Thinking of Honduras on Human Rights Day
By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team
With Sisters of Mercy currently visiting as well as living in Honduras, United Nations’ Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, has a profound significance.
Many native Sisters and lay associates in that Central American country have reported high levels of oppression since a coup there in June 2009. Honduras has been named the most violent country in the world, and police run-ins with protesters are cited among the contributing factors. Speaking out against the government can be dangerous.
Now, my colleague Jean Stokan and a handful of U.S. Sisters are in Honduras on a human rights/solidarity delegation to learn about the social, economic, religious and political realities there and to lend moral support to faith partners, human rights defenders and civil society organizations. Their mission includes an advocacy meeting at the United States Embassy.
But even back here in the U.S., I’ve been learning a lot about the disturbing situation there — and throughout Latin America.
Last year Nelly del Cid, a lay associate with the Sisters of Mercy in Honduras who works with women’s empowerment projects, spoke passionately about human rights violations in her country and how U.S. support gives legitimacy to the government. She has been in the United States a few times over the past two years to demand that the Obama administration put pressure on the Honduran government to follow international law regarding human rights.
This year, Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, director of a Honduran radio station that has highlighted violations of human rights since 2009, shared very similar accounts.
Both Nelly and Father Moreno spoke at the annual rally outside the gates of Fort Benning, GA, calling for closing the military training facility formerly known as the School of the Americas. The school trains soldiers from Latin American countries in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Some of its graduates have been linked to human rights abuses in their countries, including Honduras, according to the grassroots organization, School of the Americas Watch, which organizes the annual gatherings.
Then last week I viewed the film Harvest of Empire at a screening sponsored by SOA Watch in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. It was an uncomfortable history lesson, exposing how U.S. foreign policy at least in part caused mass migration from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. In some cases, immigrants were welcomed and even recruited to come to the U.S. as labor in boom times and then expelled when they were no longer needed. But in most cases, U.S. support for oppressive regimes created the atmosphere of violence and chaos from which many felt they had to flee for the safety of themselves and their families. Two of my friends were among those escaping the “Latin America nightmare” in the 1980s, as Jesuit Father Dean Brackley famously described it: one from Guatemala, the other from El Salvador.
Conspicuously missing from the film was any mention of Honduras, but that was quickly corrected in a dialogue following the screening, when someone in the audience pointed out that similar abuses reported as history in the film are going on right now in Honduras.
Amnesty International just recently published a report that demonstrates that defenders of human rights are still facing varying degrees of harassment throughout the Americas. The report, Transforming Pain Into Hope, features examples from many countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico. Even the United States is featured, with cases on the killing of George Tiller, a doctor who performed late-term abortions, and the un-investigated vandalism of trucks used by Humane Borders to drop off water in the desert of Arizona for immigrants passing through.
Honduras is mentioned not only in that report, but also as one of the cases in Amnesty International’s annual human rights letter-writing campaign. Amnesty documents the threats and intimidation of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), which was founded during an era of forced disappearances in the 1980s. Advocates are asked to write to the president of Honduras to urge that there be an investigation into current harassment of the organization and that he publicly recognize and endorse the important and legitimate work done by COFADEH and all other human rights defenders in Honduras and to repudiate the attacks against them. You can find more about this action here.
I invite others to join me in writing to the Honduran president today as a tribute to the Sisters, associates and others like Father Moreno working so hard to ensure that the values enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights are lived out in their midst. This is a way of joining them in lifting up the right to life, liberty and security of person; the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to education, freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and the right to freedom from torture and degrading treatment.