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It’s time to end spyware sales to Honduras

The British government faces a challenge over spyware sales to Honduras, writes CHRIS WILLIAMSON

TWENTY-FOUR human rights organisations, from Honduras and Britain, have called on International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to stop the export of surveillance equipment to Honduras.

The call follows recent challenges by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle to the government’s highly questionable decision to allow sales of spyware to the Honduran government.

The minority Conservative administration has sanctioned the sale of telecoms interception equipment to Honduras, despite its appalling human rights record and the current situation in the country.

In their letter to Fox the organisations describe, with chilling examples, the alarming human rights record of Honduras.  Political activists and human rights defenders generally are subject to targeted repression, through various means, including illegal surveillance.

International bodies such as the EU and the Office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights have frequently drawn attention to serious human rights violations in Honduras. 

The EU Parliament, for example, described Honduras in 2016 as “one of the most dangerous … in the region for human rights defenders.” 

A report by Global Witness Witness in January 2017 entitled Honduras: The Deadliest Place to Defend the Planet reported that 123 land and environmental activists were “murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup, with countless others threatened, attacked or imprisoned.”

The murder of renowned Honduran environmentalist Berta Caceres demonstrated collusion between the state security forces and a hydro-dam company to carry out surveillance of members of Caceres’s organisation COPINH. 

As part of the strategy to control and neutralise community protests, surveillance increased in the months and hours leading up to her assassination.

Such illegal surveillance is not an isolated occurrence but is part of a wider pattern of repression by the Honduran state.  

A Peace Brigades International report in 2016 noted that eight prominent Honduran human rights activists were on a government list to be put under illegal surveillance. 

Yet the Westminster government seemingly ignored this wealth of evidence of the actual use of illegal surveillance and abuse of human rights when issuing the export licences.  

The situation in Honduras has worsened since National Party candidate Juan Hernandez’s “victory” in the presidential election of 2017 that was widely characterised as fraudulent.

Despite multiple allegations of fraud, Trump recognised Hernandez, a conservative US ally, as the election winner.  

In doing so, he ignored poll observers’ findings and calls for a new election by the Organisation of American States (OAS), members of Congress and the opposition Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship party.

Trump’s action flagrantly contradicted stated US policy on Honduras, which the State Department sets out as “focused on strengthening democratic governance, including the promotion of human rights and the rule of law.”  

Following that election, Hernandez’s National Party government cracked down brutally on legitimate protest, using the police, the military and also, allegedly, death squads.  

His government has also been accused of links with organised crime, including drug-trafficking gangs.

Supporters of the Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship party have been protesting on the streets against fraud in the presidential elections since the election result was declared. 

The street demonstrations have been met with a mobilisation of thousands of police, Swat teams, soldiers and military police. At least 40 people have been killed and more than 2,000 detained. 

The UN high commissioner for human rights recently published a shocking report on the deaths of 23 Honduran political activists in these protests.

The report condemns the 23 murders, at least 16 of which it affirms resulted from state security forces shooting directly into crowds. 

But human rights organisations such as the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) say the government is responsible for upwards of 35 deaths and the arrests of at least 1,350 people, many of whom remain in jail.

Today, 26 political prisoners who protested about the rigging of the presidential elections are known to be incarcerated in high-security jails, yet not a single person has been investigated or charged for any of the extrajudicial assassinations carried out since the November elections.

But Trump is not bothered by these blatant abuses of democratic norms and human rights. The US preoccupation in Latin America is not with compliant states that bend to and serve US political, economic and military interests.  Instead, it is focused on forcing “regime change” in countries which do not toe the US line.

And, it seems, the British government is not perturbed by these abuses either. Further weight needs to be added to the campaign by the human rights organisations and the Labour Party’s challenges to ensure that no further export licences are granted for the sale of any equipment to the Honduran government that could be used for internal repression.

Chirs Williamson MP is president of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America. You can sign a petition to Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Theresa May against Britain selling spyware to Honduras at bit.ly/honduraspetition. You can follow Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America at www.facebook.com/LabourFriendsofProgressiveLatinAmerica and twitter.com/labourfplam.

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