A coalition of Canadian development, church, labour and human rights organizations are calling on the Canadian government not to join the US in recognizing the controversial elections to be held in Honduras on November 29—and are calling for further action to strengthen democracy in the Central American nation.
“The June coup d’état in Honduras—which overthrew a legitimately elected President—represents the most serious crisis in recent years for democratic governance in the hemisphere,” said Gerry Barr, President CEO of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC). “In the short term, Canada must call unequivocally for a return to constitutional order, and back up this position with sanctions. In the longer term, Canada must stay the course to strengthen forces for democracy in the country, particularly the critical role played by civil society organizations and human rights groups.”
President Zelaya of Honduras was awoken at gunpoint on June 28, 2009 and forced out of the country in a military-backed coup d’état. The coup was quickly denounced by the United Nations General Assembly, the Organization of American States (OAS) and numerous other international bodies. Since the coup, the situation in the country has deteriorated rapidly. Security forces have attacked individuals, organizations and social movements opposed to the coup, and the coup regime has suspended the country’s independent media.
The Honduran human rights group COFADEH (Families of the Disappeared) has documented over 4, 000 rights violations, including 21 extrajudicial killings related to the coup, 3,033 illegal detentions, and 818 cases involving violations of the right to physical integrity. These numbers are believed to represent only the tip of the iceberg, as victims are often too terrified to report abuse.
"The coup in Honduras has had a tremendous impact on our partners in Honduras,” says Steve Stewart, Education Program Director of CoDevelopment Canada. “Seven members of the teacher colleges we work with, all active opponents of the coup, have been assassinated. Security forces have beaten or jailed many of the teachers we have worked with for years, and we have had to suspend our education programs due to a lack of security for the educators carrying them out."
Efforts to broker an agreement, which would have reversed the coup and established a transitional government until a new president takes office in January 2010, fell apart in early November. Still, the de facto Honduran government under Roberto Micheletti has insisted elections will go ahead on Sunday. Most countries and international bodies have stated that they will not recognize the elections or send observers, including the United Nations, the European Union, 25 countries of the Rio Group, and the OAS.
Canada has sent mixed signals on the Honduran crisis. At the outset, Canada joined others in denouncing the coup, but it has failed to impose sanctions and has been quiet about the impending elections.
“Hondurans are now bracing to go to the polls, without a return to constitutional order in elections overseen by the same military that has acted brutally to repress opposition to the coup. Canada must be clear that these elections do not represent a democratic process,” says Fiona Meyer Cook of the Americas Policy Group at the CCIC.
Background on Canada’s Role in Honduras – and Recommendations for Moving Forward
Recent events in Honduras pose a particular challenge for Canada given that the promotion of democratic governance is a cornerstone of Canada’s Americas Strategy. Honduras is the largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid in Central America and was recently named as one of 20 priority countries for Overseas Development Assistance. Canada holds the Presidency of the G-16 group of donors, and is also the second largest foreign investor in the country.
As a donor, investor and trade partner, Canada has an important responsibility to contribute to the strengthening of democracy, human rights and peace building in Honduras.
The Americas Policy Group is urging Canadian action in five key areas:
1. Back a Return to Constitutional Order
Canada should join with other countries in the Americas in refusing to recognize the results of the elections held under the de facto government and in pressing for new elections to be held once the constitutional order has been restored.
2. Prevent violence and protect human rights
Canada should speak out against current human rights violations and urge a de-escalation of violence including an appeal to the Honduran regime to stop the repression against political opposition and Hondurans opposed to the coup. Canada should also call on Honduran state agencies responsible for investigating human rights abuses, to do so impartially.
3. Suspend trade talks and export credits
Export Development Canada should not enter into new contracts with Canadian corporations regarding Honduras until constitutional order is restored, and there are guarantees that the State and third party actors working with the State are not violating basic rights. Canada should also maintain its suspension of the negotiations with Honduras towards the completion of a Central America Free Trade Agreement.
4. Stop military assistance and review aid
In light of the ongoing grave violations committed by Honduran security forces, Canada should suspend all disbursements from the DFAIT Counter Terrorism Capacity Building Fund, and all transfers from the Department of National Defence Military Training Program to Honduras.
CIDA should review its current state-to-state bilateral programs in terms of their compliance with the ODA Accountability Act, including explicit assurances that continued disbursements are fully consistent with international human rights standards. To avoid indirectly supporting the illegal government, CIDA should find feasible alternative CSO channels to deliver aid to affected populations, while minimizing the impact of suspension of aid on poor people.
5. Support longer-term efforts for democratization
Canada should help build the capacity of Honduran civil society to strengthen local democratic governance and accountability institutions, including crucial roles in human rights monitoring, and ensuring citizen participation in social and political debates, including possible constitutional reforms.
For more information, or an interview, please contact:
Americas Policy Group
Canadian Council for International Co-operation
613-241-7007 Ext. 333