August 21, 2009
11:49 AM

CONTACT: Latin American Experts

Greg Grandin,
Adrienne Pine, 202-652-5601

Over 90 Experts Call on Human Rights Watch to Speak Out on Honduras Abuses

WASHINGTON - August 21 - 93 scholars and Latin America experts from institutions such as Yale, Harvard, and New York University sent an open letter to Human Rights Watch today urging the organization to highlight various human rights violations in Honduras under the coup regime, and to conduct its own investigation. The signers, who include well-known experts on Latin America such as Eric Hershberg, John Womack, Jr., and Greg Grandin, Honduras experts such as Dana Frank and Adrienne Pine, and well-known authors including Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, and Naomi Klein, note that Human Rights Watch could help force the Obama administration to denounce the abuses and put greater pressure on the regime. Highlighting "politically-motivated killings, hundreds of arbitrary detentions, the violent repression of unarmed demonstrators, mass arrests of political opposition, and other violations of basic human rights," the letter notes that Human Rights Watch has not issued a statement or release on the situation in Honduras since July 8, a little over a week following the June 28 coup d'etat.

The signers write, "...the coup could easily be overturned, if the Obama administration sought to do so, by taking more decisive measures, such as canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime."

The letter comes just a day after Amnesty International issued a new report on the coup regime's violations of human rights in cracking down on protests, and as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (part of the Organization of American States) wraps up a fact-finding delegation to Honduras. The author of the Amnesty International report, Esther Major, has stated


that the report was released to call on the international community to take action to "prevent a human rights crisis occurring in Honduras."

The full text of the letter follows:

August 21, 2009

Kenneth Roth Executive Director Human Rights Watch

Dear Mr. Roth,

We are deeply concerned by the absence of statements and reports from your organization over the serious and systematic human rights abuses that have been committed under the Honduran coup regime over the past six weeks. It is disappointing to see that in the weeks since July 8, when Human Rights Watch issued its most recent press release on Honduras [1], that it has not raised the alarm over the extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, physical assaults, and attacks on the press - many of which have been thoroughly documented - that have occurred in Honduras, in most cases by the coup regime against the supporters of the democratic and constitutional government of Manuel Zelaya. We call on your organization to fulfill your important role as a guardian of universal human rights and condemn, strongly and forcefully, the ongoing abuses being committed by the illegal regime in Honduras. We also ask that you conduct your own investigation of these crimes.

While Human Rights Watch [2] was quick to condemn the illegal coup d'etat of June 28 and the human rights violations that occurred over the following week, which helped shine the spotlight of international media on these abuses, the absence of statements from your organization since the week following the coup has contributed to the failure of international media to report on subsequent abuses.

The coup regime's violent repression in Honduras has not stopped. Well-respected human rights organizations in Honduras, such as the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared Detainees (COFADEH), and international human rights monitors have documented a series of politically-motivated killings, hundreds of arbitrary detentions, the violent repression of unarmed demonstrators, mass arrests of political opposition, and other violations of basic human rights under the coup regime. The killing of anti-coup activists has beendocumented in pressreports, bringing to a total of ten people known or suspected to have been killed in connection to their political activities. Press freedom watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have issued releases decrying the regime's attacks and threats against various journalists and the temporary closure and military occupation of news outlets. Various NGO's have issued alerts regarding the politically motivated threats to individuals, and concern for people detained by the regime, but no such statements have come from Human Rights Watch.

This situation is all the more tragic in that the coup could easily be overturned, if the Obama administration sought to do so, by taking more decisive measures, such as canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime. Yet not only does the administration continue to prop up the regime with aid money through the Millennium Challenge Account and other sources, but the U.S. continues to train Honduran military students at the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) - the notorious institution formerly known as the School of the Americas. If the coup were overturned, and the democratically elected government restored, it is clear that the many rampant human rights abuses would immediately cease. If Human Rights Watch would raise its voice, it would be much more difficult for the Obama administration to ignore Honduras' human rights situation and maintain financial and other support for its illegal regime.

We know that there are, sadly, innumerable urgent human rights crises around the world, all of which require your attention. Addressing the deteriorating situation in Honduras, however, is of paramount importance given its potential to serve as a precedent for other coups and the rise of other dictatorships, not just in Honduras, but throughout the region. History has shown that such coups leave deep scars on societies, and that far too often they have led to the rise of some of history's most notorious rights abusers, such as in Pinochet's Chile, Videla's Argentina, and Cedras' Haiti, to name but a few. As human rights defenders with extensive experience in dealing with the appalling human consequences of these regimes, Human Rights Watch is clearly well placed to understand the urgency of condemning the Honduran regime's abuses and to helping ensure the coup is overturned, that democracy is restored, and that political repression and other human rights abuses are stopped. Your colleagues in the Honduran human rights community are counting on you, as are the Honduran people. We hope you will raise your voice on Honduras.


