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Open Letter to Kenneth Roth

Why has Human Rights Watch Fallen Silent on Honduras?

by Leisy Abrego, Et. Al

August 21, 2009

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Dear Mr. Roth,

We are deeply concerned by the absence of statements and reports from your organization over the serious and systematic human rights abuses that have been committed under the Honduran coup regime over the past six weeks. It is disappointing to see that in the weeks since July 8, when Human Rights Watch issued its most recent press release on Honduras, that it has not raised the alarm over the extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, physical assaults, and attacks on the press – many of which have been thoroughly documented – that have occurred in Honduras, in most cases by the coup regime against the supporters of the democratic and constitutional government of Manuel Zelaya. We call on your organization to fulfill your important role as a guardian of universal human rights and condemn, strongly and forcefully, the ongoing abuses being committed by the illegal regime in Honduras. We also ask that you conduct your own investigation of these crimes.

While Human Rights Watch was quick to condemn the illegal coup d’etat of June 28 and the human rights violations that occurred over the following week, which helped shine the spotlight of international media on these abuses, the absence of statements from your organization since the week following the coup has contributed to the failure of international media to report on subsequent abuses.

The coup regime’s violent repression in Honduras has not stopped. Well-respected human rights organizations in Honduras, such as the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared Detainees (COFADEH), and international human rights monitors have documented a series of politically-motivated killings, hundreds of arbitrary detentions, the violent repression of unarmed demonstrators, mass arrests of political opposition, and other violations of basic human rights under the coup regime. The killing of anti-coup activists has been documented in press reports, bringing to a total of ten people known or suspected to have been killed in connection to their political activities. Press freedom watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have issued releases decrying the regime’s attacks and threats against various journalists and the temporary closure and military occupation of news outlets. Various NGO’s have issued alerts regarding the politically motivated threats to individuals, and concern for people detained by the regime, but no such statements have come from Human Rights Watch.

This situation is all the more tragic in that the coup could easily be overturned, if the Obama administration sought to do so, by taking more decisive measures, such as canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime. Yet not only does the administration continue to prop up the regime with aid money through the Millennium Challenge Account and other sources, but the U.S. continues to train Honduran military students at the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) – the notorious institution formerly known as the School of the Americas. If the coup were overturned, and the democratically elected government restored, it is clear that the many rampant human rights abuses would immediately cease. If Human Rights Watch would raise its voice, it would be much more difficult for the Obama administration to ignore Honduras’ human rights situation and maintain financial and other support for its illegal regime.

We know that there are, sadly, innumerable urgent human rights crises around the world, all of which require your attention. Addressing the deteriorating situation in Honduras, however, is of paramount importance given its potential to serve as a precedent for other coups and the rise of other dictatorships, not just in Honduras, but throughout the region. History has shown that such coups leave deep scars on societies, and that far too often they have led to the rise of some of history’s most notorious rights abusers, such as in Pinochet’s Chile, Videla’s Argentina, and Cedras’ Haiti, to name but two. As human rights defenders with extensive experience in dealing with the appalling human consequences of these regimes, Human Rights Watch is clearly well placed to understand the urgency of condemning the Honduran regime’s abuses and to helping ensure the coup is overturned, that democracy is restored, and that political repression and other human rights abuses are stopped. Your colleagues in the Honduran human rights community are counting on you, as are the Honduran people. We hope you will raise your voice on Honduras.

Sincerely,

Leisy Abrego
University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow
UC Irvine

Paul Almeida
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Texas A&M University

Alejandro Alvarez Béjar
Professor, Economic Faculty
UNAM-Mexico

Tim Anderson
Senior Lecturer in Political Economy
University of Sydney
Australia

Anthony Arnove
Author and Editor
Brooklyn, NY

Marc Becker
Truman State University
Kirksville, MO

Marjorie Becker
Associate professor, Department of History
University of Southern California

John Beverley
Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies
University of Pittsburgh

Larry Birns
Director, Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Washington, DC

Jefferson Boyer
Professor of Anthropology (ethnography of Honduras)
Appalachian State University

Jules Boykoff
Associate Professor of Political Science
Pacific University

Edward T. Brett
Professor of History
La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA

Renate Bridenthal
Professor of History, Emerita
Brooklyn College, CUNY

Bob Buzzanco
Professor of History
University of Houston

Aviva Chomsky
Professor of History and Coordinator, Latin American Studies
Salem State College

Noam Chomsky
Professor of Linguistics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

James D. Cockcroft
SUNY
Honorary Editor, Latin American Perspectives

Daniel Aldana Cohen
Graduate Student
New York University

Mike Davis
Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing
University of California-Riverside

Pablo Delano
Professor of Fine Arts
Trinity College , Hartford CT

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Professor Emeritus
California State University

Luis Duno-Gottberg
Rice University

Les W. Field
Professor of Anthropology
The University of New Mexico

Dana Frank
Professor of History
University of California, Santa Cruz

Todd Gordon
Department of Political Science
York University, Toronto

Manu Goswami
Department of History
New York University

Jeff Gould
Rudy Professor of History
Indiana University

Greg Grandin
Department of History
New York University

Richard Grossman
Department of History
Northeastern Illinois University

Peter Hallward
Professor of Modern European Philosophy
Middlesex University, UK.

