March 13, 2018

Honduras’ Military Police have received much attention in the last three months. The Honduran Army and National Police, funded by the US government, have received less attention but are also implicated in grave human rights abuses. In a report released yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that thirteen of the killings of protesters that have occurred in Honduras since the November 2017 elections “may be reasonably attributed to the Military Police of the Public Order and/or the Army.” The OHCHR in its report outlines three—and possibly four— protester shootings attributed directly to the Army or the National Police.

The OHCHR points to National Police responsibility in the shooting death of a boy in December:

On 4 December, at around 1 p.m., in Agua Blanca, Yoro department, a 16-year old boy was killed, hit in the head by a bullet fired by the National Police. Information collected by OHCHR indicates that the child was going to church at the time a protest was being disbanded at the bridge Santa Rita/Progreso. During this police operation, a moto taxi driver was injured in the foot, hit by a bullet as he was passing by the area. (18)

The Special National Police forces known as the COBRA in a joint operation with the Army killed one protester in January and injured others:

Also, on 20 January, at 10 a.m., supporters of the Opposition Alliance set up a roadblock on the Aguan River Bridge, Sabá, department of Colon. The National Police Special Forces (COBRA) and the Army proceeded to remove the roadblock, using tear gas and live ammunition. A 57-year old man was shot in the humeral vein and died shortly afterwards. According to witnesses, two other men were injured, shot by COBRA. (18)

A joint operation carried out in January by the National Police and the Honduran Army also left another protester dead:

On 22 January, at around 10 p.m., in Arizona, department of Atlántida, a man who was participating in a roadblock was shot in the arm while the Army and National Police intervened with tear gas and firearms. He later died at the local health center. (18)

The OHCHR in its report refers to the selective killings of protest leaders in the hours and days following the protests and suggests the possibility that the National Police have participated.

Between 24 December 2017 and 23 January 2018, civil society organizations recorded the violent death of at least six individuals who had been actively involved in organizing and participating in post-electoral protests. All deaths were caused by firearms and occurred in the northern departments of Atlántida and Cortes, where large demonstrations had taken place in the previous days. OHCHR received information indicating that the perpetrators of one of the killings were wearing national police uniforms. (19)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights notes the difficulty in assessing what the participation of the various forces was in the violent repression of protests, given that all were tasked with policing the protests and were operating under the coordination of the Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA).

The National Police, the Military Police of the Public Order, as well as the Armed Forces, were tasked with public security functions during the post electoral protests under the overall coordination of the Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA). Public order tasks during demonstrations were carried out jointly among National Police, Military Police of the Public Order, and Armed Forces. While observing demonstrations jointly policed by the National Police, the Military Police of the Public Order, as well as the Armed Forces, OHCHR was often unable to identify the officer in charge of the operations, and was often referred to one or the other force. It was often suggested to OHCHR that the overall responsibility for the policing of protests rested with the Military Police of the Public Order rather than the National Police. In most cases, OHCHR observed that the commanders of the Military Police of the Public Order and of the Armed Forces were present on site, with their faces covered, and without identification tags. OHCHR’s requests for identification of commanders in the course of its monitoring activities were frequently denied. (12)

The OHCHR is still verifying the role of the Army and the National Police in the death of two men, one that occurred on 22 January in Arizona, department of Atlántida, and another which took place on 20 January, in Sabá, department of Colon. The OHCHR is also still verifying the responsibility of the death of five men, caused by firearms, in the context of protests.

For the United States to provide security assistance to the Honduran Army and the National Police when they have participated in the lethal repression of protests, and while no investigation of that participation has been conducted or concluded, is irresponsible. The fact that Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez has made no public statement denouncing the use of lethal violence against protesters and the fact that lethal violence was used repeatedly, along with the fact that no member of the security forces has been suspended or punished, leads to the conclusion that the lethal violence was sanctioned and could be repeated. The OHCHR has termed this violence disproportional and said it may amount to extrajudicial executions:

All deaths which OHCHR attributed to the security forces resulted from firearms wounds. The analysis of the type of injuries suffered by the victims indicate that the security forces made intentional lethal use of firearms, including beyond dissuasive purpose, such as when victims were fleeing. This was illustrated in particular by the case of seven victims who died as a result of the impact of live ammunitions in the head. These cases raise serious concerns about the use of excessive lethal force and may amount to extra-judicial killings. (15)

In addition to firing live rounds at protesters, as noted below, National Police have engaged in torture and ill-treatment, according to reports verified by the UN. On December 16, COFADEH reports, a demonstration in San Juan Pueblo, Atlántida, was brutally repressed by National Police officers commanded by Deputy Commissioner Alexander Mejía Iglesias and members of the Military Police. The police officers threw teargas at the demonstrators and pursued them, firing live rounds as they sought refuge in the Cantarero neighborhood. The agents then violently and illegally entered the houses, breaking windows and breaking down doors. They made the protesters come out, as they shot at them. They made them return to the barricades they had erected on the highway, as they applied electric shocks to their ears with cattle prods. Roberto Samir Valladares Calderón, Elvin Orlando Banegas Martínez, Erick Abisaí Rojas Meléndez, Marco Antonio Sanabria García, Jorge Osman Valladares Bryan Ricardo and Wilmer Alexis Niño Hernández were brutally beaten as they were handcuffed. The injuries they suffered required hospitalization.

The Honduran army, too, has been implicated in torture. COFADEH’s mid-January report details torture carried out against people detained December 1 at the installations of the Army’s 105th Infantry Brigade. Those detained were hung with their hands above their heads for hours, beaten with cables and batons, and kicked in the ribs. The United States provided training in 2016 to members of the 105th Infantry Brigade according to the Foreign Military Training Report.

The Coalition Against Impunity, a coalition of human rights groups in Honduras, identifies as responsible for grave abuses the Inter-Institutional National Security Force (FUSINA); the Military Police; the Armed Forces of Honduras; the Secretariat of Security, through the National Police; and the Police Directorate of Investigation. COFADEH, in its second report, issued in January, agrees: “The forces charged with controlling and repressing the protests have been the Military Police, the National Police, the Cobra Special Forces, the Tigre Special Forces, FUSINA, and the Honduran Army, including specialized battalions such as the Engineers that are not trained in controlling public demonstrations.”

Until thorough investigations assigning clear responsibility are carried out, and the perpetrators, as well as the intellectual authors, of the killings of protesters, the torture of detainees, and other grave crimes are sentenced, the United States should refrain from providing assistance to all elements of the Honduran security forces.