448.                      The 1997 Annual Report of the IACHR laid out the five criteria that the Commission takes into account to identify the OAS Member States whose human rights practices merited special attention and consequently should be included in the corresponding chapter of the Annual Report.  


449.          As its paramount mission is “to promote the observance and defense of human rights” in the hemisphere, the Commission has been particularly attentive in following the human rights situation in Honduras, and through its reports has reviewed a series of structural issues in the areas of justice, security, marginalization, and discrimination that for decades have taken a toll on the human rights of its inhabitants.


450.          On June 28, 2009, the democratically elected President of Honduras was deposed, and the democratic and constitutional order was interrupted. The IACHR decided to incorporate the State of Honduras in Chapter IV of its Annual Report for 2009, in accordance with Article 59.1.h of its Rules of Procedure,[568] because it believes the situation in Honduras since the June 2009 coup d’état falls within the following criteria:


First criterion: This has to do with those cases in which States are ruled by governments that have not been chosen by secret ballot in honest, periodic, and free popular elections in accordance with accepted international standards and principles. The Commission has repeatedly pointed out the centrality of representative democracy and its mechanisms in achieving the rule of law and respect for human rights. With respect to States in which the political rights set forth in the American Convention and Declaration are not respected, the Commission complies with its duty to inform other OAS member states regarding the human rights situation of its inhabitants.


Second criterion: This concerns States in which the free exercise of the rights contained in the American Convention or the American Declaration has been effectively suspended, in whole or part, by virtue of the imposition of exceptional measures, such as a state of emergency, suspension of guarantees, state of siege, prompt exceptional security measures, and the like.


Third criterion: This applies when convincing evidence exists that a State is engaging in mass and gross violations of human rights guaranteed in the American Convention and/or Declaration or other applicable human rights instruments. Of particular concern here are violations of non-derogable fundamental rights, such as extrajudicial executions, torture, and forced disappearance. Thus, where the Commission receives credible communications denouncing such violations by a particular State which are attested to or corroborated by the reports or findings of other intergovernmental bodies and/or of respected national and international human rights organizations, the Commission believes that it has a duty to bring such situations to the attention of the Organization and its Member States.


451.          On November 27, 2009, the Commission sent the present report to the de facto government of Honduras. The response was received on December 31, 2009.


452.          Whereas the Commission approved its report “HONDURAS: HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE COUP D’ÉTAT,” which covers the human rights situation since June 28, 2009, the Executive Summary of that report follows.


            II.        EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


453.          At 5:00 a.m. on June 28, 2009, Honduran Army troopers, acting on orders of the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stormed the presidential residence, took President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales into custody and flew him by military aircraft to Costa Rica.  With that, the democratically elected President of Honduras was ousted and democratic and constitutional order in Honduras was interrupted.


454.          That same day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “Inter-American Commission”, “IACHR” or “Commission”) issued its first press release on the situation in Honduras, in which it strongly condemned the coup d’état, made an urgent call to restore democratic order in Honduras and to respect human rights, and demanded that the situation of the Foreign Minister and other cabinet members be clarified immediately, as their whereabouts at the time were unknown.  On June 30, the Commission asked to conduct an urgent visit to Honduras.  Also, in furtherance of its duties to promote and protect human rights and given the hundreds of complaints it had received on June 28 and thereafter alleging grave human rights violations, the IACHR granted precautionary measures, requested information on the danger that certain persons faced as a consequence of the coup d’état, and requested information pursuant to Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article XIV of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons.  It also issued a number of press releases.


455.          The international community’s condemnation of the coup d’état in Honduras has been unanimous.  The de facto authorities have not been recognized.  International forums have condemned the interruption of democratic order in Honduras and have called for President Zelaya to be restored to office.  The American States have responded to the political crisis in Honduras by invoking mechanisms recognized in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which stipulates that “[t]he peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” Thus, at a special session held on July 4, 2009, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (hereinafter “OAS”) resolved to suspend the Honduran state from the exercise of its right to participate in the Organization.  It further resolved to “reaffirm that the Republic of Honduras must continue to fulfill its obligations as a member of the Organization, in particular with regard to human rights; and to urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms in Honduras.”[569]


456.          On July 13, the IACHR received a communication from the President of the Supreme Court of Justice of Honduras, in which he agreed to the Commission’s visit.  The IACHR’s on-site visit to Honduras was from August 17 to 21, 2009.  .


457.          Along with the loss of institutional legitimacy brought about by the coup d’état, during its visit the Commission confirmed that serious human rights violations had been committed, including the deaths of at least 7 persons, an arbitrary declaration of a state of exception, repression of public demonstrations through disproportionate use of force, criminalization of public protest, arbitrary detention of thousands of persons, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, poor detention conditions, militarization of Honduran territory, an increase in incidents of racial discrimination, violations of women’s rights, and serious arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.  The Commission also established that judicial remedies were ineffective in protecting human rights.


