OAS readmits Honduras after Zelaya returns, but human rights concerns remain

OAS readmits Honduras after Zelaya returns, but human rights concerns remain

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Earlier this month the Organization of American States voted to readmit Honduras after President Porfirio Lobo agreed to former President Manuel Zelaya’s return from exile. Honduras was suspended from the OAS in 2009 after Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military in a coup d’état.

Zelayas supporters gather in Tegucigalpa to welcome his return (Photo Courtesy of the NY Post).
Zelaya’s supporters gather in Tegucigalpa to listen to his speech 3 months after ouster. (Photo Courtesy of the NY Post).

At the time of his removal Zelaya had been campaigning for constitutional reform, which his opponents alleged were in efforts to extend his presidency. The Honduran constitution bans leaders from serving more than one term in office and the speculation that Zelaya desired to run for a second term served as the pre-text for his removal.

Despite the reasons behind Zelaya’s removal, many believe the nation is worse off than it was two years ago. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, more than 4,000 cases of human rights violations were documented between June 2009 and December 2010.  Human rights activists, journalists, and the government’s political adversaries have been among those suffering violent abuse and repression at the hands of the Honduran military and police.

Honduras is currently one of the world’s most violent nations.  The homicide rate is four times higher than that of Mexico, with 67 per 100,000 people murdered each year. In the past year alone around 40 community leaders, many of which were Zelaya supporters, were killed.

Since his election to office last year, President Lobo has made multiple public statements calling for and promoting peaceful resolution but the violence has continued.  Although some see Zelaya’s return to Honduras as a step towards achieving peace, many believe the on-going human rights violations that have endured for the past two years are far from over.

These beliefs are not without merit. The Cartagena Accord, the diplomatic agreement that paved the way for Zelaya’s return, mandated that the assassins, torturers and rapists of the Honduran regimes of the past two years be immune from criminal prosecution. According to a Workers Word report, Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras representative Bertha Oliva criticized the agreement, stating, “We do not see any indications of how and when those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed during and after the coup will be punished.”

Oliva is one of many who are skeptical of conditions of Zelaya’s return and if his presence will help rid Honduras of despair. Many believe the that Zelaya was allowed to return so that Honduras would be readmitted to the OAS, an action more than 20 human rights organizations had opposed because it effectively legitimized the government that rose to power after the coup.

Zelaya’s return is a return to political normalization; however, there is still no guarantee that his return and the return of Honduras to the OAS will restore civil rights and freedoms to the people of Honduras.

For more information, please see:


Workers Word – Zelaya returns to Honduras – June 9, 2011

LA Times – Fixing Honduras – June 7, 2011

Reporters Without Borders – Concern about future of civil liberties, human rights after OAS readmits Honduras – June 7, 2011

The Miami Herald – Hollow victory – June 5, 2011

Latin American Press – End of the crisis? – June 2, 2011

BBC News – OAS lifts Honduras suspension after Zelaya agreement – June 1, 2011


FARC forcing recruitment of indigenous child soldiers

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Fighting with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) recently occurred in the southwestern Cauca region.  On June 4, 2011 army reports from a skirmish with the guerilla fighters revealed that FARC is still actively recruiting child soldiers. 

adolescent FARC soldiers (Photo Courtesy of Latin American Studies Organization)
Adolescent are actively recruited by FARC. (Photo Courtesy of Latin American Studies Organization)

 Three members from FARC forces were arrested after the skirmish, two of them were minors.  The three arrested all confirmed that FARC has been active in recruiting children from the indigenous populations in the Huila, Cauca and Valle de Cauca regions.  The two child soldiers stated that in the past two months, roughly 15 children between the ages of 12 and 15 years old have been forcefully recruited.

 Child soldiers are sometimes used in armed combat but more commonly, they act as FARC’s transporters for explosives, rations and anti-personnel mines.  Recent decisive moves by the Colombian army resulted in the death and capture of many FARC fighters.  The army believes this has led to a need for replacements and thus prompted the surge in forced child soldier recruitment. 

The two child soldiers were placed in the care of the state and officials urged indigenous communities to report these recruitments to authorities.  In an effort to relieve fear of reprisal, authorities stated that indigenous communities should not fear condemnation by the state. 

