“Ten years from now, perhaps we will not be able to say we survived the brutality of these times.”

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Bertha Oliva speaks at the briefing.

The international community initially celebrated an agreement negotiated  in Honduras, on October 28th, between coup regime leader Roberto Micheletti and deposed President Manuel Zelaya, which could have put an end to the crisis. But, less than a week later, the accord started crumbling apart.

On November 5th, 2009, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) sponsored a briefing of civil society leaders and activists on Capitol Hill to talk about the human rights violations that have been occurring in Honduras since the coup and give their vision for the future.  The leaders’ visits were coordinated by the Quixote Center and Just Associates, and LAWGEF pitched in to help. The following quotes were taken from that briefing.

Bertha Oliva is the general coordinator and founder of the Committee of Relatives of Missing Prisoners in Honduras (COFADEH). As director of COFADEH now, she has been one of the most prominent voices reporting on human and civil rights violations in Honduras during the past four months.

“I am a survivor of the past military dictatorships in Honduras, a victim and a survivor of the ‘national security doctrine’ as it was implemented throughout Central America and in Honduras in the 1980s. I am a survivor of the barbarity of those times. It is those past experiences that have guided my work to advocate human rights, to search for the truth, and to pursue justice. And I have not stopped searching for truth and pursuing justice since then.

“Today we speak with indignation and great concern when we say that Honduras has suffered a tragic setback in the realm of human rights, a setback that is eerily reminiscent, almost parallel, to what we have experienced in the past. Only, in the past, the torturers operated as death squads and covertly committed their violations. Today, these same actors no longer feel the need to hide their faces or skulk around beneath the veil of darkness or dawn. The military dictatorship has enabled actors to suppress, to detain, and to otherwise illegally violate the constitutional rights and liberties of the Honduran people with impunity.”

Jessica Sanchez, human rights activist with the Honduran Feminists in Resistance, elaborated on the increasing violations of women’s rights under the de facto regime:

“I speak from a perspective of sadness. The violations of women’s rights far exceed those being reported.

“Since the coup, women do not trust the judicial system to provide an effective response. Rather they fear retribution from the police forces who are perpetrators. When cases have been reported, as happened with a 17-year-old who was raped on September 22nd, the police have refused to register the complaint. Under the de facto regime, the Honduran Office of Human Rights and Office for Women’s Rights, which are responsible for investigating cases of abuse, have refused to follow up on complaints of violations by police and security forces.

“Under the ‘circumstances of emergency,’ we have lost everything we were able to achieve within the system of justice. The de facto government has managed to roll back 20 years of legislation that guaranteed women’s rights. Public policies that promoted gender equality have been suspended under decrees issued by this de facto government.”

Bertha ended with this final comment:

 “Dialogue processes that are initiated by a repressive government cannot be called a ‘dialogue’ at all.

“From our perspective, it is very clear that Honduras that has served as the laboratory for coup-conspirators. If they triumph in Honduras, the rest shall come to pass, which will be a succession of coups against the young democracies of Latin America.

“Our concern is that, ten years from now, perhaps we will not be able to say that we survived the brutality of these times.”