July 2, 2009
In the absence of some clear threat to public order and security in Honduras, the existence of peaceful, political demonstrations could not reasonably be construed as ground for widespread suspension of fundamental rights guarantees.

Secretary General José Miguel Insulza
Organization of American States
17th Street & Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006

Dear Secretary General:

I am writing to share with you our concerns regarding credible reports that we have received of serious abuses committed by Honduran security forces since the coup d'état on June 28. These include the excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, and acts of censorship. We are also very concerned by the emergency decree approved by the Honduran Congress yesterday that suspends fundamental rights and could provide a pretext for further abuses in the coming days.

We understand that the primary objective of the delegation that you will be leading to Honduras in the coming days will be to seek an end to the coup and a restoration of democratic rule in that country. However, we believe it is crucially important that you also press the officials who currently hold power in Honduras to ensure the full respect for human rights guarantees while the country's democratic crisis is being resolved.  

According to local human rights defenders, Honduran security forces have injured and arbitrarily detained scores of demonstrators over the past two days.  On June 29, 91 people were reportedly detained, and fourteen of these injured, by security forces in Tegucigalpa. The detainees were held for hours without charges and released later the same day. On June 30, security forces reportedly detained six people and injured seven others who were participating in a peaceful demonstration in the department of El Progreso. The six detainees were charged with the crime of "rebellion" and released conditionally the following day. Three of the injured demonstrators remain hospitalized as of yesterday afternoon.

We have also received credible reports of apparent acts of censorship against the broadcast media. These include the alleged detention of cartoonist Allan McDonald with his 17 month old daughter; the temporary detention of TeleSUR correspondents Adriana Sivori, Larry Sánchez, María José Díaz, and Freddy Quintero, and confiscation of their notes and equipment; the temporary closure of the state-owned television station Channel 8 (from early Sunday morning until Monday night) and Radio Progreso (from Sunday morning until Tuesday afternoon); the ongoing closure of private television station Channel 36, also allegedly closed on Sunday morning, which remained off the air as of Wednesday morning; and the interference with the transmission of international networks Telesur and CNN en Español, and banning of Radio Globo.

We are especially troubled by the emergency decree that the Honduran Congress approved on Wednesday that provides for the temporary suspension of basic rights, including the right to "personal liberty," freedom of association, freedom of movement, and protections against arbitrary detention.  As you know, international law recognizes that states may suspend some guarantees, but only under exceptional circumstances, including time of war, public danger, or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of the state. Moreover, the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties establish that some rights can never be suspended, including among others the rights to personal integrity and basic judicial guarantees.

Given the reports of serious abuses that we have received over the past two days, we are concerned there is a real risk that the suspension of these rights could be used to perpetrate further human rights violations. 

We therefore urge you to address the issue directly with representatives of the Honduran Congress and the de facto government.  Under Article 27 of the American Convention, these officials have an obligation to "immediately" inform the OAS Secretary General of "the provisions the application of which it has suspended, the reasons that gave rise to the suspension, and the date set for the termination of such suspension." In addition to insisting that Honduran officials fulfill this obligation, we would urge you to thoroughly examine the content of the decree to determine whether it is consistent with international law. Specifically, any attempt to suspend non-derogable rights should be categorically condemned. The authorities should be clearly reminded that acts of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and enforced disappearances are absolutely prohibited and subject to prosecution as international crimes.

Moreover, the grounds for the suspension of any rights should be subject to close scrutiny. In the absence of some clear threat to public order and security in Honduras, the existence of peaceful, political demonstrations could not reasonably be construed as ground for widespread suspension of fundamental rights guarantees.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

José Miguel Vivanco
Executive