Honduras: US-trained unit named in Aguán abuses

Rights Action, a human rights organization based in Toronto and Washington, DC, released a report on Feb. 20 documenting killings and other abuses carried out since late 2009 during land disputes between campesinos and major landowners in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras. The 64-page report, "Human Rights Violations by US-backed Honduran Special Forces Unit," finds that soldiers from the Honduran military's 15th Battalion are directly implicated in at least 34 abuses, including "kidnappings, killings, threats, torture and abuse of authority," according to the report's author, Annie Bird.

Since 2008 or earlier, Bird says, the battalion has "received assistance and training from the Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) of the United States Armed Forces." Honduran media have reported that Spanish and Israeli special forces have also trained the soldiers; local informants say Colombian and Panamanian trainers have participated as well.

Based on dozens of interviews and on reports from the Honduran media and human rights groups, Bird compiled a list of at least 88 campesinos killed since January 2010, including two killed on Feb. 16, right before the report's release. An additional five people were apparently killed because they were mistaken for campesinos. According to the report, "at least 77" of the campesino deaths "clearly have the characteristics of death squad killings, contradicting reports from the Honduran government human rights commission CONADEH [the National Human Rights Commission] and US State Department that characterize the killings as the result of 'confrontations.'" Bird also cites as many as 13 killings of security guards employed by the big landowners, noting that many of the guards are themselves campesinos; there are suspicions that some of these killings were carried out by other security forces.

In announcing the report, Rights Action wrote that the "vast majority of the killings and other violations that have been perpetrated in Bajo Aguán since 2010 have not been investigated, generating a level of impunity that suggests complicity between state and local authorities and those responsible for the killings and other abuses." The group asked for readers to "send copies of this information, and your own letters, to your Canadian and American politicians (MPs, Congress members and senators) and to your own media." (Rights Action, Feb. 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 24