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Domestic Human Rights Organizations

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 domestic violence targeted at leftist organizations, particularly from 1982 to 1984, when General 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 participated 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.

In the early 1990s, there have been 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 has 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 IACHR.

In the early 1990s, Codeh remained the country's most important and most internationally known human rights organization. Codeh continues 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 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 often 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 disappeared student and labor activist whose case Codeh and Cofadeh brought before the IACHR. As its name suggests, Cofadeh's membership consists 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, as well as a special program for the protection of the rights of children and women.

Until late 1992, the Honduran government had not established an effective human rights monitor, and Codeh and Cofadeh often served this purpose. In 1987 the Azcona government had established the Inter-Institutional 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, a human rights commission, headed by Valladares of Ciprodeh. This new office--the National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional para la Protección de Derechos Humanos--Conaprodeh)--was active in 1993 in receiving complaints of human rights violations and in certain instances provided "protection" to those citizens issuing complaints.

Although Honduras has experienced more than a decade of civilian rule, many observers maintain that the military is still the most powerful political actor in the country. Since the mid-twentieth century, the military has become a cohesive national institution and has made strides in improving its professionalism. The Honduran armed forces handled themselves well in the 1969 war with El Salvador and the sometimes-not-too-cold war with Nicaragua in the 1980s. The question for the Honduran armed forces in the 1990s, however, is how they will deal with regional peace, downsizing, and a populace growing disenchanted with the military's role in national politics.

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Book length treatments of the armed forces and police are scarce. Leticia Salomón's Política y militares en Honduras provides a short overview of political-military relations. The recently published "The United States, Honduras, and the Crisis in Central America" by Donald E. Schulz and Deborah Loff covers United States relations with the government and armed forces of Honduras and explores the role that important Honduras military leaders have played in the politics of the country. Several works by Tom Barry and Kent Norsworthy, such as Inside Honduras and Central America Inside Out: The Essential Guide to Its Societies, Politics, and Economics, include chapters on the armed forces, police, and foreign military assistance. James A. Morris's Honduras: Caudillo Politics and Military Rulers (1984) is dated but contains useful background information.

Also useful are annual or semi-annual publications, including World Defence Almanac, The Military Balance, and Foreign Military Markets: Latin America and Austrasliasia, which contain information on the order of battle, weapons inventories, and defense expenditures.

Journal and newspaper articles were highly useful in the preparation of this chapter, especially Julio Montes's "The Honduran Army--The Last 20 Years," in Jane's Intelligence Review (February 1993). The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington post, and Miami Herald provide regular reporting on political and military developments in Honduras.

The Latin American Weekly report and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Report--Latin America also provide regular reporting on military activities in Honduras.

The penal and judicial systems of Honduras are adequately treated in La administracion de justicia en Honduras: descripcion y analisis del sector, by the Instituto Latinoamericano de las Naciones Unidas para la Prevención del Delito y Tratamiento de Delicuente. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1993

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