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2009-08-20

Amnesty: Honduran Forces Using Arrests, Beatings to Punish Zelaya Supporters

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Amnesty International is accusing Honduran forces of beating and arresting supporters of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Amnesty says the “mass arbitrary arrests and ill treatment of protesters” remains a “serious and growing concern.” We speak with Amnesty’s Esther Major and Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, who’s urging President Obama to take further measures against the coup. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the situation in Honduras. Amnesty International has just released a report documenting more evidence of human rights abuses under the Honduran coup regime. Amnesty is accusing Honduran forces of beating and arresting supporters of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Amnesty says the “mass arbitrary arrests and ill treatment of protesters” remains a “serious and growing concern.”

AMY GOODMAN: The lead author of the report join us now from London. Esther Major is a researcher on Amnesty International’s Central America Team.

Esther, what did you find?

ESTHER MAJOR: Hi, Amy. Hi, Juan.

Yes, we visited the country at the end of July, and we had the opportunity while we were there to visit a police station just after a demonstration had taken place. We interviewed some of the seventy-five people who were detained in that police station. For example, we interviewed a nineteen-year-old girl who had injuries to her back, to her arms, to her legs, from where she’d been beaten repeatedly by police using their batons. This was during the breakup of a peaceful demonstration that day. That’s just one example of many during that day when we interviewed those people at the police station.

Just to give you an example, that girl, amongst all the other people that we interviewed, had not received any information from the police about why they were detained. They told us, she set out that day to peacefully demonstrate, to express her discontent at the political turmoil that is going on in Honduras right now. The police suddenly ran towards them with military in rows behind them. All of the people there panicked, ran in every different direction. This particular girl was caught hold of by the police and, even once she’d been taken to the police van, was repeatedly beaten using their batons. This kind of force is obviously deeply concerning to us.

And after taking many of the testimonies, interviewing many people, not only in that police station, but outside in the capital city, we realized that this is a policy being used by the de facto government to punish and repress people who want to take to the streets to peacefully demonstrate and express their discontent with the current political turmoil in Honduras. What we’re very concerned about is that this policy is increasing, that the violence is increasing, and that each day that passes, we’re going to have more cases like the nineteen-year-old’s, like the fifty-nine-year-old grandmother who we interviewed and who had been beaten mercilessly by the police.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Do you have any indication of the extent of the detentions and the beatings? Obviously, protests have been continuing now in Honduras for weeks upon weeks. Do you have any sense of how many people have been detained and how extensive are these abuses?

ESTHER MAJOR: Well, just that day, on the 30th of July, we went to one police station, where they were at least seventy-five people detained. There were multiple detentions on that same day from that demonstration, where there were thousands of people demonstrating across the capital, so hundreds of people detained, in the least, that one day. Demonstrations are taking place every day in Honduras.

And this is what’s very worrying for us. We’re seeing a deterioration in the whole respect for human rights on the whole situation in Honduras right now. People cannot count on having their rights protected if they go out on the streets. The police are sending a message, and the de facto government are sending a message to people, saying, “If you come out on the streets and peacefully demonstrate, this is what happens. We will arbitrarily detain you. We will beat you.” This is the signal they’re sending out.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Esther Major, a researcher on Amnesty International’s Central American Team. She’s the author of a new report on human rights abuses on Honduras. In the United States, this is getting hardly any coverage. Esther, in Britain right now, European Union cut off economic aid to Honduras. What about what’s happening in Britain, the response and the level of awareness of the coup?

ESTHER MAJOR: It’s not getting that much coverage here, but we have received a lot of coverage in Latin America, of course. The European Union has reacted very strongly to the situation in Honduras.

The purpose of this report is to put out the call to the international community to take action, to intensify efforts, to prevent a human rights crisis occurring in Honduras. And that call, we will be continuing now to lobby all governments to make a concerted effort to prevent the crisis from deteriorating any further. We’re seeing human rights violations occurring on a huge scale every day in Honduras, and we don’t want to see that reach a crisis level, which it could do if we don’t act now. And that’s what we’re asking the international community, including the US government, of course, but also, you know, the regional governments, to really intensify those efforts to seek a peaceful solution to this crisis, because Honduran citizens are suffering every day. And that is what is of concern to us right now.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I also want to bring into this conversation Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona. He is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Congressman Grijalva recently co-wrote a letter to President Obama, urging him to take further measures against the de facto government in Honduras.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressman.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Thank you very much, and good morning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your reaction to the Amnesty International report?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Oh, I think it’s a — I think it’s a report that reinforces what — why the United States and our State Department and our government have to be — have to take action beyond what we’ve taken thus far, which is basically nothing. I think our letter urged the President and the State Department to go beyond — go beyond any commentary and to publicly denounce the violence, publicly denounce the fact that protesters were being — having their human rights violated, and that it was indeed an escalating, dangerous situation for the citizenry of Honduras.