 Indigenous groups have asked for a more concerted and swift response from the government to eradicate this widespread practice.  Aída Quilcué, the leader of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council, stated; “[w]e have cases of minors from 8 years of age to 15 who have been forcefully recruited by the FARC.  We are asking for the government’s help so this situation stops.  We are tired of seeing women raped, tortured, children dead and children obligated to join the FARC’s ranks.”

 For more information, please see;

 Child Rights Information Network – Colombia: ‘FARC Are Recruiting Indigenous Children’ – 9 June 2011

 Latin America Press – FARC Recruiting Indigenous Minors – 9 June 2011

 Colombia Reports – FARC Are Recruiting Indigenous Children – 4 June 2011

 Ejército Nacional – Las FARC Estarían Reclutando Menores en Cabildos Indígenas – 4 June 2011

Former Head of Armed Forces in Guatemala Arrested, Charged with Genocide

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Guatemalan officials have detained Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, a retired general and former head of the armed forces in Guatemala.  He allegedly played a pivotal role in a number of massacres that occurred during the Guatemalan Civil War.  Many hope the arrest will provide closure for thousands of families across the country.

Relatives of civil war victims try to identify remains (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)
Relatives of civil war victims try to identify remains. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala underwent a violent civil war in which security forces killed an estimated 200,000 people.  The large majority of victims were indigenous Mayan Indians and other innocent civilians.  Mario Minera, a rights activist told the Associated Press “this opens the possibility that there could be justice for hundreds of families” and possibly an explanation.

General Fuentes, now 81 years old, faces charges of genocide and forced disappearance – a crime in which the victim has never been found.  Additionally, human rights groups are accusing him of crimes against humanity generally.

As reported by BBC News, Guatemala’s office of public prosecutions claims that Fuentes is the driving force behind the killings of more than 300 landless Mayan civilians in 1982 and 1983.  While the security forces are to blame for the majority of the actual killings and disappearances, Fuentes stands accused of orchestrating it all.

According to Amnesty International, Fuentes held the title of military Chief of Staff – the third highest-ranking official in the country – under then-President, General José Efrain Ríos Montt.  Montt is currently awaiting criminal prosecution himself.  As of now, he enjoys immunity from prosecution while serving a term as a Congressman.  Montt told a local radio station, “it was a time of war, of guerrilla wars,” and is reportedly willing to face justice for his actions in the early 1980s.

International Business Times reports that Fuentes is the highest-ranking former government official so far to be charged with such crimes related to the civil war.

Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher at Amnesty International, described the arrest as a “major step toward justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of grave human rights abuses. . . ”  Elgueta believes that in order for justice to prevail, authorities should punish not only the soldiers, but also the masterminds behind these atrocities.

Guatemalan authorities have arrested other former military and police officials in recent months for their involvement in human rights abuses.  “But,” said Elgueta, “most of those who planned and carried out the worst abuses are still at large and must be brought to justice.”

For more information, please see:

 Amnesty International – Guatemala Arrests Former General for Genocide – 20 June 2011

BBC News – Guatemala: Ex-Armed Forces Chief Lopez Fuentes Arrested – 18 June 2011

International Business Times – Former Guatemalan Army Chief Arrested for War Crimes – 18 June 2011

The Sacramento Bee – Guatemala Arrests Ex-General in 1980s Killings – 17 June 2011

Gaddafi Arrest Warrant Issued by ICC

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants today for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Abdullah al-Senussi for crimes against humanity that allegedly occurred across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011.

Muammar Gaddafi (Photo Courtesy of ABC News).
Muammar Gaddafi (Photo Courtesy of ABC News).

Specifically, the three are charged for the implementation of state policy to deter and quell, by any means, including by deadly force, demonstrations against the Gaddafi regime. Libyan Security Forces, under Gaddafi’s command, attacked, killed or injured as well as arrested and imprisoned hundreds of civilians and alleged dissidents throughout Libya during the time in question.

The ICC’s decision to issue the warrants comes after a unanimous adoption of Resolution 1970 by the United Nations Security Council on 26 February 2011.  The resolution, which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC Prosecutor, stressed the need to hold accountable those responsible for the brutal attacks against the Libyan citizens.  It decided “the Libyan authorities shall cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor pursuant to the resolution.”  The Security Council also urged all States and concerned regional and international organizations to cooperate fully with the ICC.

