A delegation from the International Committee of the National Lawyers Guild traveled to Honduras in June 2014 to investigate the implementation of ZEDEs in Honduras. The current report is the newest in a series of NLG reports from its delegations to Latin America and elsewhere. The report documents our findings about the human rights implications of ZEDEs in the context of the current human rights crisis in Honduras.
The NLG has focused attention on Honduras since the June 2009 coup d’état that ousted democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. At that time, human rights activists and other Hondurans asked the NLG to investigate concerns about the rule of law, the lack of respect for international law, the abrogation of human rights, attacks on the judiciary, and the circumstances that gave rise to the coup. As a result, the American Association of Jurists (AAJ), the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), and the International Association Against Torture sent a joint delegation to Honduras whose preliminary report in English is here. The final report in Spanish is here.
Since the coup, Honduras has become the murder capital of the world, with widespread repression against Honduran lawyers, judges, human rights organizations, and indigenous groups, who have asked for the NLG’s support and solidarity. Socioeconomic conditions have deteriorated: the government has cut spending on social programs. Extreme poverty rose by 26.3 percent, almost two thirds of Hondurans live below the poverty line, and inequality has become more pronounced: The Center for Economic and Policy Research has reported that in the first two years after the coup, the wealthiest 10 percent of
Hondurans enjoyed over 100 percent of all real income gains. Despite these conditions, the US has continued to provide military and other economic support to the Honduran government. In response to the human rights crisis, the NLG has written letters, lobbied our senators and representatives, and educated our own members about the situation in Honduras. In early 2013, our Honduran colleagues and allies asked us to witness their election and document our findings. We organized a delegation of credentialed election observers to serve as “International Accompaniers” under Honduran election law.
Our delegation concluded that there were serious problems that significantly undermined any assertion that the election was “free and fair” or “transparent.” Our final November 2013 election monitoring report is available in English here and in Spanish here.
As a result of the contested elections, Juan Orlando Hernandez assumed the Presidency. Since then, Hernandez and the Honduran legislature have enacted a number of laws that provide for the concentration of executive and legislative powers at the expense of individual rights and freedoms and they have implemented policies that privatize state resources and functions. In early 2014, our colleagues in Honduras asked us to examine the controversial laws and constitutional amendments that facilitated the establishment of Zones for Economic Development and Employment (ZEDEs), also known as ‘charter cities’ or ‘model cities.’ ZEDEs represent a significant expansion of free trade zones in that they facilitate the creation of autonomous privatized city-states designed to exist independently from the legal, administrative and social systems of the Honduran state.
They are investor-friendly enclaves governed by their own laws, courts and tax systems. The ZEDEs, proposed to spur economic growth and jobs, provide the legal basis for the corporate takeover of land within Honduras, in many cases without any prior consultation from citizens and communities that currently occupy those lands. Given the contentious nature of land titling issues in Honduras and the historical abrogation of citizens’ land claims, many observers fear that the ZEDEs will further erode the rights of marginalized groups in Honduras and escalate repression against those who resist being dispossessed.
By relinquishing control of key state functions to domestic and foreign investors, the arrangement allows corporations to circumvent local laws and business practices. Founded in 1937 as an association of progressive lawyers and jurists, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) promotes human rights over property rights and has been engaged in international affairs since its inception. The NLG was one of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) selected by the US government to represent the American people at the founding of the United Nations in 1945. Members helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in 1948 founded the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), one of the first UN-accredited human rights NGOs.
As a US-based organization, the NLG examines the historic and current roles the US government and corporations play throughout the world. We document those roles, criticize them where appropriate, and ally with individuals and social movements that are struggling against US influence in their countries. In Latin America, our criticism of US government policies and abuses led to delegations in the 1980s to El Salvador to support human rights activists and to Nicaragua to support the Sandinista government under attack by the Contras at that time. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were fleeing to the United States as a result of these events, and NLG lawyers were deeply involved in representing refugees and defending the movement to give them sanctuary. In recent years, we have sent delegations to Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Colombia to support progressive social movements and to criticize misguided US policies. Some of our delegations focused specifically on human rights abuses, some have studied social movements, and some have observed elections.