Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Exiled: Honduran Human Rights Defenders and Effects of U.S. Policies

By Brooke Denmark
Witness for Peace International Team - Nicaragua

After a meeting with a rural community in Northern Honduras, we were approached by a young man.

¨You all are working against militarization?" he asked.

He explained that he also works against militarization in the region and as a human rights promoter. He recently exposed a member of the military entangled in drug-trafficking. Since then he has survived two attempts against his life. He does not want to wait for a third. In a few days he will be fleeing the country.

A few weeks ago Adrienne Pine, an anthropology professor at American University, reflected on the asylum system in the United States. She wrote that the system upholds a narrative in which the U.S. plays savior to states that have failed at upholding human rights, but that this ignores the fact that many times the U.S. is responsible for creating those circumstances or keeping the repressive regimes in place.

The situation in Honduras today in some ways is reminiscent of the U.S.-backed bloodshed in Central America during the 80s. At that time the U.S. supported brutal military regimes in the name of fighting the spread of Communism. Today the language has changed from fighting Communism to waging wars against terrorism and drug-trafficking. When those working to defend human rights or in resistance movements are threatened and seek refuge in the U.S., they must overcome the political interests of Washington.

Juan Gonzalez reports on this bias against granting asylum to regimes that the U.S. supports in his book Harvest of Empire. He notes that between 1983 and 1990, the U.S. ¨granted only 2.6% of political asylum requests from Salvadorans, 1.8% from Guatemalans, and 2.0% from Hondurans, yet it granted 25.2% of those from Nicaraguans, whose Sandinista government Washington was seeking to overthrow.¨

Today the few asylum seekers that are able to make it out of the country where they are being persecuted and into the U.S. have only just begun their next hardship - beating the U.S. immigration system. First, asylum seekers who scramble together a way to get to the U.S. are frequently detained upon entering the country. Although Obama announced almost two years ago that the U.S. was going to move away from mandatory detention of arriving asylum seekers, in practice the change has been slow. When I worked with detained immigrants in the D.C. area before coming to work with Witness for Peace, an asylum seeker who had already been detained for nine months while still fighting her case said to me, "If I had known that I would have been put in jail for so long, I would have never come here. This is what I was trying to escape."

As part of comprehensive immigration reform the U.S. needs to fix serious flaws in the asylum system that treat asylum seekers as criminals and terrorists. The U.S. has this obligation especially because of the role our government has played in fostering environments abroad where human rights violations flourish. The U.S. simultaneously needs to change its foreign policy to stop propping up these regimes. One place to start would be to stop funding military and police in Honduras that persecute people like the young man we met the other day on his way into exile. I hope that he makes it safely out of the country and that I will not read about him in the papers as a victim of another incident of ¨random violence."

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