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Honduras: Investigate Killing of Four Civilians

Counternarcotics Operations Should Abide by Standards on Use of Force

(Washington, DC) – Honduran and US authorities should ensure a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of the alleged killing of four civilians and wounding of four others during a joint counternarcotics operation in the Mosquitia region of Honduras.

In the pre-dawn hours of May 11, a helicopter carrying members of the Honduran National Police and agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) opened fire on a boat traveling on a river in the Mosquitia region. According to credible news reports, four civilians were killed, two of whom were pregnant women, and four civilians were wounded, including at least one minor.

“It is critical that both Honduran and US authorities ensure that the killings are thoroughly investigated to determine whether the use of lethal force was justified,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “If evidence demonstrates that security forces violated international standards, they must be held accountable.”

International law enforcement standards strictly limit the use of lethal force against fleeing suspects. Principal 9 of the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (adopted in 1990 by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders) permits the intentional use of lethal force by law enforcement officials only “when strictly unavoidable to protect life.” Firearms may be used against criminal suspects only “in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury” or a “grave threat to life” and only when “less extreme means are insufficient.”

The director of Honduras’s National Police said in a press conference that members carried out a security operation on May 11 to intercept illicit drugs in which people were killed, and that individuals in the helicopter opened fire only after being shot at from the ground by armed men. The US Embassy in Honduras confirmed in a written statement to the press that “the US assisted Honduran forces in this operation.”

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