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Honduras: Firings Undercut Judicial Independence

Supreme Court Should Reinstate Judges Immediately


The firing of judges who opposed the 2009 coup is a serious blow to
judicial independence in Honduras, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 12, 2010, the Honduran Supreme Court ratified its May 5 vote
to dismiss four lower-court judges who are members of Judges for
Democracy, a group that has challenged the legality of the coup that
ousted President Manuel Zelaya last year.

"The Honduran judiciary should be working to re-establish the rule of
law and remedy the damage done by last year's coup," said Jose Miguel
Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "By firing these
judges, the Supreme Court is doing precisely the opposite."

Judge Ramon Barrios was removed for publicly criticizing a June 2009
Supreme Court ruling that validated the coup. Barrios issued his
critique at an academic conference at the University of San Pedro Sula,
where he teaches law. According to the judiciary's personnel office, the
reason for dismissing Barrios was that his criticism "undermined the
dignity" of the judiciary.

Judge Guillermo Lopez Lone, the president of Judges for
Democracy, and Judge Luis Chevez de la Rocha were removed for
participating in public demonstrations calling for Zelaya to be
reinstated. The political nature of this ruling is evidenced by the fact
that in June 2009, the judiciary's personnel director issued an
official invitation to all judicial branch employees, including judges,
to attend a public demonstration in favor of the de facto government.

A fourth judge, Thirza Flores Lanza, was removed for filing two legal
motions on behalf of Zelaya. The judiciary's personnel office claimed
that her actions violated the judiciary's prohibition on judges engaging
in litigation. Lopez Lone told Human Rights Watch that Flores Lanza had
sought to defend herself against the charges by submitting evidence to
the personnel office that other judges have filed similar legal motions
in the past without being subject to disciplinary sanction.

Under Honduran law, the disciplinary proceeding leading to the
judges' removal is not transparent and does not afford basic due process
guarantees. While the judges had an opportunity to present evidence in
their defense to the judiciary's personnel director, they were not
allowed to participate in or even witness the proceedings before the
Supreme Court.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.