Truth Commission Faces Daunting Task

President Porfirio Lobo has declared that Honduras’ truth commission will commence May 4, 2010.

President Lobo empahasized the independence of the Commission, whose ultimate goal is to write an “objective and impartial” account of the incidents surrounding the June 28, 2009 political change of power.

The Commission coordinator is former Guatemalan Vice President, Eduardo Stein, who served in office from 2004-2008. He will be joined by two other international experts, two national experts and a support team. The Organization of American States (OAS) will be providing technical and administrative assistance.

Mr. Stein stated that it will not be possible for all of the facts uncovered to be made public, because “there will be sensitive information that will be classified, especially confidential testimony provided by certain individuals during the investigation process.” He remarked, however, that that information will be declassified and released to the public after a period of ten years.

Eduardo Stein expects that within eight months the findings will be revealed to the Honduran public and stated that “we are going to be extremely scrupulous in our work.”

Also serving on the truth commission are internationals Michael Kergin, former Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Canada (and Canadian ambassador to the United States from 2000 to 2005); and Maria Amadilia, former Minister of Justice of Peru.

The two national experts are Hondurans Julieta Castellanos, President of the public National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), and former UNAH President and jurist Jorge Omar Casco. They will be aided by an academic, technical secretary Sergio Membreno.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to fulfill one of the agreements signed on Oct. 30, 2009 between representatives of President Roberto Micheletti and ousted President Manuel Zelaya. It is also seen as one of the obligations that the Honduran government must fulfill in order to gain recognition from the international community.

Honduran Foreign Minister, Mario Canahuati, explained that choosing members of the Truth Commission “was not easy. We studied the curriculum vitae of at least 15 international experts, and on the Honduran side, we tried to seek individuals with a high degree of credibility.”

The Union Civica Democratica (Civic Democratic Union) wanted UNAH President Julieta Castellanos removed from the Commission, while human rights groups were not happy with the inclusion of Omar Casco, whom they believe represents the most fanatic side of the right-wing politicals.

Reina Rivera, a member of the Human Rights Platform Coalition, says that the Truth Commission has met with more skepticism than acceptance among social organizations saying, “We believe that the selection of the international members was made more on the basis of their nationalities than their competence and abilities. The representatives from Canada and Peru are not well looked upon in some sectors, which is why some reject the Commission, while others view it with reservations.”

Ms. Rivera noted that there is already a movement afloat among local and international human rights groups to form an “Alternative Truth Commission”. Allegedly Amnesty International is backing it. The purpose of the second commission would be to “monitor the process and the conduct of those who make up the Truth Commission.”

The president of the National Association of Industrialists, Adolfo Facusse, on the otherhand, has said that “this Truth Commission is a demand of the international community and we already know what its findings will be.”

Facusse commented that these findings “will be geared to what the world wants to hear, and not to what really happened in Honduras. I don’t have very high expectations regarding this question. It won’t contribute to reconciliation; on the contrary, it will create greater division.”

The Human Rights Platform criticized in a press release that the creation of the Truth Commission “has not respected the international standards applicable to truth commissions”. Pointing out that no consultation process has been opened, nor have the types of violations to be investigated been established.

In response to these comments, Canahuati stated that “all of this has been contemplated. The Commission has freedom and independence. Human rights violations will be considered; we do not want anything to be hidden.”

Honduras’ first ever Human Rights Commissioner (from 1992 to 2002) is Leo Valladares, who surmises that the doubts stem from “a thirst for justice and truth. It’s only natural that there is widespread distrust,” he said.

“The Commission is facing an enormous challenge, because it must demonstrate its independence and its credibility, and above all, it must prove that it is capable of bringing about a change in the conduct of the Honduran political class,” according to Mr. Valladares.

“We shouldn’t expect spectacular results from this Commission, because it faces heavy resistance,” he warned, “But the state has the obligation to investigate.”

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