And we also asked for the freezing of assets of people involved in the coup and the suspension of all aid, other than humanitarian. Those are actions that we can take that do not hurt the Honduran people, but do begin to force the de facto government to work toward a peaceful resolution. And I think sometimes we don’t act on our principles as a nation. And this is in our backyard, literally. And for us to sort of be placid about our reaction, I think, is a mistake on many proportions.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grijalva, I want to play for you a recent comment of President Obama about the Honduran coup.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening and the Yankees need to get out of Latin America. You can’t have it both ways.

    If these critics think that it’s appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think what that indicates is, is that maybe there’s some hypocrisy involved in their approach to US-Latin America relations that certainly is not going to guide my administration’s policies.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama speaking in Guadalajara at the Three Amigos summit. Congress member Grijalva, your response to that?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Well, the hypocrisy of policy is something we’re trying to leave behind. I think the action that we’re calling for and on the President has nothing to do with trying to have it both ways. On the contrary, we’re saying let’s be consistent with the values that we, as a nation, represent and that this administration has touted that we represent. And this is not about a military intervention. This is not about an economic intervention, where we take over a nation’s economic well-being. This is about a humanitarian response to a humanitarian crisis, to the rule of law, and to the protection of the basic rights of individuals, not only in our hemisphere, but in the world. So it’s about our principles as a nation; it’s about our values as a nation.

And to equate that with any kind of intervention, military or otherwise, I think is misleading the reality on the ground. The reality that we’re asking this nation to react to is to react in protection of what we believe are consistent values. We’re just asking this country to be consistent with its own principles and to apply those principles in an international sense, not in a military sense, but in a humanitarian sense.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grijalva, last week Democracy Now! hosted a fierce debate between a Latin American historian, Greg Grandin, and Lanny Davis. Lanny Davis, of course, former special counsel to President Clinton all during his impeachment time, ended up fundamentally being a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton in her race for president, now representing the equivalent of the Honduran Chamber of Commerce against Zelaya, against President Zelaya. Do you think that this close relationship between Davis and the Clintons has anything to do with the US, what looks like it’s the Obama administration pulling back from pushing hard for Zelaya to be returned?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: No, I would hope not. But, you know, one has to wonder and consider the fact that when you’re a hired gun for a government that is basically protecting an illegal act, a coup, by force, and that your notoriety is in association with the administration and particularly the State Department, that one would recuse himself from those kinds of activities, and beyond that, that that should have no role, none at all, in how we practice, in a consistent way, our foreign policy. And if, you know, whoever’s paying you becomes the primary reason as to why we’ve taken action on an international level or not, that is certainly not being consistent with what we as a nation purport ourselves to be.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Esther Major, researcher for Amnesty International’s Central America Team, any further comments on your — last comments on your report?

ESTHER MAJOR: Yes. Only just to add that, you know, this report is being published to place pressure on the international community, including the United States, to intensify efforts to find a negotiated solution to this crisis and to find that solution fast. That includes and puts pressure on the de facto authorities to engage in meaningful discussions and negotiations to find a solution and to stop the pattern of human rights violations that are currently occurring in Honduras.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask also Representative Grijalva — the situation in Honduras reminds me very much of, more than a decade back, the coup in Haiti, where the US government officially opposed the coup against President Aristide, but in essence allowed it to continue as the coup leaders ran out the clock on his presidency. Is your sense that the Obama administration is, to some degree, running out the clock on this one, as well?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Yeah, you know, I sense sometimes that we’re — that the policy is to wait it out, to let — you know, and by waiting it out, you know, the de facto regime is going to solidify its power, and it’s solidifying its power through its military and through its police apparatus, which is fundamentally what we’re in opposition to. So I think the report is timely.

I think those of us who have been urging the State Department and the administration to be — not to wait this out, but to be proactive and to take some actions now to prod this regime into meaningful discussions about a resolution, it is going to intensify our efforts and renew our efforts to make sure that we — people understand that this is not about us trying to speak out of both sides of our mouths as members of Congress, but demanding of this administration that it be consistent, not to wait it out. On the contrary, to be an instrument to prod a solution, a peaceful solution, down the road.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the clock is ticking fast, because the elections are in November. And as Juan pointed out, when we interviewed President Zelaya, one of his last acts in office was to increase the minimum wage in Honduras.

Esther Major, I want to thank you for being with us, joining us from London.

ESTHER MAJOR: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Amnesty International, Central America Team.

ESTHER MAJOR: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll link to your report on human rights abuses in Honduras by the coup regime. And Congress member Grijalva, we’d like you to stay on with us, as we switch topics to talk —-

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: —-about the debate over healthcare reform.

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