Human rights protection and the rule of law were undermined following an army-backed coup d’état in June. In the ensuing political crisis, the security forces frequently used excessive force against people who took to the streets to demonstrate. Intimidation and attacks against members of the opposition movement were widespread. There were few, if any, investigations into reports of human rights violations committed during the disturbances.
President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales was forced from power on 28 June and forcibly expelled from the country by a group of opposition politicians backed by the military and led by Roberto Micheletti, former President of the National Congress and member of the Liberal Party of Honduras. A de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti remained in power until the end of the year. In September, President Zelaya returned to the country and took up residence in the Brazilian Embassy.
The coup was condemned by much of the international community. Political negotiations mediated by the OAS to restore the elected government failed. In November, the de facto government went ahead with elections in which Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo of the National Party won the majority of the vote, although there was reportedly a high level of abstention. He was due to take office in January 2010.
Arbitrary detention and ill-treatment
Hundreds of protesters, most of them supporters of the Zelaya government, and bystanders were arbitrarily detained, beaten and ill-treated by both police and military officials. Many detainees reported being held in unauthorized detention facilities, such as a sports stadium and military barracks.
- A 16-year-old girl was arbitrarily detained by police in Tegucigalpa after enquiring where they were taking her father. She was detained for several hours in a cell with nine other women. One police officer took some toilet paper, soaked it in a chemical and set fire to it, releasing toxic smoke into the cell. The girl and women detained reported breathing difficulties and burning eyes and throats, in some cases lasting for several days.
- In August, Alex Matamoros, a human rights defender working for the Centre for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, was arbitrarily detained in Tegucigalpa when he intervened to stop three boys being beaten by police officers after a demonstration. Alex Matamoros was detained at Manchén Police Headquarters for nearly 12 hours before being released without charge.
Excessive use of force and unlawful killings
The use of live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas by the police and military led to the death of at least 10 people. The arbitrary and indiscriminate use of tear gas, with insufficient warning or precautions, caused physical harm to scores of protesters, including children. Hospitals were not given information about the chemical substances used, hindering them from providing treatment.
- Nineteen-year-old Isis Obed Murillo died from a gunshot wound to the head on 5 July after members of the military fired live ammunition during a demonstration at Toncontín airport in Tegucigalpa. The military reportedly refused to co-operate with the investigation into his death.
- In August, 38-year-old teacher Roger Abraham Vallejo died in hospital as a result of injuries sustained from a bullet wound to the head, reportedly fired by police during the break-up of a protest in Tegucigalpa in July.
- In September, 16-year-old Gerson Ariel Cruz was seriously wounded by police following the break-up of a protest in Tegucigalpa. According to an eyewitness, the police chased protesters into a residential neighbourhood where they opened fire, shooting Gerson Ariel Cruz, who had taken no part in the protest. An investigation by the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights was under way at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders
Representatives of human rights organizations were threatened and harassed.
- In September, around 15 police officers fired tear gas canisters into the offices of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras where scores of pro-Zelaya protesters had taken refuge. Around 100 people, including children, were inside the office at the time.
- In December, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights activist Walter Tróchez was murdered in Tegucigalpa. Nine days earlier, he had escaped after being abducted by several masked men demanding the names and addresses of members of the opposition movement. His captors reportedly told him they had orders to kill him.
Freedom of expression and association
Several journalists were physically attacked. The de facto authorities closed Radio Globo and the television station Canal 36 intermittently from 28 June, though both media outlets were open again by the end of 2009. At times their offices were occupied by military personnel.
The de facto President issued a decree on 26 September permitting, amongst other things, the closure of newspapers and media outlets suspected of “insult[ing] public officials.” Despite the fact that Congress had not passed the decree into law, police and military officials used it to authorize searches and closures of media outlets. The decree also stipulated that all public meetings or gatherings of any kind had to be authorized by the military or police in advance. The decree was revoked on 19 October.
- In September, on his way to cover events at Radio Globo and Canal 36, Delmer Membreño, a photographer for the newspaper El Libertador, was forced into a truck by four men in balaclavas. The men put a hood over his head and drove off. After 90 minutes, they stopped, dragged him out and put a gun to his head. One of the men told him that he was only being allowed to live so he could deliver a death threat to the director of El Libertador. The men then beat Delmer Membreño and burned his face and torso with cigarettes before releasing him. An investigation into the case was continuing at the end of the year.
Violence against women
Women demonstrators and women in custody reported sexual abuse and harassment by police officers. Many women reported being beaten on the buttocks and backs of the legs by police during demonstrations. No investigations were conducted into gender-based violence during the disturbances.
- N. was separated from her family during a demonstration in Choloma on 14 August. She was arbitrarily detained by police officers who, after dropping other detainees off at a police station, took N. to a remote location where four police officers raped her consecutively.
- A 34-year-old woman told Amnesty International that she and her 59-year-old mother were repeatedly beaten across the back of the thighs and buttocks by police using batons during one protest.
- “Eva”, a 26-year-old woman, stated that a military officer tried to detain her and threatened her with a baton shouting, “Bitch, I am going to teach you how to be a woman.”
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
Evidence emerged of a sharp rise in the number of killings of transgender women following the June coup. Between 2004 and March 2009, human rights organizations had registered 17 cases of killings of transgender women. Between the end of June and December 2009, 12 such cases were reported by local human rights organizations. No data was available about investigations into these killings.