As part of the ongoing modernization process of partner nations’ Defense institutions, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and the Colombian Army, in coordination with the Honduran Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA, in Spanish), offered a human rights seminar to Honduran authorities. The Human Rights Initiative Conference was held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the first quarter of 2019.
“This conference allowed us to exchange knowledge and strengthen human rights norms,” Honduran Army Colonel Benedicto Antonios Chicas, human rights director for the Honduran Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “We were also able to review the commitments Honduras has made in this matter.”
The event featured roundtables to discuss the role of armed forces and the legality of operations. In addition, participants addressed the inclusion of international standards regarding the use of force to guarantee respect for human rights, military training on the appropriate use of force, and citizens’ rights during interventions.
In the legality of operations session, participants concluded that the Honduran Armed Forces should rely on experts in operational law to regulate tasks, preparation, execution, evolution, and the follow-up of all armed missions in the theater of operations. The Army, Air Force, and Navy only have legal advisors in the administrative field.
Honduras committed to train a team of military lawyers in operational law. “We already talked to SOUTHCOM. Starting in 2020, three lawyers from each force will be trained. Meanwhile, we will continue with our lawyers’ training through courses and certifications,” Col. Chicas said.
The Honduran Armed Forces have human rights manuals that will be revised with SOUTHCOM’s help. At the training and educational session, SOUTHCOM committed to advise Honduras in updating its Army’s curriculum and to prioritize lessons on respect for human rights.
The Colombian Army agreed to guide Honduras to strengthen human rights training in their Armed Forces. The goal is to put armed personnel in practical situations where international humanitarian law norms apply, such as active operations, the Colombian Ministry of Defense told the press.
“The Honduran soldier learned that they should never follow an illegal order. Occurrences are minimum, there are thousands of missions, and hard work has made training and instruction in human rights possible,” said Fredy Díaz, Honduran minister of Defense, at the end of the conference. The roundtables also featured representatives of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“The Honduran Secretary of Human Rights (SEDH, in Spanish) knows that to move toward a general culture of human rights and peace, it must be assimilated by everyone,” said SEDH head Karla Cueva. “The knowledge obtained in these conferences will be put into practice daily as security forces fulfill their duties.”
From 2014 to 2018, Honduras and the United States trained more than 28,000 Honduran military personnel. SOUTHCOM will continue to support training in international humanitarian law for the Honduran Armed Forces, according to a SEDH press release.
“Both our nations share the same objective: respect for human rights as the basis for democracy. The U.S. Southern Command Human Rights Office has been very supportive. They have helped us see positive things to coexist with others. This cooperation has been essential and very helpful for the Honduran Armed Forces,” said Col. Chicas.
The Honduran Armed Forces measure the impact of the human rights training through their members' performance. They monitor and analyze errors and violations committed.
“We don't learn about human rights because we are required to, but because we want to help our people to become aware about human rights. We want to learn to apply them sensibly. This brings us closer to the people,” Col. Chicas said.