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Activists in Honduras tell Amnesty International of Hidden Human Rights Crisis

HONDURAS - As Honduras' president elect Porfirio Lobo prepares to take power, new
questions arise about events that have taken place since the coup
d'etat last June.

An Amnesty International delegation in the country talked to human
rights activists about the hidden crisis affecting the Central American

Read interviews with activists:
Dina Meza - "We have gone back 30 years"
Donny Reyes - "Most crimes against LGBT people are lost in limbo"
Alexis Quiroz - "The population needs to be informed to make objective decisions"

Gilda Rivera: "Women are at higher risk because they are considered second class citizens"

Rivera works in an apparent oasis of calm on a hill in Tegucigalpa.
When you are there, among the plants and paintings which decorate the
building, it's hard to imagine the stories she and her organization
hear. But some days, an unknown car appears and parks suspiciously in
the close vicinity of the offices for no apparent reason and waits,
then it leaves.

Gilda is the director of the Centre for Women's Rights (Centro para
Derechos las Mujeres), a group that works to document and combat
violence against women in Honduras.  

In a report published recently, the group painted a dark picture of
what it is like to be a woman in Honduras, where hundreds have been
victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence and murder.

Gilda says the situation for Honduran women has always been worrying
but since the coup d'etat of June 2009, things have deteriorated

"When the whole population is facing human rights violations, women are
at even greater risk because we are considered second class citizens,"
said Gilda.

The Centre for Women's Rights has documented a number of cases of
sexual violence against women reportedly committed by members of the
security forces since de coup d'etat, particularly in the north of the

"A woman was detained by police officers after a demonstration, taken
to a piece of wasteland and raped by four police officers. She
recognized some of them from the names she could see on their uniforms.

"They left her there. She was forced to move away from her home because
of the fear she feels. This is the punishment women experience for
daring to speak out - to participate, to be citizens."
Gilda is convinced that the historical lack of investigations and
justice for women who have suffered violence is contributing to more
cases of abuse.

"The coup d'etat ruined much of what we had gained and achieved... all women have received is more violence."

Dina Meza: "We have gone back 30 years"

Dina Meza lives and talks human rights at every opportunity she is
given. As a journalist, an activist and a member of COFADEH (Committee
of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras), one of Honduras' oldest
human rights organizations, she knows all too well what it means to
work on an issue that is not always popular with the authorities.

The past five months have been particularly challenging for Dina and
her colleagues at COFADEH. Its members have spent countless days and
nights collecting testimonies of threats, harassment, police beatings,
arbitrary arrests, ill treatment and killings across the country.
They then file habeas corpus and other legal remedies on behalf of those affected by the repression.

In one of the most serious incidents, on 23 September, police threw
tear gas canisters inside their office in Tegucigalpa, while Dina and
other colleagues were inside the building. The message was clear from
those who had taken power: defending human rights was part of the
problem, not the solution.

Dina believes the underlying problem in Honduras is a lack of justice
prevailing since the 1980s, when hundreds of people were killed or
disappeared at the hands of the country's security forces.

"The generations who were repressed in the 80s - the men and women
killed, disappeared, and whose relatives still haven't received justice
- all this accumulated impunity and the human rights abusers who are
calmly walking the streets of Honduras, this all has to do with what's
happening now. It teaches us that when repression goes unpunished, it
happens again," Dina said.

"We have legal repression, police repression, military repression - so
what does this mean? We have to reform and reconstitute all these
institutions and start again, with a new procedure."

Donny Reyes: "Most crimes against LGBT people are lost in limbo"
the political crisis blew up in Honduras, Donny Reyes was trying to put
his country on the map internationally, working to raise awareness of
the abuses and discrimination suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transsexual and transgender people.

But as the Central American nation slid into political turmoil, human rights were sidelined.

"We had started talks with the Public Prosecutor's Office, with members
of the police and some members of the government for the investigation
[of crimes against the LGBT community] and access to some public
services. This stopped after the coup d'etat," Donny explained.

According to information published by the organization Donny works for,
the Rainbow Association, killings of transsexual people have also
increased sharply since the coup d'etat.

Research conducted by Rainbow found that there were 12 killings of gay,
lesbian, trans sexual and transgender people in Honduras in the whole
of 2008. In the four months since the coup d'etat, that figure reached

"These are the violent deaths and crimes that we have documented. It
doesn't include the many others we don't know of - the ones that are
left in impunity, lost in limbo," said Donny.

The activist - who was himself a victim of abuse at the hands of the
security forces in 2007 - said the most worrying point of the crisis
was during the state of emergency in the first week after the coup
d'etat, when curfews were implemented in different areas of the country.

During that time, at least three members of the LGBT community were
killed. Fabio Zamora was shot in the head while he was working in a
market. Marion Cardenas was shot in the forehead on 29 June. Vicky
Hernandez died the same way in San Pedro Sula, during the curfew on 28

"During the state of emergency you could feel a climate of fear,
collective panic. Nothing could move here if it hadn't been authorized
by the armed forces, particularly the army. When the state of emergency
was declared that day, everybody just ran home to hide and find refuge.
What the authorities would do that night was nobody's responsibility."

Alexis Quiroz: "The population needs to be informed to make objective decisions"

In Alexis's office, an old house in Tegucigalpa, the TV is stuck on one
channel, Canal 36, one of the main news stations in the country. But
there are no images on the screen. Instead, a multi-coloured test card
reads: "They interfere with Canal 36's signal to prevent us from
informing you."

This very sentence is reflective of the situation faced by journalists
across Honduras and the changes in the way the media operates in the
context of Honduras' political crisis.

"Before the coup d'etat we had some differences of opinion with the
government but we didn't have censorship; we didn't have violence
against journalists or other people who spoke out against the
government," said Alexis

"Now we even have decrees which say that nobody can say anything
against a public official, you can't express any kind of unfavourable
opinion against a public official."

C-Libre, the organization where Alexis works, has recorded 130
incidents of threats, dismissals and attacks against journalists since
the coup d'etat on 28 June.

"Military occupation of media outlets is high, the level of physical
attacks against journalists is very high, and there are threats - these
are the three most pressing issues. We have at least 130 cases,
including closures of media outlets." 


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