Human Rights Watch, Speak Up on Honduras Coup!

On Friday nearly 100 Latin America scholars and experts sent an open letter to Human Rights Watch urging HRW to speak up about human rights violations in Honduras under the coup regime and to conduct its own investigation of these abuses.  The letters’ signers include Honduras experts Dana Frank and Adrienne Pine, Latin America experts Eric Hershberg, John Womack, and Greg Grandin, and noted authors Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.

The Latin America experts note that if Human Rights Watch took action to shine its spotlight on these abuses, it would be more likely that the Obama Administration would put greater pressure on the coup regime to end these abuses and restore democracy.  Such pressure would likely be decisive.  The experts argue that “the coup could easily be overturned” if the Obama administration took more decisive measures, “such as canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime” — as Rep. Grijalva and 15 other Members of Congress called for on August 11.  A recent New York Times editorial urged the Obama Administration to exert more pressure on the coup regime if it refuses to accept a compromise for President Zelaya’s return.

Human Rights Watch has not issued a statement or release on the situation in Honduras since July 8, a little over a week after the coup.

This week Amnesty International issued a new report on the coup regime’s violations of human rights in suppressing peaceful protests.  The author of the Amnesty International report, Esther Major, said that

“Detention and ill treatment of protestors are being employed as forms of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government, and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing.”

U.S. media rely heavily on human rights groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch in reporting on allegations of human rights abuses.  A large proportion of the limited U.S. media reporting in the last month on human rights abuses in Honduras includes citations of the Amnesty report.

Human Rights Watch is formally independent of the U.S. government, but its reporting on Latin America is often heavily influenced by the agendas of official Washington.  It’s a very good thing that independent scholars are holding Human Rights Watch to account.

Robert Naiman is National Coordinator of Just Foreign Policy.  Naiman also edits the daily Just Foreign Policy news summary and blogs at the Web site of Just Foreign Policy, where this article first appeared.  Click here to contribute for Just Foreign Policy.