Honduran Truth Commission Under Fire from All Sides

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

Honduran Truth Commission Under Fire from All Sides

by
Thelma Mejía

TEGUCIGALPA - The Truth and
Reconciliation Commission set up to investigate the June 2009 coup that
ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya will begin its work in May
under the sceptical watch of a wide range of observers, from human
rights organisations to right-wing political sectors.

The
coordinator of the Commission will be former Guatemalan vice president
Eduardo Stein (2004-2008), who will be accompanied by two other
international experts, two national experts and a support team, with
technical and administrative assistance provided by the Organisation of
American States (OAS), according to a recent announcement by the
Honduran government.

President Porfirio Lobo announced that the Commission will
begin its work on May 4. He stressed the independence of the
Commission, whose mandate is to provide an "objective and impartial"
report on the events leading up to and following the Jun. 28, 2009
coup.

However, Stein has already revealed that not all of the facts uncovered
will be made public, because "there will be sensitive information that
will be classified, especially confidential testimony provided by
certain individuals during the investigation process."

This information will be declassified and released to the public after a period of ten years, he noted.

Nevertheless, Stein maintained, in eight months the report will be
presented to the people of Honduras and "we are going to be extremely
scrupulous in our work."

The other two international commissioners are Michael Kergin, former
assistant deputy minister for the Americas in the Department of Foreign
Affairs and International Trade of Canada (and Canadian ambassador to
the United States from 2000 to 2005); and María Amadilia, former
minister of justice of Peru.

The two Honduran members are Julieta Castellanos, president of the
public National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), and former
UNAH president and jurist Jorge Omar Casco. They will be assisted by
technical secretary Sergio Membreño, also an academic.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to comply with one
of the agreements signed on Oct. 30, 2009 between delegations
representing de facto president Roberto Micheletti and ousted president
Zelaya, endorsed by international observers.

It is also one of the prerequisites that the current Honduran
government must fulfil in order to gain full recognition from the
international community. As of now, only around 30 countries have
acknowledged Lobo’s presidency as legitimate.

Since taking office on Jan. 27, the right-wing Lobo has been actively
seeking Honduras’ readmission to international organisations after its
isolation by the majority of the international community following the
coup – efforts that actually date back to his landslide victory in the
Nov. 29, 2009 elections.

Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati told IPS that choosing the
members of the Commission "was not easy. We studied the curriculum
vitae of at least 15 international experts, and on the Honduran side,
we tried to seek individuals with a high degree of credibility."

The difficulties referred to by Canahuati stem from the severe
political polarisation between those who backed Zelaya and his attempts
to usher in timid social and economic reforms and the wealthy elites -
a sector he himself formed part of but which he alienated with his
shift to the left.

The most conservative sectors within the Unión Cívica
Democrática (Civic Democratic Union) - a coalition of right-wing groups
that actively supported the overthrow of Zelaya - called for the
removal of UNAH president Castellanos from the Commission, while human
rights groups criticised the inclusion of Casco, whom they link with
the most radical fringe of the political right.

Reina Rivera, a human rights activist and member of the Human Rights
Platform coalition, commented to IPS that the Truth Commission has met
with more scepticism than acceptance among social organisations.

"We believe that the selection of the international members
was made more on the basis of their nationalities than their competence
and abilities. The representatives from Canada and Peru are not well
looked upon in some sectors, which is why some reject the Commission,
while others view it with reservations," she said.

Rivera reported that there is a movement afoot among local and
international human rights groups to create an "Alternative Truth
Commission".

One of the organisations backing this initiative is Amnesty
International. The purpose of the alternative commission would be to
"monitor the process and the conduct of those who make up the Truth
Commission."

At the other end of the political spectrum, the president of
the National Association of Industrialists, Adolfo Facussé, an
outspoken supporter of the coup, told IPS that "this Truth Commission
is a demand of the international community and we already know what its
findings will be."

According to Facussé, these findings "will be geared to what the world
wants to hear, and not to what really happened in Honduras. I don’t
have very high expectations regarding this question. It won’t
contribute to reconciliation; on the contrary, it will create greater
division."

For its part, the Human Rights Platform stressed in a press release
that the creation of the Commission "has not respected the
international standards applicable to truth commissions," in that no
consultation process has been opened, nor have the types of violations
to be investigated been established.

In response to these criticisms, Canahuati stated that "all of this has
been contemplated. The Commission has freedom and independence. Human
rights violations will be considered; we do not want anything to be
hidden."

Leo Valladares, Honduras’ first ever Human Rights Commissioner (from
1992 to 2002), believes that the scepticism stems from "a thirst for
justice and truth. It’s only natural that there is widespread
distrust," he said.

"The Commission is facing an enormous challenge, because it
must demonstrate its independence and its credibility, and above all,
it must prove that it is capable of bringing about a change in the
conduct of the Honduran political class," he said.

"We shouldn’t expect spectacular results from this Commission, because
it faces heavy resistance," Valladares warned. "But the state has the
obligation to investigate," he concluded.

The coup was triggered by Zelaya's attempt to organise a
non-binding referendum on Jun. 28 on the election of a constituent
assembly to rewrite the constitution, which was ruled illegal by the
Supreme Court and Congress.

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