Domestic Human Rights Organizations

Honduras Table of Contents

Human rights groups in Honduras first became active in the early 1980s when revolution and counterrevolution brought violence and instability to Central America. In Honduras, these groups organized in response to the mounting level of violence targeted at leftist organizations, particularly from 1982-84, when General Gustavo lvarez commanded the military. Human rights organizations were at times targeted by the Honduran military with harassment and political violence. According to some observers, the United States embassy in Honduras also got involved in a campaign to discredit Honduran human rights organizations at a time when Honduras was serving as a key component of United States policy toward Central America by hosting the Contras and a United States military presence.

In the early 1990s, there were three major nongovernmental human rights organizations in Honduras: the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (Comité para la Defensa de Derechos Humanos de Honduras--Codeh); the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (Comité de las Familias de los Detenidos y Desaparecidos Hondureños--Cofadeh); and the Center of the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos--Ciprodeh).

Established in 1981 by Ramón Custodio, Codeh became the country's foremost human rights organization in the 1980s, with a network throughout the country. The organization withstood harassment and intimidation by Honduran security forces. In January 1988, Codeh's regional director in northern Honduras, Miguel Ángel Pavón, was assassinated before he was about to testify in a case brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). In 1981 and 1982, Codeh and Cofadeh had brought three cases before the IACHR involving the disappearances of two Hondurans, Ángel Manfredo Velásquez and Saúl Godínez, and two Costa Ricans traveling in Honduras, Fairen Garbi and Yolanda Solís Corrales. The court ultimately found Honduras responsible for the disappearances of the two Hondurans, but not for the two Costa Ricans.

In the 1990s, Codeh remained the country's most important and most internationally known human rights organization. Codeh continued to issue annual reports and to speak out frequently, not only on human rights violations, but also on economic, social, and political issues. Some observers, however, have criticized Codeh for going beyond a human rights focus, as well as for exaggerating charges against the government and military. In the 1980s and as late as 1990, the United States Department of State in its annual human rights reports on Honduras charged that Codeh's charges were ill-documented, exaggerated, and in some cases false.

Cofadeh was founded in 1982 by Zenaida Velásquez, sister of Ángel Manfredo Velásquez, the missing student and labor activist whose case Codeh and Cofadeh brought before the IACHR. As its name suggests, Cofadeh's membership consisted of relatives of the disappeared and detained, and in the 1980s its members often demonstrated near the Presidential Palace in the center of Tegucigalpa.

Ciprodeh, founded in 1991 by Leo Valladares, provides human rights educational and legal services. The group offers human rights courses and monthly seminars and has a special program for the protection of the rights of children and women.

The Honduran government did not established an effective human rights monitor until late 1992, and Codeh and Cofadeh often served this purpose. In 1987 the Azcona government established the InterInstitutional Commission on Human Rights (Comisión InterInstitucional de Derechos Humanos--CIDH), made up of representatives from the three branches of government and the military, to investigate human rights violations. The CIDH proved ineffective and did not receive cooperation from either civilian judicial or military authorities.

In December 1992, the Callejas government inaugurated a new governmental human rights body headed by Valladares. In 1993 this new office of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional para la Protección de Derechos Humanos-- Conaprodeh) received complaints of human rights violations and, in some instances, provided "protection" to those citizens issuing complaints.

In the early 1990s, Honduras also had a number of ethnic-based organizations representing Hondurans of African origin and the nation's indigenous population. Six ethnic-based organizations were loosely grouped together under the Honduras Advisory Council for Autonomous Ethnic Development (Consejo Asesor Hondureño para el Desarrollo de las Étnicas Autóctonas--CAHDEA). Representing the nation's black population, including the Garifuna, and English-speaking Creoles was the Honduras Black Fraternal Organization (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña--Ofraneh), a group established in 1977 for the betterment of social, political, economic, and cultural conditions of black Hondurans. The indigenous peoples of Honduras first began forming national organizations in the 1950s, and in the 1990s, five indigenous organizations were represented in CAHDEA. These consisted of organizations representing the Miskito, Pech, Lenca, Towaka, and Jicaque peoples. According to the United States Department of State in its human rights report for 1992, Honduran indigenous peoples had "little or no participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, or the allocation of natural resources." The report further asserted that legal recourse is commonly denied to indigenous groups and that the seizing of indigenous lands by nonindigenous farmers and cattle growers is common.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress