NGO Letter to U.S. State Department on pre-electoral violence

November 15, 2012
To: Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights; Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Under Secretary; and Ambassador Lisa Kubiske
Dear Under Secretary Otero, Assistant Secretary Jacobson, Assistant Secretary Posner, and Ambassador Kubiske,
As Honduras prepares to carry out primary elections on November 18th and gears up for national elections in November 2013, we are concerned about violence and intimidation that endangers opposition political candidates as well as journalists covering the elections and activists involved in electoral campaigns. 

Our fears are unfortunately well founded. On November 3, an MRP Libre candidate for mayor in Morazán Yoro, Edgardo Adalid Motiño, was gunned down shortly after he attended an event with Libre presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. On November 10th, Yoni Rivas, a MUCA peasant association leader and candidate for Congress, was ambushed along with fellow MUCA leader Vitali Alvarez, although they managed to escape.
On November 2, Maria Luisa Borjas, a Libre candidate for mayor of Tegucigalpa, reported that masked policemen had followed and accosted with arms a car driven by her friend’s daughter, a car similar to Borjas’. She asserted that the police intended to assassinate her but aborted the mission when they realized they had stopped the wrong car. Borjas was dismissed in 2003 from her job as head of Internal Affairs of the Honduran Police, after declaring that a purge of the police forces was leaving corrupt officials in place while removing honest members of her staff who were investigating police involvement in social cleansing killings, including the current national chief of police, Juan Carlos Bonilla.
On September 22, Antonio Trejo Cabrera, who was a congressional candidate for the Faper party as well as a human rights defender, pastor and lawyer for the MARCA peasant association, was assassinated. We appreciated that the State Department issued a statement denouncing his murder.
On May 7th, the body of Erick Martínez Ávila was found, two days after his disappearance. Martínez was the first openly gay candidate for the Honduran Congress, representing the Libre party, and an LGBT activist and journalist. These killings and other attacks inevitably have a deeply chilling effect on campaigning by opposition candidates, who wonder whether they will be next.
These cases are added to the multiple cases of violence and threats against human rights defenders, campesino leaders, members of the judicial system, LGBT activists and journalists which we have brought to your attention throughout the course of this difficult year. This violence continues. Just in the last few weeks, José Cecilio Pérez, a leader of the MARCA peasant association, was kidnapped and found dead on November 10th, and three campesino leaders were killed as they awaited transport in Bajo Aguán on November 5th.   On October 23rd, journalist Karla Zelaya was kidnapped and tortured after receiving several death threats. Zelaya was working on land rights issues concerning Bajo Aguán, and according to Amnesty International, her captors interrogated her about her work. Reporters without Borders also placed this in the context of the electoral campaign, noting that “the violence and threats that are already taking place, and the coverage of this lengthy campaign, obliges us more than ever to protect those who take risks to inform the public.” 
We call on the State Department to urge the Honduran government to take the necessary steps to address this violence. This includes urging the Honduran government to vigorously, promptly and impartially investigate and prosecute violence against candidates, journalists and activists. It also includes urging the Honduran government to provide effective protective measures for candidates, journalists and activists who are at serious risk and who request such protection. Such measures should be carefully consulted with each beneficiary.
We also ask the State Department to publicly acknowledge and denounce the ongoing pattern of repression of Honduran opposition political candidates and members of social movements. We call on the State Department to condemn these acts of violence as they occur, and to publicly and repeatedly underscore the right of Hondurans of all political perspectives to participate in the electoral process without fear and intimidation. We urge you to specifically raise these issues in the context of the high-level human rights dialogue between the United States and Honduras.
We note that the foreign operations appropriations law requires that “the Government of Honduras is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and due process of law and is investigating and prosecuting in the civilian justice system, in accordance with Honduran and international law, military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights.” Measures to protect and investigate abuses against candidates, journalists and activists are absolutely imperative in order to comply with this mandate, and the assistance associated with this requirement should be suspended if the Honduran government does not effectively comply.
Thank you for considering these important issues.
Laura Raymond
Advocacy Program Manager
Center for Constitutional Rights
Jean Stokan
Director, Justice Team
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Joy Olson
Executive Director
Washington Office on Latin America
Abigail Poe
Deputy Director
Center for International Policy
Rick Ufford-Chase
Executive Director
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Dana Frank
Professor of History
University of California, Santa Cruz
Rev. Michael Neuroth
Policy Advocate on International Issues
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Stephen Coats
Executive Director
US Labor Education in the Americas Project
Sharon Hostetler
Executive Director
Witness for Peace
Alexis Stoumbelis
Executive Director
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
Jennifer Atlee
Friendship Office
Lisa VeneKlasen
Executive Director
JASS (Just Associates)
Manuel Pérez Rocha
Associate Fellow
Institute for Policy Studies
John Lindsay-Poland
Research and Advocacy Director
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Hendrik Voss
National Organizer
School of the Americas Watch
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
To reply to this letter, please send to: Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director, Latin America Working Group,, 424 C Street NE, Washington DC 20002