President Carlos Roberto Reina told reporters that he was in favor of a 1991 amnesty for military officers accused of human rights abuses during the 1980s.
His December 6 declaration, at the opening of a water-treatment system in a Tegucigalpa slum, drew immediate condemnation from national and international human rights proponents, including some within Reina's government.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Reina was quoted as saying "I have heard all the opinions. One of the most sensible says that [the amnesty] includes everything from that time, a forgetting of the events. That is to say that it includes civilians and military officials. And I believe that is correct."
The same Sun article quoted an angry Leo Valladares, the government's human rights commissioner: "It appears that he is inclined to stop the investigations into the truth about the violence of the 1980s and that he will allow the murderers to enjoy impunity. ... It would have been better for him to stay silent on the issue because his statement imposes on the independence of the courts." He added that he feared Reina's statement would reduce pressure on the Clinton Administration to release U.S. documents needed for the ongoing investigation of 184 disappearances and other abuses that took place in the 1980s.
Reina later tried to clarify his remarks, claiming that the amnesty only applied to "political crimes." These, he claimed, do not include torture or disappearances for political reasons. The definition of "political crimes," however, remains ambiguous.
On December 13, the Honduran Appeals Court declared in a controversial decision that the July 1991 amnesty -- put in place in part to encourage the return of political exiles -- must be upheld.
It is unclear what effect these declarations will have on the current "test case" of nine (previously, ten) past and present military officers accused of kidnapping and torturing six college students in 1982. Judge Roy Medina, presiding over the civil trial, declared that he will first determine whether the officers are guilty, and then decide whether they are eligible for amnesty. Three of the nine officers are still fugitives from justice; their whereabouts have been unknown since early October. On December 8 Medina demanded their capture and condemned them to prison.
On December 5 Medina found the tenth officer, Colonel Juan Blas Salazar, guilty in the case of the university students. The former head of the DNI, the former Honduran Secret Police, is already serving a 21-year prison sentence for narcotrafficking. This is nonetheless the first instance of a civilian court ruling against a Honduran military officer in a human rights case. [See previous issue for more on this topic.]
This is a semimonthly publication providing information on issues related to security and militarism in Central America. The above information comes from a large number of sources freely available over the internet. Please address all comments or contributions to: Adam Isacson, c/o Center for International Policy, 1755 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 312, Washington, DC 20036. Or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.