Honduras progressed on rights, U.S. says State Department report also cites illegal detention, torture, official impunity

March 07, 1996|By Gary Cohn | Gary Cohn,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Sun staff writer Mark Matthews contributed to this article.

The State Department said yesterday that the government of Honduras made progress on human rights in 1995, though illegal detentions, the use of torture and impunity for high-ranking military and civilian leaders persist in the Central American nation.

The 17-page assessment of the human rights situation in Honduras is contained in the State Department's annual report on human rights around the world. Like the reports for many countries, the chapter on Honduras is far more candid and detailed for 1995 than it was during the Cold War, when Washington's policy was to minimize the rights abuses of its allies in the interest of furthering the war against communism.

The human rights situation in Honduras during the 1980s was the focus of a four-part series in The Sun last June. The articles detailed how a CIA-trained Honduran army unit known as Battalion 316 kidnapped, tortured and executed hundreds of suspected subversives during the 1980s.

One of the major findings of the series was that the State Department's human rights reports of the early 1980s played down the violence committed by Battalion 316 in order to keep millions of dollars in U.S. aid flowing to Honduras for President Ronald Reagan's anti-Communist campaign.

A Honduran government investigation into the abuses of the 1980s intensified last summer after publication of The Sun's report. The State Department report released yesterday discusses that investigation and notes that "various witnesses, survivors, and a few former members of the military have charged that a military intelligence group called Battalion 316 kidnapped, tortured and murdered many of the disappeared."

The State Department report says that "the [Honduran] government's human rights record improved somewhat, although serious problems remain in certain areas. The most widespread human rights abuses continued to be arbitrary, illegal and incommunicado detentions, and beatings and other abuse of detainees, sometimes including torture."

The report states that "impunity for members of the civilian and military elite, exacerbated by a weak, underfunded, and sometimes corrupt judicial system, is a major cause of human rights problems. Prison conditions remained deplorable."

The Honduran judiciary has acted more boldly against the military than it would have dared a decade ago. A judge is overseeing the investigation into the activities of Battalion 316, and the Honduran Supreme Court ruled unanimously in January that military suspects may be tried in civilian courts.

According to the State Department's report for 1995, "other continuing human rights problems were societal discrimination and violence against women, discrimination against indigenous people, abuse of street children, and the inability of the judicial system to provide prisoners awaiting trial with swift and impartial justice."

In 1984, when Honduras was a staging ground for the Reagan administration's war against communism in Latin America, military aid to the impoverished nation was $77.4 million. In 1995, the United States gave Honduras $325,000 in military aid and $39 million in nonmilitary assistance.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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