458.          From the day on which the coup d´état occurred, the state of exception that the de facto authorities illegitimately decreed and that the security forces enforced was used as means to control the citizenry. First, the Commission observes that the de facto government does not have the constitutional legitimacy to declare a state of exception; furthermore, under Article 27 of the American Convention, the scope of the suspensions must be that strictly necessary to relieve an emergency situation, and this implies limiting the scope of time and space, and the rights that are suspended. 


459.          Thus, at least seven (7) people were killed as a consequence of the disproportionate force that security forces used to suppress the public demonstrations.  According to the information received, there is nothing to suggest that internal investigations have made any significant headway toward identifying and punishing those responsible.


460.          The IACHR confirmed that the security forces conducted thousands of illegal and arbitrary detentions, without an order from a competent authority.  Those detained were not brought before a judge to review the lawfulness of their detention, were not informed of the reasons for their detention, were not read their rights, and were held incommunicado. The majority of those detained were released in less than 24 hours.  No records were made of the arrests, which in many cases obstructed execution of the writs of habeas corpus.


461.          The weaponry, methods and strategies used by the Army, the Police and the Cobra Command strike force reveal a disproportionate use of force.  This, combined with the conditions in which the detained persons were incarcerated, meant that thousands of persons endured inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment.  The aggressive tactics used took a particularly heavy toll on women, who in many cases were victims of sexual violence.  Other minority groups like the Garifuna, members of the gay community and foreigners were the target of discriminatory practices.


462.          The Commission also received testimony about acts of harassment committed against persons who publicly demonstrated their political support of President Zelaya.  Those governors, congressmen, mayors and social leaders who demanded that the constitutional president be returned to office, have reported that they were targets of, inter alia, reprisals, threats, acts of violence and budgetary cuts, and that the public offices where they work were occupied by military troops.  The family of President Zelaya in particular reported the harassment and smear campaign being waged against everyone in the family.


463.          The IACHR confirmed that control of information has been implemented through the temporary shutdown of some media outlets; a ban on the transmission of signals of certain cable television stations that were reporting on the coup d’état; the selective use of power outages to affect broadcasting by audiovisual media covering the coup, and attacks and threats against journalists from media outlets with editorial positions opposed to the coup d’état.


464.          The Commission also confirmed that the airing of dissident opinions or criticism was prohibited, and security forces were authorized to search and confiscate broadcasting equipment when, in the opinion of the administrative authorities, the media were engaging in behaviors prohibited under the existing laws.  These measures represent a complete, arbitrary, unnecessary and disproportionate suppression of the right of all Hondurans to freely express themselves and to receive information from a plurality and diversity of sources.  The IACHR repeats that any curtailment of the right to freedom of expression, even under a state of exception, must be ordered by a legitimate government and must be proportionate and strictly necessary to protect the existence of the democratic system of government.


465.          Violations of the rights to life, humane treatment, freedom of association, personal liberty, judicial guarantees, freedom of expression, the rights of women and the rights of minority groups were exacerbated by the absence of a legitimate government that can process complaints, investigate the facts, punish those responsible, and make reparations to the victims.  All sectors of Honduran society with which the Commission has spoken have expressed a fear of reprisals on the part of security agents, or simply a distrust of those institutions that have not vigorously condemned the interruption of democratic government and have done nothing in response to public outcries.


466.          Under the American Convention on Human Rights, which the State ratified in 1977, Honduras has an international obligation to prevent human rights violations and, should they occur, to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible.  Nevertheless, the de facto authorities and the Supreme Court of Honduras consistently deny the existence of those violations.  It is that passiveness or tolerance that enables these violations to be perpetrated repeatedly with impunity.


467.          Time and time again the organs of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights have held that the democratic system of government is the best guarantee of the exercise and enjoyment of human rights.  Indeed, this report reveals how the human rights violations reported in Honduras are a direct consequence of the interruption of constitutional order.  The Commission therefore considers the conditions necessary for effective protection and observance of the human rights of all inhabitants of Honduras will only be possible when democratic government is fully restored in Honduras.


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[568] Article 59 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure establishes the following: "1. The Annual Report presented by the Commission to the General Assembly of the OAS shall include the following: ... h. any general or special report the Commission considers necessary with regard to the situation of human rights in Member States, and, as the case may be, follow-up reports noting the progress achieved and the difficulties that have existed with respect to the effective observance of human rights;...2. For the preparation and adoption of the reports provided for in paragraph 1.h of this article, the Commission shall gather information from all the sources it deems necessary for the protection of human rights. Prior to its publication in the Annual Report, the Commission shall provide a copy of said report to the respective State. That State may send the Commission the views it deems pertinent within a maximum time period of one month from the date of transmission. The contents of the report and the decision to publish it shall be within the exclusive discretion of the Commission."

[569] OAS, Thirty-seventh Special Session of the General Assembly, Resolution AG/RES. 2 (XXXVII-E/09) rev. 1, July 4, 2009, operative paragraphs 1 and 2.  Available at: