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PHR Calls on Honduran Government to Address Impunity for Ill-Treatment and Torture

New Report Highlights Lack of Justice in Cases Resulting From 2009 Coup

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued a report today, finding that the Honduran authorities failed to ensure justice in cases involving torture and/or ill-treatment following the 2009 coup d’état, and called on the Honduran government to ensure that these cases are prosecuted and the judicial system is restored.

PHR evaluated 14 individuals and found in12 cases that Honduras’s interim government engaged in ill-treatment and/or torture in an effort to suppress dissent following the coup; in the other two cases, PHR concluded that police officers either engaged in reckless behavior or intentionally disregarded the safety of the public. The report recommended that the Honduran government create an independent criminal investigations unit; implement a training program on investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment; review the legal proceedings for cases involving such allegations; and correct deficiencies in prior prosecutions.

“The failure to prosecute cases and the blatant disregard for forensic evidence is endemic in Honduras’s judicial system," said Stefan Schmitt, director of PHR’s International Forensic Program, and one of the report’s authors. “The government’s unwillingness to conduct independent criminal investigations and its failure to hold perpetrators accountable has resulted in injustice and created a dangerous culture of impunity that the Honduran government must correct.”

Honduras’s new president took office last month, and PHR stressed the need for the incoming government to strengthen the country’s judicial system.

In the 14 cases PHR examined, the most common forms of abuse were threats and blunt force injuries, and the most prevalent forensic findings were bruising, scars from blunt force trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. The U.N. Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture stated that between June and October 2009, there were 133 cases of torture and ill-treatment, 21 cases of life-threatening injuries, and 431 cases of injuries from beatings.

Twelve of the individuals PHR examined implicated police agents as the perpetrators, while the other two accused members of the intelligence police and the army. None of the individuals were presented with an arrest warrant, and only five were taken before a judge to determine the legality of their arrest. The 14 individuals were detained for an average of 62 hours.

All 14 individuals evaluated by PHR were among the criminal cases brought against military and law enforcement officials by the Honduran Special Prosecutor for Human Rights. Nearly half of these cases have been dismissed for arbitrary reasons, while the others remain in the investigative phase. PHR has said the lack of progress is a direct result of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights’ limited access to independent investigative resources. It pointed out the need for the Inter-American Justice System and the International Criminal Court to review all the cases where forensic medical evidence was not properly considered.

PHR’s team of forensic experts conducted the evaluations in March 2010 at the request of several Honduran human rights non-governmental organizations and made a follow-up visit in 2011. The evaluated victims, ranging in age from 7 to 53 years, included eight men and six women. PHR withheld publication of the findings to avoid influencing judicial proceedings as one of the report authors was a court-appointed forensic expert whose findings were used as evidence.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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