attempted to report in depth on national politicians or official corruption, they were occasionally denied access to government information. Access to the presidential palace and to the president, especially on international visits, was limited to the "friendly" press and was arbitrarily awarded and withdrawn by presidential palace staff.

Thelma Mejia, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Council and former director of the NGO C-Libre, reported that at least three dozen journalists, many of them in rural areas, were subjected to threats and intimidation during the year."

So, one could argue that due to government manipulation of the media, the truth of what was happening in Honduras last year was shaded at best. Whether this was at the direction of Zelaya or other corrupt officials, who knows? But it was on his watch.

It is sad what has happened here. Greed and lust for power have a way of corrupting both the "right" and the "left". Is Lobo Sosa the leader to bring about constructive change? Time will tell. But, I think most would agree it is not Zelay or Micheletti.

RAJ said...

We encourage readers to consult the full US State Department report and now numerous reports on elevated levels of human rights abuses since the coup. The de facto regime has worsened human rights abuses and has added abuses that the most recent US report did not find during the Zelaya administration.

The idea of crediting Zelaya for all human rights abuses in the country ("it was on his watch") would require an analysis of the mechanisms and institutions responsible and change over time. The US State Department report does not provide that.

An analysis of the "scorecard" of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, gives us a way to look at this question. Here's what it has to say:

The scorecards grade across three major categories, which are defined as “ruling justly,” “economic freedom,” and “investing in people.”

During the period covered, primarily 2008, when Zelaya was still in power, Honduras received passing grades on every measure of “economic freedom,” save one.

In the category of “investing in people”, Honduras under Zelaya received passing grades across the spectrum, including healthy scores in immunization rates (80th percentile), health expenditures (75th percentile) and girls’ primary education completion (85th percentile).

With respect to the “ruling justly” category, however, Honduras received a passing grade on only four of the six measures on its recent scorecard. One of those failing grades was in the area of “rule of law,” which “rates countries on the extent to which the public has confidence in and abides by the rules of society; the incidence of violent and non-violent crime; the effectiveness, inde­pendence, and predictability of the judiciary; and the enforceability of contracts,” according to MCC.

The “rule of law” indicator has long been a problem for Honduras. The nation has failed to earn a passing grade on that measure dating back to at least 2001, according to MCC reports. So the blame for that shortcoming cannot be placed solely on Zelaya — and, in fact, has more to do with the failure of the nation’s judiciary and law enforcement systems.

The other failing grade, as pointed out by the MCC spokesperson, was in the measure of “control of corruption” — which, according to MCC, is an “index of surveys and expert assessments that rates countries on the frequency of ‘additional payments to get things done’; the effects of corruption on the business environment; ‘grand corruption’ in the political arena; and the tendency of elites to engage in ‘state capture’” — the latter a term essentially equivalent to crony capitalism.

Although Honduras received a failing grade in the “control of corruption” measure on the current scorecard (covering the year 2008), the nation actually made progress in that area between 2006 and 2007 — moving from a failing to a passing score. The fact that the score slid back to failing in 2008 demonstrates the resiliency of the “grand corruption” and “state capture” in Honduras.

Under the Zelaya administration, according to the MCC fiscal year 2010 scorecard, Honduras turned in grades well above passing with respect to “political rights,” “civil liberties” and “voice and accountability” — the latter, described by MCC, as “the ability of institutions to protect civil liberties; the extent to which citizens of a country are able to participate in the selection of governments; and the independence of the media.”

What does this mean? an independent, relatively conservative review of conditions under the Zelaya administration pointed to problems with the judiciary, and broader public corruption, while specifically crediting the Zelaya administration with overall improvement in both economic and social justice measures.

catracho at heart said...

Is not your logic a little bias here?

i.e. Let's not credit Zelaya for the human rights abuses that occurred during his tenure as president without further analysis of the mechanisms and institutions responsible and change over time.

Yet, let's credit Zelaya for the improvements in economic and social justice measures that occurred during his presidency without further analysis of the mechanisms and institutions responsible and change over time.

phoenixwoman said...

The State Department report is actually very interesting, though poorly written, making it impossible to make a clear comparison. In one narrow category, namely murders of LGBT persons, it is possible to estimate from published figures that violence during the dictatorship was at levels at least 5 and perhaps 12 times that of the Zelaya years.

But I wanted to cherry pick one sentence from the State Dept. report: In the run-up to the November 30 primary elections, there were several politically motivated killings, which analysts interpreted as a "message" from organized crime for the Liberal Party and President Zelaya in particular to stop maneuvering to remain in power.

This would imply that the dictatorship is not distinct from organized crime.


RAJ said...

@catracho at heart:

The Millennium Challenge Corporation's "scorecard" is a report that draws conclusions about the causes of improvements or deteriorations in conditions. So no, it is not biased to draw on that.

The US State Department report on human rights, which is an annual report, aggregates data from across the country but does not give us an assessment of the causes. You want to blame all human rights abuses during the Zelaya administration on Zelaya. Fine; our point is that you have no evidence either that such abuses increased, or that they were caused by the Zelaya administration.

In contrast, the human rights abuses documented by international rights organizations since June 28 are directly caused by the de facto regime. It is the regime that ordered force to be used against Honduran citizens protesting peacefully. It was the de facto regime that suspended civil rights, engaged in open and covert attempts to disrupt independent media, and is thus responsible for the documented human rights abuses. That is quite different from a US State Department report that does not specifically attribute abuses to the Zelaya administration.

And, as I pointed out in my first comment on this report, a number of areas that the 2008 US State Department report said were not problems have become problems since June 28-- in all cases, with visible responsibility of the de facto regime.

catracho at heart said...

Actually RAJ, I never claimed that Zelaya was responsible for all the human rights abuses that occurred during his presidency, only that they occurred while he was president.

From the US State Department 2008 report...

"The news media continued to suffer from venality, politicization, and outside influences." This sounds like a conclusion to me. It was based on reports from NGOs and media members claiming to have been denied access to government information by high-level government officials. They go on to explain that especially on international visits, access was limited to the "friendly" press and was arbitrarily awarded and withdrawn by presidential palace staff.

So back to one of my original statements, the news of what was happening in Honduras in 2008 is shaded at best.

I have no illusions that human rights abuses have not increased since the coup. However, this would appear to be the norm during times of a power struggle. Had Zelaya remained in power with the opposition he was facing, I think it is reasonable to assume a similar pattern would have occurred.

To me it all boils down to whether you believe that Zelaya was an effective leader and change agent. I don't. You do.

RAJ said...

No, the issue isn't what I believe about President Zelaya being "an effective leader and change agent".

You suggest that if Zelaya had continued to the end of his term, the same pattern of human rights abuses seen since June 28 would have occurred.

That is absurd. The issue is that you have yet to acknowledge that the de facto regime has authorized attacks on the citizens of Honduras that have resulted in injuries and deaths, and has suppressed all media dissent, and suspended basic civil rights for long periods of time, at times without following the legal procedures established in the Honduran Constitution.

None of those things would have happened without the coup d'etat and the installation of the de facto regime.

For the record: like many people active against the coup and the de facto regime, I was never an adherent of President Zelaya. I do not believe either of the major parties in Honduras has sufficient history of public accountability. To quote one of the first Hondurans to write me after the coup, "I am not a Zelayista, but..."

What I did know personally was the effects of policies encouraging public participation, which in the area of activity that I have been part of for more than 30 years, vastly increased participation by groups who never before had a chance to participate.

Since the coup, what I have learned by doing research on independent reports-- like that of the Millennium Challenge Corporation-- was that under President Zelaya, material economic conditions in Honduras improved for a larger proportion of the population, and that measures of social justice showed an increase in basic social justice.

Repeat: those are not my opinions. They are conclusions of independent studies.

I won't engage in further debate about how to interpret the US State Department's report on 2008 human rights in Honduras. Instead, I suggest that when the 2009 report is completed, we both review it and compare it to the 2008 report. I expect that what such a comparison will show is a substantial deterioration of human rights during 2009-- which is clearly an effect of the coup d'etat and the installation of the de facto regime.

So you don't think Zelaya was a positive leader for Honduras. What's your opinion about Micheletti?

catracho at heart said...

RAJ, if Zelaya had been successful in using the military and mob force to execute a poll that was considered beyond the authority of the president to initiate, and illegal by the Congress and Supreme Court, then yes I believe there would have been a backlash that could have resulted in vendettas and further deterioration of human rights. Power struggles and political survival instincts have a way of creating these conditions in Honduras and other countries with past histories of military rule.

Authorized Government suppression of the media, arrests, killings, suspension of civil rights ... As I have pointed out before are not new atrocities created by the D'facto government. Yes, you can argue that they have increased beyond the norm, but the how much more will always be open to interpretation since these statistics are illusive at best. Personally, I have not witnessed these abuses in Northern Honduras, but I have experienced the effects of the economy deteriorating and that has brought about a rise in crime, both violent and non violent.

The improvements in the economic conditions during Zelaya's presidency probably have more to do with macroeconomic forces than with his policies. World commodity prices have risen sharply over the past 5 years and commodity exports comprise the lion's share of the Honduran GDP, along with remittances from expatriates living in the U.S. So it stands to reason that when the economy is healthy most everyone benefits. I have heard people say "but look what Zelaya did for the minimum wage." Yes, look what he did. He muscled through a 60 + percent increase in the last year of his presidency. Was this responsible leadership when the unions were asking for a third of this amount and business was willing to pay slightly less? I do not think so. It was a major shock to the economic system here which caused layoffs and higher than normal price increases. A responsible leader champions better pay for his citizens, but negotiates with business and labor to work for a settlement that will result in positive benefits for all. One could rightly question Zelaya's motives for saving this pearl until his last year and coincidently refusing to sign the fiscal budget for 2009 (which included funds for the elections) while simultaneously pushing for his cuarta urna. But hey, as you have frequently pointed out, there is no proof he wanted to remain in office. And, after all, he denies that allegation. ;)

In answer to your last question regarding my opinion of Micheletti, I have several comments.

I see him as a caretaker president,much like Ford was after Nixon. I believe he assumed this position not by personal design, but by the mere fact that he was the next in line for succession since the VP had resigned his office last year. I do not see him wanting to remain in office beyond the current term but instead serve what he believes is his civic responsibility. He does not strike me as a visionary leader who can compromise to bring about the changes needed in Honduras. I believe that he and Zelaya share a mutual hatred and distrust for one another (and stubbornness I might add) and have made this crisis personal and more destructive to the country. So, to reiterate what I have said before, I do not see either Zelaya or Micheletti providing what is needed for leadership in Honduras.

RAJ said...

And in your last paragraph rests the difference between us that is most significant. You cannot bring yourself to accept that the June 28 coup was illegal under Honduran law (as legal analyses from Honduras, Spain, and the US all agree). You consequently are unable to accept that the de facto regime is an illegal, unconstitutional, and lawless government ruling by power alone-- in this case, raw military/police power.

It appears that you have not bothered to read the reports from international agencies like Amnesty International-- or, if you have, that you simply ignore the documentation of thousands of human rights abuses directly attributable to the de facto regime. These are not hypothetical "maybe there would have been similar numbers of human rights abuses": these are real beatings, sexual assaults, and deaths arising from actions unleashed by the de facto regime.

This is qualitatively different from the (ongoing this very moment) deaths that have long plagued Honduras as the result of "vendettas", political or otherwise. This is state-sanctioned violence. And the suspension of the rights of assembly, freedom of the press, and habeas corpus-- which are also human rights violations-- are also state sponsored and authorized by the de facto regime.

But I am glad we can bring this thread to a close (and by that I mean, I am moving on to other topics and thus am not inviting another comment from you here on this post) by making clear where you stand. You want to insinuate the big lie that Zelaya was poised to illegally stay in office, but you do not even have the courage to say so openly.

On the economic issues: I will use your own word here: "cherry-picking". I would direct interested readers back to a post from July 4 citing the analysis of a Honduran economist, Miguel Cáceres Rivera. His analysis-- like others we have cited-- shows that Zelaya's economic policies were positive for the majority of the people of Honduras, while they cut into the profit margin enjoyed by businesses marketing goods outside Honduras.

These policies included a great deal more than the late 2008 increase in the minimum wage: actions that lowered the price of oil (Honduras continued to have high oil prices even after the world market declines, due to the previous structure of supply); reduction of interest rates on loans from 24-32% annually and introduction of competition lowering loan rates to 10.7% to 12.7% (contributing to increases in the domestic construction industry); and finally, the raising of the minimum wage. That last action barely began to recoup some of the erosion of income that prevented domestic consumers from adequately patronizing domestic small and medium businesses.

Cáceres provides the example of the erosion of farm wages, in real terms even before accounting for inflation, from $4.56 a day in 1989 to $3.97 a day in 2007, a decline of 13% over 18 years. This is what Zelaya began to address in late 2008. Keeping the costs of labor artificially low kept the profit margin on exports higher, while choking the domestic economy.

These economic issues and steps were real, substantive, and they point to the more significant reason why Honduran elites oppose constitutional reform:

Cáceres identifies the stakes at play as economic, pointing to the potential, under a new constitution, that disadvantageous contracts that have given private enterprise exploitation of electrical generation and telecommunications for a fraction of what they could generate could be renegotiated.