Report on Women's Human Rights Violations Shows Systematic Attack on Women Under Honduran Coup
By Jessica Sanchez and Adelay Carias
Thursday, Nov 12, 2009
On Nov. 2 representatives from Honduran women's organizations presented
a grim panorama of violations of women's human rights by the de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
testimonies provided documented proof that the coup regime and its
security forces have been responsible for rapes, beatings, murders and
harassment of Honduran women in the resistance movement, and the
dictatorial elimination of gains in gender equity. These crimes against
women have been commited in the context of impunity for the
As the U.S.-brokered agreement between Micheletti
and the legitimate government led by President Manuel Zelaya falters,
the on-going crisis in Honduras continues to claim victims and women
are particularly at risk. As in violent dictatorships throughout
history, women's bodies have become a battleground. Honduran women have
formed the backbone of the resistance movement against the coup from
Day One and suffered systematic and gender-targeted repression as a
Honduras has a strong and organized feminist movement. This movement came together,
fortified by the integration of hundreds of independent women, in the
coalition Feminists in Resistance following the coup. It has seen its
members beaten, its hard-fought gains rolled back, its institutions
taken over and its projects for gender equity in public policy
shattered over the past four months, under an illegitimate and
ultraconservative regime. Despite the personal risk and the continuous
setbacks, it remains strong and united and committed to restoring the
rule of law necessary for peaceful advances in women's rights.
this week, which many hoped would mark the return to constitutional
government, the coup regime made another key move against women's
rights. On Nov. 3, a law pushed through the day after the coup by the
de facto regime went into effect that prohibits the morning-after pill,
ignoring Honduran women's demands for the right to make their own
decisions on reproduction and denying the basic tenet of separation of
church and state.
rapid deterioration in respect for women's rights in Honduras can only
be halted by an immediate return to a constitutional government. An
agreement brokered by the State Department has so far failed to resolve
the crisis and end the coup. This can be attributed in large part to a message from State Department official Tom Shannon
that cast doubt on the U.S. commitment to reinstate the elected
president, emboldening the coup regime in its efforts to preside over
elections currently scheduled for Nov. 29.
In a famous speech to the Beijing conference in 1995, Hillary Clinton proclaimed that "women's rights are human rights" and that "women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected." As Secretary of State, she has publicly affirmed that women's rights will be a pillar of U.S. foreign policy. However, Clinton has yet to acknowledge
the growing evidence of the violation of women's rights under the
Honduran coup regime. It is time to take a firm stand to restore
respect for human rights and end the coup.
The following is a summary of the testimonies presented before the ICHR prepared by the participants:
The context of women’s human rights violations:
On June 28th, 2009, the democratically elected President of Honduras,
Manuel Zelaya, was taken from his home in the middle of the night and
flown to Costa Rica by military transport. Since June, frequent power
cuts, curfews, the controlling presence of military and police and
check points throughout the country, sustained media blackouts, press
censorship, repression and violence have become daily occurrences.
Since the coup, there have been more than 100 non-violent street
demonstrations in the capital city of Tegucigalpa alone, all of them
disbanded by the security forces of the de facto government. The
violence used to disband protesters has varied, ranging from threats
and blockades, to the use of tear gas, sound devices, beatings and
• Women make up over 50% of the anti-coup
demonstrators and continue to increase in their numbers and leadership.
Honduran Feminists in Resistance is an ad-hoc alliance of dozens of
women’s groups and individuals that coordinates pro-democracy actions
and participates in the National Resistance Front, as well as
documenting and attending to increasing violations of women’s human
rights under the de facto regime.
• It is estimated that between
4,000 and 6,000 illegal detentions have occurred since the coup; in the
first 15 days after the coup, there were close to 1,000.
the rawest forms of repression against women in this context is sexual
violence. From dozens of documented testimonies show systematic
intimidation aimed at stopping women from participating in protests and
in the resistance. Women report that police and military abuses and
attacks are accompanied by threats and insults, such as, “You’re asking
to be raped if you get involved in these things.”
incidence of women’s human rights violations far exceeds those
reported; fear of retribution and threats of violence against victims
and their families discourage women from coming forward. Women victims
are unwilling to report abuse to the police because police forces are
often the perpetrators of the violence in the first place, along with
other security forces. Under the de facto regime, the Honduran
government’s Office of Women’s Human Rights and Office for Human
Rights, which are responsible for investigating and providing legal
defense for victims of abuses, have refused to follow up on complaints
of human rights violations against security forces.
