“The Honduran Armed Forces are a guarantor and a benchmark on human rights for the region,” Heidi Carolina Portillo Lagos, undersecretary of State for the Honduran Office of National Defense, said at the opening ceremony for the Honduran Human Rights Initiative workshop, which took place at the National Defense University in Tegucigalpa, July 27-29. More than 30 people attended virtually or in person.
The Honduran Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA, in Spanish), the Honduran Armed Forces, and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) coordinated the event, which supports the Honduran Armed Forces’ development and strengthening on human rights through the Human Rights Initiative (HRI). Honduras joined the HRI in 2005, and since then has carried out human rights activities in the fields of education, training, doctrine, civil-military relations, armed forces’ internal control, and the relationship with civil society.
Undersecretary Portillo spoke about the progress made in the field of human rights, such as seminars, training for operational legal advisers to provide counsel to commanders on this matter, working groups to develop a human rights policy, and work with the academic community to update the human rights curricula.
“Human rights, together with democracy, sovereignty, and respect for the rule of law, are fundamental pillars of security for our respective countries and the region,” José Rodríguez, HRI coordinator for SOUTHCOM’s Human Rights Office, said. “And these pillars are the fundamental pieces that unite our armed forces and our people.”
The Costa Rican Center for Human Rights Studies, Training, and Analysis; the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation; the International Committee of the Red Cross, with its regional delegation based in Mexico; and national and international subject matter experts from the United States, Colombia, and Ecuador also took part in the event.
The role of the armed forces in handling human rights issues, updates on human rights policy for the armed forces, the importance of operational legal advisers, rules for the use of force, the importance of effective strategies for sharing information with the public, and transparency and cooperation with civil society were among the topics discussed.
“As the armed forces, we are involved in various missions that the executive branch assigns to us, where soldiers are in direct contact with society,” Colonel Héctor Alfredo Alemán Medina, head of the Honduran Armed Forces’ Humanitarian Law Division, said. “We permanently have, under FUSINA [National Inter-Institutional Security Force], soldiers working in support of the National Police in the field of citizen security, and there they face situations where soldiers need to have the knowledge to, at any given moment, they need to know how they are going to act with strict respect for human rights.”
We permanently have, under FUSINA [National Inter-Institutional Security Force], soldiers working in support of the National Police in the field of citizen security, and there they face situations where soldiers need to have the knowledge to, at any given moment, they need to know how they are going to act with strict respect for human rights,” Colonel Héctor Alfredo Alemán Medina, head of the Honduran Armed Forces’ Humanitarian Law Division.
For his part, Military Justice Colonel Santos Marcos Nolasco Guifarro, a military legal auditor for the Army, pointed out that training allows them “to be a multiplier entity down to our troops’ lowest echelon, so that when performing operations in which we have to be involved with the population, we can act correctly, in accordance with the law.”
For Lieutenant Junior Grade Yillian Meza Matamoros, military justice assistant in charge of human rights training for members of the Honduran Navy, the workshop is important because “we have the need to strengthen ourselves in achieving missions in the operational field,” she said. “We need for commanders to have their legal advisers during missions to advise on the field of international law and to ensure compliance with international standards for human rights, both internally and externally.”
One of the most important issues was respect for human rights and international standards, concerning the use of force in operations to support the national police in missions to maintain public order. Honduran Special Forces Major Santos Yovany Torres Galeos gave the presentation and addressed the need for the military and police to increase their awareness of human rights and their unrestricted protection, to create institutional ethics, and the proper use of force. “We have made quantum leaps in our country since SOUTHCOM, around 1998, began its interaction with [us] about ways to generate ethical conduct in the institutions, in adherence to human rights.”
The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH, in Spanish) also took part in the workshop. “To speak of human rights in the armed forces is to speak of differential changes; changes that, in one way or another, have to do with the behavior, discipline, and commitment of our armed forces toward our citizens,” Hugo Maldonado, president of CODEH, said. “Knowing about human rights is a fundamental axis as an armed institution; for us, as a human rights organization, it is essential to strengthen those ties that relate to the armed forces’ institutional framework and reach all the sectors that are part of this great work team, because to us it seems crucial for the benefit of the country.”
At the end of the workshop, SEDENA pledged to continue working to consolidate human rights policy, training the military on the subject with advice from civil society, and establishing stronger relationships with the media, human rights organizations, and the judicial sector.