Nora Hamilton
Professor, Political Science
University of Southern California

Jim Handy
Professor of History
University of Saskatchewan

Tom Hayden
Writer

Doug Henwood
Editor and Publisher
Left Business Observer

Eric Hershberg
Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, Canada

Kathryn Hicks
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
The University of Memphis

Irene B. Hodgson
Professor of Spanish,  Director of the Latin American Studies Minor
Interim Director of the Academic Service Learning Semesters
Xavier University

Forrest Hylton
Assistant Professor of Political Science/Int’l. Relations
Universidad de los Andes (Colombia)

Susanne Jonas
Latin America and Latino Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz

Rosemary A. Joyce
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences, Professor and Chair of Anthropology
University of California , Berkeley

Karen Kampwirth
Knox College

Naomi Klein
Journalist, syndicated columnist and author

Andrew H. Lee
Librarian for History, European Studies, Iberian Studies, & Politics
Bobst Library
New York University

Catherine LeGrand
Associate Professor
Dept. of History, McGill University.

Deborah Levenson
Associate Professor of History
Boston College

Frederick B. Mills
Professor of Philosophy
Bowie State University

Cynthia E. Milton
Chaire de recherche du Canada en histoire de l’Amérique latine
Canada Research Chair in Latin American History, Professeure agregée/Associate Professor, Département d’histoire
Université de Montréal

Lena Mortensen
Assistant Professor, Anthropology
University of Toronto Scarborough

Carole Nagengast
Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of New Mexico

Robert Naiman
Policy Director
Just Foreign Policy

Marysa Navarro
Charles Collis Professor of History
Dartmouth College

Sharon Erickson Nepstad
Professor of Sociology
University of New Mexico

Mary Nolan
Professor, Department of History
New York University

Elizabeth Oglesby
Assistant Professor
School of Geography and Development
Center for Latin American Studies
University of Arizona

Jocelyn Olcott
Department of History
Duke University

Christian Parenti
Contributing Editor, The Nation
Visiting Scholar
CUNY Graduate Center

Ivette Perfecto
Professor
University of Michigan

Héctor Perla Jr.
Assistant Professor
Latin American and Latino Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz

John Pilger
Journalist and documentary filmmaker

Adrienne Pine
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
American University

Deborah Poole
Professor, Anthropology
Johns Hopkins University

Suyapa Portillo
Pomona College
History Dept.

Vijay Prashad
George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies
Trinity College

Margaret Randall
Feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist

Marcus Rediker
Professor and Chair in the Department of History
University of Pittsburgh

Gerardo Renique
Associate Professor, Department of History
City College of the City University of New York

Ken Roberts
Professor, Department of Government
Cornell University

Nancy Romer
Professor of Psychology
Brooklyn College
City University of New York

Seth Sandronsky
U.S. journalist

Aaron Schneider
Assistant Professor
Political Science
Tulane University

Rebecca Schreiber
Associate Professor, American Studies Department
University of New Mexico

Ernesto Seman
Journalist

Richard Stahler-Sholk
Professor, Department of Political Science
Eastern Michigan University

Julie Stewart
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Assistant Investigator, Institute of Public and International Affairs
University of Utah

Sylvia N. Tesh
Lecturer, Latin American Studies
University of Arizona.

Miguel Tinker Salas
Professor of History
Pomona College

Mayo C. Toruño
Professor of Economics
California State University, San Bernardino

Sheila R. Tully
San Francisco State University

John Vandermeer
Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Michigan

Jocelyn S. Viterna
Assistant Professor
Departments of Sociology and Social Studies Harvard University

Steven S. Volk
Professor, Department of History
Director, Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence (CTIE)
Oberlin College

Maurice L. Wade
Professor of Philosophy, International Studies, and Graduate Public Policy Studies
Trinity College

Shannon Drysdale Walsh
Fulbright-Hays Fellow
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Political Science
University of Notre Dame

Jeffery R. Webber
Assistant Professor, Political Science
University of Regina, Canada

Barbara Weinstein
Professor, Department of History
New York University

Mark Weisbrot
Co-Director
Center for Economic and Policy Research

Gregory Wilpert
Adjunct Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College

Sonja Wolf
Institute of Social Research
National Autonomous University of Mexico

John Womack, Jr.
Professor of History, Emeritus
Harvard University

Elisabeth Wood
Professor of Political Science
Yale University

Richard L. Wood
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology
University of New Mexico

Marilyn B. Young
Professor of History
New York University

Marc Zimmerman
Modern and Classical Languages
University of Houston

[1] [1] Human Rights Watch, “Honduras: Evidence Suggests Soldiers Shot Into Unarmed Crowd.” July 8, 2009. Found at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/07/08/honduras-evidence-suggests-soldiers-shot-unarmed-crowd.
[2] Human Rights Watch, “Honduras: Military Coup a Blow to Democracy.” June 28, 2009. Found at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/06/28/honduras-military-coup-blow-democracy.