Hondurans participating in nonviolent demonstrations against the June 28 ouster of Manuel Zelaya as president of the poor Central American country are experiencing human rights violations — including intimidation, beatings and rape — by government security forces, a small delegation of Catholic religious leaders discovered during a recent fact-finding trip.
“We came away with a really deep concern about the level of repression, media control and serious human rights violations that are being perpetrated by official forces,” Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, told Catholic News Service Aug. 26, a day after the four-member delegation of which she was a part returned to the U.S. following an eight-day visit.
“We heard a lot of stories about teachers and young people and people in all walks of life who have been caught in this backlash,” Dennis said.
Another delegation member, Jean Stokan, director of the Institute Justice Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, compared the current situation in Honduras to the one that existed during the height of El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s.
“People are afraid. There are horrific human rights abuses. None of this is getting reported because the reporters are getting beaten up,” Stokan told CNS.
The delegation, which also included Sisters Diane Guerin and Edia Lopez, members of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, met with people who bore wounds they said were inflicted by the Honduran military and the national police.
The delegation traveled throughout the country, meeting with dozens of opposition leaders and Catholics ministering to the injured in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and in El Progreso, San Pedro Sula, Santa Rose de Copan and Santa Barbara.
Dennis and Stokan said they are concerned the coup that replaced Zelaya with interim leader Roberto Micheletti not spill over to the still developing democracies throughout Central America.
They also expressed hope that the Catholic Church will address the human rights violations and called upon the government to end its brutal tactics.
The four-member team is preparing a report on their trip that will be sent to President Barack Obama’s administration, selected members of Congress and the State Department.
The United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union have condemned the coup and demanded Zelaya’s return. The Obama administration has cut off of military aid and development aid to Honduras in a step to push for Zelaya’s reinstatement.