Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dear Colleague letter from Reresentative Hank Johnson

Cosponsor H.R. 5474 - The Berta Caceres Human Rights Act

From: The Honorable Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr.
Bill: H.R. 5474
Date: 6/30/2016

Cosponsor H.R. 5474: The Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act

Cosponsors: Hank Johnson, John Conyers, Marcy Kaptur, Keith Ellison, Jose Serrano, jan Schakowsky, James McGovern, Barbara Lee, Betty McCollum, Ron Kind, Rosa DeLauro

Groups in Support: see list of 43 groups at the end of the letter

Dear Colleague:

Honduras is facing a major human rights crisis. Between 2010 and 2015 more than 100 activists have been murdered and violence in the country has increased dramatically.

Today, Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world and remains one of the most dangerous places for activists. Closely connected with this crisis is the deep corruption of its military and police forces – both of which have been accused of committing human rights abuses while facing no consequences.

Despite this troubling record and the Honduran government’s lack of political will to address these issues, the United States continues to provide millions of taxpayer dollars annually in security assistance to Honduras’ military and police forces. This in turn demands a strong message from Congress. We must leverage security assistance and multilateral loans to pressure the Honduran government to protect its citizens and hold accountable those responsible for these outrageous crimes.

The Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act (H.R. 5474) is the first step toward this goal. It would suspend U.S. funding to the Republic of Honduras for its police and military operations, including money for equipment and training, until the Honduran government investigates credible allegations of gross violations of human rights by the security forces and pursues prosecutions in the cases of the four murdered activists. The bill also requires a withdrawal of Honduran military forces from civilian policing activities and that effective steps are taken by the government to establish the rule of law and protect the rights of all Hondurans, including activists.

For years, members of Congress have expressed concerns about human rights abuses associated with Honduran security forces. In response, conditions have been imposed on aid provided by the State Department. Human rights groups have strongly condemned these abuses, and have questioned U.S. support for Honduran security forces amid the mounting evidence implicating systematic abuses.

H.R. 5474 is necessary because the State Department refuses to act. Despite growing evidence of human rights abuses, including hit-lists against activists or deaths ordered by the Honduran military,[1] State claims it has not heard of any credible reports. The Honduran activist community, witnesses, military defectors, and investigative journalists report significant incriminating evidence that disputes this claim.[2]

To help root out the systemic corruption and violence in the country, Activists have instead called for an independent United Nations sponsored commission, such as the CICIG in Guatemala. While the government of Honduras has made arrests in connection to Berta Cáceres’ murder, there has been no independent oversight by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the people have little faith in the state’s ability to conduct to investigate its own forces. Some claim the establishment of the MACCIH – an independent international body that will conduct investigations – is a step in the right direction. This, however, fails to acknowledge such a body has no enforcement power and is embedded within a corrupt Honduran system. The MACCIH is instead a weak alternative.

It is long past time for the U.S. to stop turning a blind eye to the lawlessness in Honduras. When American dollars are provided to foreign governments, we must take steps to ensure it is used in a manner consistent with American ideals. Our efforts to date have failed to ensure the protection of activists’ lives or guarantee accountability from the Honduran government. We demand reform in Honduras that will end the violence, impunity, and senseless killing of activists. Please join us in cosponsoring this important legislation.

If you would like to be added as co-sponsor, please contact Arya Hariharan at


Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr.

Member of Congress

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