Specific Human Rights Violations:
a fact-finding mission with international human rights experts and
observers in August, over 400 cases of violations of the human rights
of women were registered. Of these, 240 testimonies were documented.
The following facts are drawn from those testimonies.
the principle violations that women experience are physical aggression,
including kicking, beating, insults, and deep contusions caused by
nail-studded police batons; sexual abuse; psychological intimidation
and attacks with tear gas.
• Two women, Wendy Avila and Olga
Osiris Ucles, died of complications from tear-gas exposure. Nine women
LGBT activists were killed, with their bodies showing evidence of
torture. The state refused to provide a forensic autopsy for two of the
women: Vicky Hernandez and Valeria Ucles.
• The most prevalent
forms of police and military violence against women involve insults and
beatings aimed at women’s vaginas, breasts, hips and buttocks.
Of the 240 cases registered, 23 women were victims of groping and
beatings targeted to the breasts and crotch area as well as sexual
insults and threats of sexual violence.
• Of these 23 cases, 7
involve rapes that occurred in the cities of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro
Sula, Choloma, El Progreso and Danli. These were all gang rapes carried
out by police and used explicitly to “punish” women for their
involvement in demonstrations. It is suspected that all were
pre-meditated as the police involved used condoms. These rapes all
occurred while the women victims were apprehended after peaceful
demonstrations or during curfews. Of these 7 cases, only 1 woman has
presented a formal case to the authorities (the Inter-American
Commission for Human Rights). The other victims have presented their
testimonies to women’s human rights organizations but have refused to
register their cases with the Honduran government Office of Human
Rights or Office of Women’s Rights.
• While it is certain these
are not the only cases, all the women who are victims give three
reasons why they do not register their complaints with the authorities:
1) they fear that the inevitable police investigation will involve the
men who perpetrated the crime; 2) since the coup, women do not trust
the judicial system to provide an effective response; and 3) where
cases have been reported, the police have refused to register the
complaint, as in the case of a 17-year-old raped in the company of
another woman on September 22nd.
• Since June 28th, there has
been an increase in the incidence of femicide. According to a report on
violence against women produced by UNDP and the Autonomous University
of Honduras, 312 women were violently murdered between January and
February of 2008; an average of 26 femicides per month. Until March of
2009, there were 16 per month. According to figes from the Office of
Women’s Rights, 325 femicides had been reported through the end of
September (an average of 31 per month), and during the month of July
alone there were 51 femicides.
• Under the dictatorship there
has been a rollback of gains in women’s reproductive rights. On June
29th, one day after the coup, an initiative to ban emergency
contraception (earlier vetoed by President Zelaya) was approved.
Since the Decree of September 21st that removed guarantees for
individual freedoms, peaceful protests have moved from the main streets
to the neighborhoods and communities. To suppress these demonstrations,
the de facto government has armed the military with rubber and wooden
bullets, nail-studded clubs, batons, metal tubes, eargas and pepper
gas. ’. Neighborhood attacks have had a disproportionate affect on
women. Attacks are often carried out in the middle of the night by
patrols of 4 or more police officers who break into houses and then
stay there for many hours. Women with children are unable to flee and
are thus trapped in their homes, a situation that increases their sense
of vulnerability and defenselessness.
• Women attempting to flee
such attacks have been shot during fire fights, There are numerous
cases of women who have been detained by police or the military for
more than 3 or 4 hours. Detainees report that they were not informed of
the cause of their detention and were denied the right to a legal
defense. They were also been deprived of medicines, food and water
• Human rights lawyers are defending 12 cases
of women who have been accused of sedition under the decree
PCM-16-2009, 22nd of September, which restricts constitutional
• The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights
required the Supreme Court of Honduras to provide protective orders for
92 women who are under surveillance and who fear for their lives. No
action has been taken by the de facto government.
• Numerous women human rights defenders have been persecuted and watched by security forces.
Feminists and women leaders in the resistance, along with teachers and
lawyers with the Lawyers Front against the Coup, have received death
threats direct from the police and military, or by e-mail or on
cellphone voicemail. The most high-profile women leaders have received
threats where the caller uses their name and profession, indicating the
level of police and military surveillance of women in the resistance.
Three radio programs of women’s organizations have been taken off the
air and denied broadcasting licenses under coup decrees that suppress
freedom of expression. Documents justifying their removal cite their
“disrespect for the Constitution” for broadcasting their legal and
political analysis and for condemning the coup.
Testimony given by:
Jessica Sanchez, human rights advocate with Honduran Feminists in Resistance
Adelay Carias, human rights advocate with the Center for Women’s Rights and Feminists in Resistance
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