Author: Angelika Albaladejo
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It’s been five months since Berta Cáceres, the renowned environmental and indigenous rights activist, was gunned down in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Five suspects have been arrested, but the intellectual authors are still unknown and the Honduran government has not approved the independent investigation called for by her family and colleagues.
In response to the murder of Berta, five members of Congress are calling on the United States to suspend all military aid to Honduras until the country addresses its gross human rights violations, sending a powerful message to Honduras.
The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (H.R. 5474), introduced by Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia in June, would suspend all U.S. funding to Honduras’ police and military forces, including equipment and training, until the Honduran government investigates credible reports indicating the police and military are violating citizens’ human rights.
Currently, U.S. funding to Honduras’ security forces continues to flow, in spite of alarming allegations. Months before Berta Cáceres was murdered, a military hit list is said to have included her name and photograph alongside those of dozens of other social and environmental activists. A former member of an elite U.S.-trained Honduran special forces unit of the military police told The Guardian that the list had been handed down to two military police units by high levels of command with orders to eliminate the targets.
This year, the United States has allocated at least $18 million for the Honduran police and military as part of an aid package of $750 million for the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This aid marks a significant increase over past years and is likely the first installment of increased aid packages for the next five or more years.
As the dollar amounts have increased, so have the restrictions on accessing it. While the Berta Cáceres Act would need broad support to become law, there is already a valuable tool that can be used to restrict aid: human rights conditions. The 2016 aid package includes unusually tough conditions — hard won through your advocacy with us last year.
These conditions tie half of all money given to the central government of Honduras, as well as El Salvador and Guatemala, to progress on human rights, justice, and corruption issues.
In order for the Honduran government to receive the 50% of aid linked to these conditions, the U.S. State Department must first certify that the country has taken effective steps to:
- combat corruption;
- make and implement a plan to create a professional, accountable civilian police force and reduce the role of the military in policing;
- protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference;
- implement reforms, policies, and programs to improve transparency and strengthen public institutions, including increasing the capacity and independence of the judiciary;
- and a range of other human rights and anti-corruption efforts.
Honduras has not made significant progress on any of these issues, according to a report submitted to U.S. government officials last month by the Coalition Against Impunity, a group of more than 40 Honduran civil society organizations.
The State Department will be making its decision about certifying Honduras on these conditions very soon. Let’s make sure the concerns of Honduran civil society groups and grassroots activists like you are heard! Click here to contact your members of Congress now.
- Ask your representative to co-sponsor the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act to suspend all military aid to Honduras until the country addresses its gross human rights violations.
- Ask your representative and senators to join you in telling the State Department not to certify the 50 percent of funds tied to human rights conditions until Honduras addresses human rights violations.