Military and law enforcement leaders from 10 countries came together for the Central American Human Rights Initiative Conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, November 29-30, to analyze human rights directives and policies applied in participating countries. The Conference was made possible thanks to the Honduran Ministry of Defense and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
Elena Vallecillo, secretary general of the Honduran Defense Secretariat; Major General José Ramón Macoto Vázquez, deputy chief of the Honduran Joint Chiefs of Staff; Dr. Roy Perrin, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras; and U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel (R) José Rodríguez, SOUTHCOM’s Human Rights Initiative coordinator, led the activities.
“Honduras is one of 13 countries in the region that are part of the Initiative and continues to be one of the most active members, with this being the third consecutive year that this event has been held in Tegucigalpa,” Dr. Perrin told Diálogo on November 29. “Between 1995 and 1997, Honduras helped develop the SOUTHCOM-sponsored Human Rights Initiative consensus document.”
“Today we have received a lot of information, new instructions, which for us at the Regional Center are fundamental,” Dominican Army Brigadier General Ambiorix de Jesús Cepeda told Diálogo on November 30, about the Regional Training Center on Human Rights and International Law in the Dominican Republic, part of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC). “The conference gives us feedback by bringing new things to the Center, since we give each year courses to personnel in the region.”
One of the highlights for the Regional Center in 2023 has been student mobility, as they were able to train more than 4,300 military and civilian forces from the Central American area. This year’s courses will end on December 12, with a webinar that will focus on children and adolescents’ human rights.
“These events are so important because we get to know the new policies that each country and each armed force is applying, as we saw in the case of our sisters republics of Colombia and Honduras, who have new courses for human rights,” Brig. Gen. Cepeda said. “That helps us to keep improving and know how to approach the day-to-day.”
In those courses military forces practice situations that may arise during operations or confrontations, so that they can become familiar with respecting the human rights and international humanitarian law of the population.
Women, Peace, and Security
Given the importance of women’s participation, the conference also addressed the Women, Peace, and Security Initiative. “It’s a subject matter that SOUTHCOM promotes in the region in the countries with which we work,” Lt. Col. Rodríguez told Diálogo. “Women are part of the military institution and have the same opportunities that we men have. What better example than our own SOUTHCOM commander, U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson. Like her, there are other officers who have responsibilities of great importance.”
For Panamanian National Border Service Commissioner Víctor Gómez, military participation in civilian security operations is a reality that can continue in the medium or long term, but security and human rights should not be separated to prevent instablity, such as drug trafficking, micro-trafficking. and irregular migration.
“We [the military] go a bit outside our common operational scope to take on different tasks. In the armed forces we face diverse situations with constant complaints of human rights violations,” Mexican Navy Captain Miguel Ángel Chichitz told Diálogo. “It’s a complex learning process, where we have to change our mindset as [military personnel] and become aware that our tasks are different from those of the armed forces.”
Colombia, Capt. Chichitz said by way of example, created the operational legal counsel role. “It will be very important to implement this role until it is perfected, so that it can be an effective tool for the command in the operations that military personnel carry out on a daily basis.”
Satisfied with the outcome of the conference, Lt. Col. Rodríguez told Diálogo that the expectation is that the region’s security forces will boost their performance. “We at the Human Rights Office are here to help the countries of the region by sharing knowledge, experiences, and lessons learned and to institutionalize human rights within the partner nations’ troops,” he concluded.