Leisy Abrego University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow UC Irvine

Paul Almeida Associate Professor, Department of Sociology Texas A&M University

Alejandro Alvarez Béjar Professor, Economic Faculty UNAM-Mexico

Tim Anderson Senior Lecturer in Political Economy University of Sydney Australia

Anthony Arnove Author and Editor Brooklyn, NY

Marc Becker Truman State University Kirksville, MO

Marjorie Becker Associate professor, Department of History University of Southern California

John Beverley Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies University of Pittsburgh

Larry Birns Director, Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington, DC   Jefferson Boyer Professor of Anthropology (ethnography of Honduras) Appalachian State University   Jules Boykoff Associate Professor of Political Science Pacific University

Edward T. Brett Professor of History La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA

Renate Bridenthal Professor of History, Emerita Brooklyn College, CUNY

Bob Buzzanco Professor of History University of Houston

Aviva Chomsky Professor of History and Coordinator, Latin American Studies Salem State College

Noam Chomsky Professor of Linguistics Massachusetts Institute of Technology

James D. Cockcroft SUNY Honorary Editor, Latin American Perspectives

Daniel Aldana Cohen Graduate Student New York University

Mike Davis Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing University of California-Riverside

Pablo Delano Professor of Fine Arts Trinity College , Hartford CT

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Professor Emeritus California State University

Luis Duno-Gottberg Rice University   Les W. Field Professor of Anthropology The University of New Mexico

Dana Frank Professor of History University of California, Santa Cruz

Todd Gordon Department of Political Science York University, Toronto   Manu Goswami Department of History New York University   Jeff Gould Rudy Professor of History Indiana University

Greg Grandin Department of History New York University

Richard Grossman Department of History Northeastern Illinois University

Peter Hallward Professor of Modern European Philosophy Middlesex University, UK.

Nora Hamilton Professor, Political Science University of Southern California

Jim Handy Professor of History University of Saskatchewan

Tom Hayden Writer

Doug Henwood Editor and Publisher Left Business Observer

Eric Hershberg Simon Fraser University Vancouver, Canada

Kathryn Hicks Assistant Professor of Anthropology The University of Memphis   Irene B. Hodgson Professor of Spanish,  Director of the Latin American Studies Minor Interim Director of the Academic Service Learning Semesters Xavier University

Forrest Hylton Assistant Professor of Political Science/Int'l. Relations Universidad de los Andes (Colombia)

Susanne Jonas Latin America and Latino Studies University of California, Santa Cruz

Rosemary A. Joyce Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences, Professor and Chair of Anthropology University of California , Berkeley

Karen Kampwirth Knox College

Naomi Klein Journalist, syndicated columnist and author

Andrew H. Lee Librarian for History, European Studies, Iberian Studies, & Politics Bobst Library New York University

Catherine LeGrand Associate Professor Dept. of History, McGill University.

Deborah Levenson Associate Professor of History Boston College

Frederick B. Mills Professor of Philosophy Bowie State University

Cynthia E. Milton Chaire de recherche du Canada en histoire de l'Amérique latine Canada Research Chair in Latin American History, Professeure agregée/Associate Professor, Département d'histoire Université de Montréal

Lena Mortensen Assistant Professor, Anthropology University of Toronto Scarborough

Carole Nagengast Professor Department of Anthropology University of New Mexico

Robert Naiman Policy Director Just Foreign Policy

Marysa Navarro Charles Collis Professor of History Dartmouth College

Sharon Erickson Nepstad Professor of Sociology University of New Mexico

Mary Nolan Professor, Department of History New York University

Elizabeth Oglesby Assistant Professor School of Geography and Development Center for Latin American Studies University of Arizona

Jocelyn Olcott Department of History Duke University

Christian Parenti Contributing Editor, The Nation Visiting Scholar CUNY Graduate Center   Ivette Perfecto Professor University of Michigan   Héctor Perla Jr. Assistant Professor Latin American and Latino Studies University of California, Santa Cruz

John Pilger Journalist and documentary filmmaker

Adrienne Pine Assistant Professor of Anthropology American University

Deborah Poole Professor, Anthropology Johns Hopkins University

Suyapa Portillo Pomona College History Dept.

Vijay Prashad George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies Trinity College

Margaret Randall Feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist

Marcus Rediker Professor and Chair in the Department of History University of Pittsburgh

Gerardo Renique Associate Professor, Department of History City College of the City University of New York

Ken Roberts Professor, Department of Government Cornell University

Nancy Romer Professor of Psychology Brooklyn College City University of New York   Seth Sandronsky U.S. journalist

Aaron Schneider Assistant Professor Political Science Tulane University

Rebecca Schreiber Associate Professor, American Studies Department University of New Mexico

Ernesto Seman Journalist   Richard Stahler-Sholk Professor, Department of Political Science Eastern Michigan University

Julie Stewart Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology Assistant Investigator, Institute of Public and International Affairs University of Utah

Sylvia N. Tesh Lecturer, Latin American Studies University of Arizona.

Miguel Tinker Salas Professor of History Pomona College

Mayo C. Toruño Professor of Economics California State University, San Bernardino

Sheila R. Tully San Francisco State University

John Vandermeer Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology University of Michigan

Jocelyn S. Viterna Assistant Professor Departments of Sociology and Social Studies Harvard University

Steven S. Volk Professor, Department of History Director, Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence (CTIE) Oberlin College

Maurice L. Wade Professor of Philosophy, International Studies, and Graduate Public Policy Studies Trinity College

Shannon Drysdale Walsh Fulbright-Hays Fellow Doctoral Candidate Department of Political Science University of Notre Dame

Jeffery R. Webber Assistant Professor, Political Science University of Regina, Canada

Barbara Weinstein Professor, Department of History New York University

Mark Weisbrot Co-Director Center for Economic and Policy Research

Gregory Wilpert Adjunct Professor of Political Science Brooklyn College

Sonja Wolf Institute of Social Research National Autonomous University of Mexico

John Womack, Jr. Professor of History, Emeritus Harvard University

Elisabeth Wood Professor of Political Science Yale University

Richard L. Wood Associate Professor Department of Sociology University of New Mexico

Marilyn B. Young Professor of History New York University

Marc Zimmerman Modern and Classical Languages University of Houston

1). Human Rights Watch, "Honduras: Evidence Suggests Soldiers Shot Into Unarmed Crowd." July 8, 2009. Found at 2). Human Rights Watch, "Honduras: Military Coup a Blow to Democracy." June 28, 2009. Found at

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