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Honduras: Statement on Corruption and Impunity by U.S. Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Statement By U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt., and Senate President Pro Tempore), On Corruption And Impunity In Honduras

Last week at United Nations headquarters in New York, the Honduran Foreign Minister signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as the first step toward establishing a Comisión International Contra la Impunidad en Honduras (CICIH) to investigate and prosecute corruption and other crimes by public and private individuals and entities in the country.  President Xiomara Castro traveled to New York to personally oversee the negotiation and signing, which was a strong signal to the Honduran people and the international community of the importance she places on her campaign promise to establish a CICIH.  I commend her for doing so.

As encouraging as the new MOU is, however, it is not a binding legal document and therefore cannot be used to install a CICIH in Honduras.  Only a Convenio signed by President Castro and the UN Secretary General can accomplish that.  So the focus should now turn promptly to negotiations for a Convenio to prevent any further delays in making the CICIH a reality. 

It is notable that the MOU allows for negotiations for a Convenio to run parallel with any other CICIH-related activities, so negotiations for a Convenio could start as soon as possible.  Nearly ten months have elapsed since President Castro’s inauguration, so completing negotiations on a Convenio will reaffirm the government’s intention to aggressively combat corruption and impunity.  Her personal involvement in this process, to keep it moving forward, will be necessary.

This is not the first attempt of its kind.  In April 2016, the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH) was established, only to be shut down less than four years later when then President Hernandez, an accused drug trafficker, feared it could expose his own misdeeds.  A year later, candidate Castro condemned the corruption and impunity that had flourished under Hernandez, and pledged that as President one of her highest priorities would be to establish a CICIH.  The Honduran people have had more than enough of political leaders who abuse their office to enrich themselves and their families, and manipulate the institutions of government to perpetuate their hold on power.

The United States Congress provided the largest share of the funds to support MACCIH, as we did for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).  That is because we, like the people of those countries, know that an independent judicial system and respect for the rule of law are fundamental to democracy, to protecting the rights and dignity of citizens, and to equitable economic opportunity.  Unfortunately, as it turned out, the leaders of those countries did not share the aspirations of their own people.  They never believed in accountability under the law, at least not for themselves. 

It is because of that history that our support for a CICIH will depend on what the Convenio says.  Honduras has been down this road before and there are important lessons to be learned.  Partial solutions only resulted in money wasted, time lost, and justice denied. The CICIH must be empowered to carry out its responsibilities independently, free of inappropriate or political interference by any political party, politician, or other interest group. The CICIH should have the maximum investigatory and prosecutorial discretion necessary to effectively carry out its mandate.   

Others have said, and I agree, that the transparent selection of the CICIH commissioner and other key personnel, by the UN Secretary General, is essential to its ability to operate independently.  The resources to support them will necessarily come from the international community to avoid undue influence by those who may be investigated for corruption. 

To achieve its mission, the CICIH must have competent, empowered international and Honduran technical staff, including prosecutors and experienced investigators and financial analysts who can build and leverage networks of information.  Judges and other judicial staff will also require technical assistance.

These are some of the key elements that should be included in the Convenio.  It should be relatively straightforward to put these elements on paper, and by doing so ensure that the CICIH has unconditional support at the highest level of the Honduran Government and the independent mandate, personnel, and resources to finally put Honduras on a path toward real justice and accountability.  This is vitally important not only for the people of Honduras, but for the example it will set for all of Central America.