Commission of Inquiry: Independent inquiry undertaken by the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights
Charter: Decree No. 26-92, Decree No. 51-92 (establishing the ombusdman's office)
Commissioners: 1 (Male)
Report: Public Report
Commission of Inquiry: National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights (Comisionado Nacional de Protección de los Derechos Humanos, CONADEH)
Dates of Operation: 1993-1994
Background: In 1979, Honduras transferred power from military to civilan rule. The new civilian government is said to have provided support for the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua in exchange for large amounts of U.S. military and economic aid. A clandestine military death squad - battalion 3-16 - was allegedly trained and equipped by the CIA and was accused of capturing suspected guerillas and opposition leaders, interrogating and torturing them in secret detention facilities, and executing many of them. The Honduran and U.S. governments denied that death squads existed in Honduras. In 1987, five Central American states concluded the Esquipulas II Peace Accord, which enabled the region to turn the page on a long era of bitter armed conflicts. With the end of the Cold War, then President Rafael Leonardo Callejas appointed the National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras, an ombudsman. Families of victims urged the first such ombudsman, Leo Valladares, to investigate disappearances allegedly caused by the armed forces in the 1980s and early 1990s. Under his own initiative, Dr. Valladares independently examined information on 179 disappearances and issued a report.
Charter: By issuing decree No. 26-92 on June 8, 1992, then President Callejas created the Office of the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights. Decree No. 51-92 of September 8, 1992 guaranteed the Commissioner's "absolute independence in the performance of his duties." The inquiry into disappearances was not specifically mandated.
Mandate: The National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights was created as a national human rights institution (an Ombudsman) with a broad mandate to monitor compliance by the Honduran government with human rights standards. The office of the commissioner was authorized to report on disappearances during the period from 1980 to 1993. Its work has continued since then to examine other human rights abuse.
Commissioners and Structure: Dr. Leo Valladares Lanza was the first ombudsman appointed by then President Callejas. He undertook the inquiry on his own initiative and without assistance from the authorities.
Report: In late December of 1993, the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights' report, Los Hechos Hablan por si Mismo (The Facts Speak for Themselves), was presented to then President Rafael Callejas and president-elect Carlos Roberto Reina. It is available on the Web site of the Commission. The English translation was published by Human Rights Watch/Americas and the Center for Justice and International Law in 1994.
- The report detailed 179 disappearances carried out by Honduran military and security forces between 1979 and 1990.
- The ombudsman concluded that the practice of forced disappearances was systematic and widespread, particularly from 1982 to 1984.
- Extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, torture, and the lack of due process were other frequent abuses.
- The report concluded, "Despite the significant increases in foreign assistance to Honduras, the State Department [of the United States] failed to recognize and respond to credible reports of human rights violations in Honduras, particularly the increasingly common phenomenon of disappearances" (p. 212 in the English version). Included in the report's appendices are copies of communications between Dr. Valladares and the government of the United States regarding the declassification of U.S. government documents.
- The political and judicial authorities tolerated the abuses either by action or omission.
The ombudsman made detailed recommendations and urged the government to implement them within a year. Among other things, he recommended:
- The creation of a truth commission.
- Criminal investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for the abuses.
- Recognition of the harm and reparations for victims, including the establishment of a monument for the disappeared.
- A range of legal reforms, such as laws guaranteeing the registration and availability of information regarding all detainees, and prompt and impartial investigations in cases of complaints.
- Human rights education in public schools, the armed forces, and the judiciary.
- Most recommendations of Dr. Valladares were not implemented.
- In 1995, the National Congress of Honduras passed Ley Orgánica del Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (No. 153-95) on November 10, 1995, providing the Office of the National Commissioner with a permanent legislative basis and making it accountable to the National Congress rather than the executive.
- Judicial proceedings against military personnel started in 1995. The defendants unsuccessfully argued that amnesty laws should be applied to them. A Special Prosecutor for Human Rights of the Public Ministry charged ten military officers (in active service and retired) with human rights violations against six students after the case had been investigated by the National Commissioner. A court of appeals applied the amnesty laws to the defendants, but was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court of Justice on January 19, 1996. However, most of the charged officers have been acquitted. In October 1999, one senior military officer was convicted of murder when a court found Lt. Marco Tulio Regalado guilty of killing Honduran Communist Party leader Herminio Deras in 1983. The decision was confirmed by the Appellate Court of San Pedro Sula in June 2005, overturning an acquittal, and the officer was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
- The United States Inspector General released declassified documents on the activities of the United States in Honduras between 1982 and 1984.
- In 1990, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided the landmark case Velasquez Rodriguez, holding that the State of Honduras was required as a matter of law to compensate the victim's family.
- Following cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, then President Ricardo Maduro apologized on November 4, 2004 to the families of the victims and to human rights leaders for the murder and disappearance of two of his country's citizens. However, the government has not established a national reparations plan.
Special Notes: In 2010, Honduras established a truth commission to investigate the June 2009 coup.
- Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2011.
- Kombluh, Peter. The Negroponte File. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 151 - Part 1, April 12, 2005. Available at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB151/index.htm (accessed April 29, 2011).
- Golden, Tim. "Honduran Army's Abuses Were Known to C.I.A.", The New York Times, October 24, 1998. Available at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F04E7D61F3DF937A15753C1A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all (accessed April 29, 2011).
- House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. Testimony of Dr. Leo Valladares Lanza, National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras on the Human Rights Information Act (H.R. 2635). May 11, 1998 sess., 1998. Available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/hr051198/valladares.html (accessed April 29, 2011).
- Amnesty International. Honduras: Continued Struggle Against Impunity 1996. Available at http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR37/001/1996/en (accessed April 29, 2011).
- Escrito de acusación del Fiscal Especial de Derechos Humanos de Honduras en el que imputa a Billy Joya Améndola y otros integrantes del Batallon de Inteligencia 3-16, October 17, 1995. Available at http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/espana/doc/joya/fiscal.html (accessed April 29, 2011).
- Honduras. Comisonado Nacional de Proteccion de los Derechos Humanos. Los Hechos Hablan Por si Mismo: Informe Preliminar Sobra Los Desparecidos En Honduras 1980-1993. Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Guaymura, 1994. (accessed April 29, 2011).
- Human Rights Watch/Americas, and Center for Justice and International Law. Honduras: The Facts Speak for Themselves: The Preliminary Report of the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1994 (out of print).