Alex Main/CEPR – Dec. 28, 2011. In response to widespread concern in both the House and Senate over human rights abuses involving the Honduran police and military, the United States Congress has placed new conditions on a portion of U.S. police and military aid to Honduras. The legislative language that establishes these new conditions can be found in the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriation Actwithin the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which was passed by Congress on December 16. It now requires that, before allocating 20% of the funds allocated for Honduras, the State Department must investigate and report back to the Committee on Appropriations whether the Honduran military "is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process of law," whether it is prosecuting "military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights,” and whether the Honduran police and military "are cooperating with civilian authorities in such cases."
In October, police agents charged with killing two unarmed students, including the son of the Rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, were briefly detained and then let go. Earlier this month, a prominent critic of the police, Alfredo Landaverde, was murdered in broad daylight in Tegucigalpa by unidentified assailants. On December 5th, President Lobo signed a decree allowing the military to take on policing functions for a period of 90 days.
Though the U.S. administration has not commented on Honduran police and military involvement in human rights abuses, concern over U.S. support for the country’s security forces has grown in Congress. In July, 87 members of the House of Representatives called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend police and military assistance to Honduras. On November 28, Howard Berman – the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – sent a letter to Secretary Clinton which expressed “grave concern” regarding the “role of Honduran state security forces in human rights abuses.” The letter called on Clinton to “evaluate immediately United States assistance to ensure that we are not, in fact, feeding a beast.”
The letter asks a number of specific questions, such as “Have these troops [in the Aguan Valley] received USG training or assistance? What actions is the U.S. undertaking to ensure that President Lobo’s government is prosecuting members of the military and police responsible for these crimes (…) ?” Berman expresses the hope that the State Department’s “answers will help clarify what we should do regarding future U.S. assistance to Honduras”, but it doesn’t seem that these answers have been forthcoming.
It is not just Democrats in the House of Representatives that are concerned about continued U.S. government support to Honduras’ security forces. In September, the U.S. Senate approved foreign operations appropriations legislation that conditioned police and military assistance to Honduras and stipulated the need for the Honduras government to investigate, prosecute, and punish police officers who have violated human rights. Though the Republican-controlled House of Representatives didn’t include any such conditions in the original House version of the foreign operations appropriations legislation, the final Appropriation Act, agreed to by both chambers of Congress, incorporated the conditioning language mentioned above.