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Law professor Carozza travels to Honduras

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, September 17, 2009

The June 28 Honduran military coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya received criticism from the United States and several international organizations, but a Notre Dame Law professor saw a bitterly divided country on a recent fact-finding trip to Honduras.

Paolo Carozza, an associate professor of Law and member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), helped investigate how the human rights situation in the country has fared since coup d’etat during a trip from Aug. 17-21 with the Commission.

“It was just difficult on a very basic human level because it’s a country in which there’s so much polarization and conflict and very passionately and deeply held convictions on both sides about what happened and who was to blame and all of this,” he said.

As part of IACHR, Carozza said he observed the country’s current political and social workings and helped report on the discoveries.

What they found was a country of division.

“I think you really have to talk separately about the segment of the population that is strongly in support of the ousted president,” he said. “The whole point of the kinds of human rights violations that we verified while there were designed and used in order to prevent effective vocalization and participation of his supporters.”

The IACHR noted suppression of media outlets that reported on the coup, arbitrary detention of supporters and the use of undue military force in squashing demonstrations by the de facto government.

But another group of Hondurans had a different experience in the wake of the governmental upheaval.

“Outside of that, the population is – I wont say unaffected of course – but affected indirectly, but in very different way,” Carozza said. “They are not only happy with transition, but quite convinced that it’s for the benefit of social peace and tranquility and development.”

And those opposing viewpoints make the conflict intractable, Carozza said.

“It is those people who support the ouster of President Zelaya that often don’t see the kinds of abuses that are being made by the de facto authorities,” he said. “They don’t recognize the gravity of what’s going on with a whole segment of the population.”

During the trip, the IACHR sought to ensure that the de facto government was abiding by international obligations.

“Whether or not the people in power have constitutional legitimacy under the Honduran constitution, they have certain international obligations on behalf of Honduran state,” Carozza said. “Still [the de facto leader] has obligations to protect and respect human rights, and it is proper for us to hold him accountable, whatever our opinions are about legitimacy of transients.”

The goal of the fact-finding was to publicize the situation in Honduras.

Carozza said the job of the IACHR was only to evaluate human rights violations stemming from the constitutional crisis so other international organizations can determine what steps, if any, should be taken in regards to the coup.

“The Honduran regime is not a regime of state terrorism. There are not large numbers of dead people, no secret detention facilities,” he said. “What we found was somewhere in the middle.”

As for the direction the country is heading, Carozza said it’s hard to say – but all eyes are focused on the upcoming Honduran election, which will take place in November.

The key factor will be whether the elections are conducted fairly. If they are, Carozza said some countries would feel they have to recognize the new government.

“In the status of the new government, the election will be key,” he said.

Carozza said the country has suffered because of the divisions the coup has caused.

“This is in the context of country that is on the one hand, extremely beautiful, physically beautiful with beautiful people,” he said. “But despite all of that, it’s a country that’s very poor, and regardless of where one allocates the blame, the sort of common good of country is suffering greatly because of conflict.”