Honduras’ Military Crackdown Faces Legal Challenge

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A campaign group in Honduras has filed a suit with the Supreme Court challenging the government’s use of the military in a policing role, which is a central part of the government’s security strategy.

The Committee of Families of Disappeared and Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) filed a claim with the Honduran Supreme Court on June 30 against the government’s decision to grant police powers to the military. The victims’ advocacy group argues that the military’s presence in the streets is unconstitutional because it violates the separation between military and police roles.

The suit comes after the Honduran Council of Ministers approved a 90-day extension of the military’s powers. This is third extension so far.

Minister of Defense Marlon Pascua argues that the military is necessary to fight crime, and that its role in policing has been largely successful.

One of the advocates for the suit is Wilfredo Yanez, the father of 15-year-old Eved Yanez who was allegedly killed by members of the Honduran military in May.

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, Honduras has become an important transshipment point for US-bound cocaine. The Central American country has also seen an increase in cocaine processing, which is believed to be operated by Mexican cartels. It struggles with several violent gangs, including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, and currently has the highest murder rate in the world.

In 2011, President Porfirio Lobo deployed troops in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in an effort to crack down on rising violence. The military is seen as a more trustworthy force than the police, who have been hit by accusations of widespread corruption. In March this year, Lobo proposed a constitutional reform to create a permanent military police force.

Latin American countries’ growing reliance on military forces to fight crime worries human rights advocates. Granting police powers to the military not only avoids addressing problems like corruption within the police, but can also risks undermining human rights. Soldiers are not trained in police procedures and are not used to working in such close quarters with civilians, which can put civilians at risk of abuses.

In a region with a history of military coups, giving more powers to the military has a potential to destabilize the power balance between civilian and military authorities.

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