The ICC Prosecutor undertook a preliminary investigation, and it was concluded on 3 March 2011 that the crimes committed in Libya fell within the ICC’s jurisdiction, and that further investigation into the matter was necessary.  On 16 May 2011 the ICC Prosecutor requested the issuance of the three warrants that were finally approved today by Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC.

The ICC issued the warrants because it believes there is sufficient evidence that the men did commit the crimes in question, and that their arrest is necessary to ensure their appearance before the court; to stop them from obstructing and endangering the Court’s investigations; and to prevent them from continuing to commit crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Rebels in Eastern Libya welcomed news of the warrants. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the opposition’s Interim Transitional National Council, said the warrants will further their efforts to end Gaddafi’s more than 40-year rule.

The ICC has no police force of its own so it up to national authorities to make arrests on its behalf.  Resolution 1970 requires Libya to cooperate with the ICC and the opposition’s Interim Transitional National Council has promised as much to the ICC Prosecutor.

Human Rights Watch points out that the ICC’s work on bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity in Libya is distinct from any other military or diplomatic initiatives currently taking place, and that it would be a mistake to conflate them or identify the ICC as anything other than an independent body.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch — Libya: Warrants Send Strong Message to Abusive Leaders — 27 June 2011

International Criminal Court — Pre-Trial Chamber I issues three warrants of arrest for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdulla Al-Senussi – 27 June 2011

New York Times — Hague Court Issues War Crimes Warrant for Qaddafi — 27 June 2011

Voice of America — Eastern Libyans Welcome ICC Charges Against Gaddafi — 27 June 2011


By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

In an index of failed states compiled by Fund for Peace and released by Foreign Policy this week, Somalia has topped the list for the fourth year in a row, followed by Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Somalia, out of a population of nearly 10 million, as many as three million are thought to be in need of humanitarian assistance.  Another two million have been uprooted in the nation’s conflict with Islamist insurgents who have pledged their allegiance to al Qaeda.  According to the United Nations, the country has not had a fully-functioning national government since 1991.

Demonstrators in Mogadishu protesting the United Nations mission in the country.  (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.)
Demonstrators in Mogadishu. (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)

J.J. Messner, a Fund for Peace senior associate, told CNN that just because a country is high on the list does not necessarily mean it is a failed state, but that it is facing enormous social, economic and political pressures.

“Bur for many countries, very little is, sadly, changing,” Messner said.  “We see that for many countries there is very little improvement.”

Coming in second on the list was Chad.  Only 23% of Chadians in urban areas have access to clean water and that number is even lower in rural areas due to a lack of sanitation facilities in the country.  Life expectancy is at a mere 49 years of age.  Most of the government’s money, despite being fairly wealthy from oil discoveries, goes to the purchase of arms to ward off rebel groups.

Sudan, ranked third, and its troubles have been well-documented.  Violence has spread recently from Darfur to Abyei and Southern Kordofan as the nation prepares to separate into two.  According to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, more than 360,000 people have been displaced in Sudan in the last six months, adding to the already 2.7 million forced from their homes since fighting began in Darfur in 2003.

The Democratic Republic of Congo came in fourth on the list.  Often referred to as the “Rape Capital of the World,” the UN approximates that 200,000 women have been raped there since armed conflict between various militias began in the late 1990s.  In the eastern part of the country it is still commonplace for soldiers to use sexual violence against innocent villagers.  The nation will face a big test in November when it holds a presidential election nearly a decade after its civil war officially ended.

The criteria used in ranking the states included mounting demographic pressures, mass movement of refugees or internally-displaced persons, vengeance-seeking group grievance, chronic and sustained human flight and uneven economic development.  Additional criteria included legitimacy of the state, violations of human rights and rule of law and progressive deterioration of public services.

Three other African nations rounded out the top ten: Zimbabwe (#6), Central Africa Republic (#8) and Cote d’Ivoire (#10).  Only three non-African nations made the top ten: Haiti (#5), Afghanistan (#7) and Iraq (#9).

For more information, please see:

Afrique en ligne – African nations top 2011 Failed States Index list – 23 June 2011

Foreign Policy – The Hall of Shame – 22 June 2011

CNN – Somalia is again at top of failed states list – 21 June 2011

Foreign Policy – Postcards from Hell, 2011 – 20 June 2011

CNN – Despite rallies supporting him, Somali PM steps down – 19 June 2011