Press Freedom, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity, National Security, Political Expression
Article 19 v. Eritrea
Closed Expands Expression
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On August 25, 2022, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the State of Honduras responsible for the extrajudicial execution of trade unionist activist Herminio Deras García as well as for infringing his rights to life, personal integrity, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association, and his political rights. Additionally, the Court held the State responsible for the persecution, illegal detentions, ill-treatment and torture, and raids of Mr. Deras García’s family members.
Mr. Deras García was the leader of the Communist Party of Honduras and a trade unionist; he was persecuted for several years and ultimately executed in 1983 by members of Battalion 3-16 in the context of serious human rights violations that took place in the 1980s in the country. After his death, his family members were targets of persecution, illegal detentions, ill-treatment, torture, and raids. Marco Tulio Regalado Hernández, one of the soldiers responsible for Mr. Deras Garcías death, was arrested but was acquitted by a first instance court on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of his involvement. However, a Court of Appeals, and later the Supreme Court, found Mr. Regalado responsible for the execution of Mr. Deras García and was sentenced to twelve years. Nevertheless, since the first instance had previously ordered the release of Mr. Regalado, claiming it was unaware of his conviction, he fled and was captured until 2016.
In its decision, the Court found that Mr. Deras García’s execution, the raids on his home, and the persecution of his family were deliberate acts directed to silence his voice of opposition and stop his political and trade union activism. The Court held that the State failed to comply with its obligations to investigate and prosecute with due diligence since the government authorities did not investigate the other two suspects involved in the murder. Further, the Court determined that the State was responsible, among other violations, for the persecution, illegal detentions, ill-treatment, and torture of several relatives of Mr. Deras García.
During the 1980s and until the early 1990s, under the national security doctrine, there was a pattern of forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions committed by the military in Honduras.
Herminio Deras García lived in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. He was the leader of the Communist Party of Honduras and worked as an advisor to various unions from the country’s northern coast.
On November 26, 1981, the Third Infantry Battalion, alongside agents of the National Investigation Directorate, raided the Deras García family home on the grounds that they were looking for Mr. Deras Garcia and weapons. His wife, his sister-in-law, a domestic worker, and his two kids were present during the raid. During the foray, the state agents held Mr. Deras García at gunpoint and threatened him with death; however, he managed to escape by jumping over the perimeter wall of his house and was subsequently pursued by eight law enforcement vehicles. A year latter, unknown assailants shot Mr. Deras García’s home sixteen times.
On January 26, 1983, Mr. Deras García informed his father that traffic agents had stopped him and had written down his license plate number. Two days later, while he was visiting the home of a well-known trade unionist, his vehicle was searched by, among others, officer Marco Tulio Regalado Hernández.
On January 29, 1983, while Mr. Deras García was driving his vehicle through his neighborhood, he was intercepted by a traffic officer, who had been ordered by Captain R.C.N., the then leader of Battalion 316, to detain him and hand him over to the National Security Forces. Mr. Regalado Hernández and a fellow member of Battalion 316 searched the vehicle. Moments later, the traffic officer reportedly heard gunshots while getting a coffee in a market nearby. After rushing back to the scene, the officer found Mr. Deras García lifeless inside the vehicle. The corresponding agency arrived at the scene and transported Mr. Deras García’s body to the morgue. When Ms. Otilia Flores Ortiz, the victim’s wife, arrived at the morgue to claim the body, she noticed no autopsy had been performed.
On February 4, 1983, Otilia Flores Ortiz filed a complaint before the First Criminal Court, denouncing the murder of her husband. However, the complaint was never processed. On July 30, 1998, the Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint against Marco Tulio Regalado Hernández, R.C.N., and A.R.H.S, all members of Battalion 3-16, for the murder of Mr. Deras García. The Third Criminal Court of San Pedro Sula admitted the complaint on the same day.
On January 19, 1999, the Third Criminal Court of San Pedro Sula ordered the arrest of Marco Tulio Regalado Hernández, and he was arrested in October of the same year.
On March 17, 2004, the Sectional Judicial Criminal Court of San Pedro Sula issued a judgment acquitting Mr. Regalado Hernández of all criminal responsibility for the crime of murder of Herminio Deras García. The Court held that there was not enough evidence of Mr. Regalado Hernández’s involvement in the execution of Mr. Deras García.
On May 23, 2005, the Court of Appeals of San Pedro Sula revoked the First Instance Court ruling and sentenced Mr. Regalado Hernández to 12 years of imprisonment. On March 8, 2007, after the defense of Mr. Regalado Hernández filed a cassation appeal, the Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the Court of Appeals decision.
On February 27, 2009, the Execution Court of the Judicial Section of San Pedro Sula issued an arrest warrant for Mr.Regalado Hernández. However, the First Instance Court had previously ordered his release, claiming it was unaware of the Court of Appeals’ decision. Under these circumstances, Mr. Regalado Hernández fled.
On November 16, 2016, Mr. Regalado Hernández was finally captured and transferred to the Tela prison, where he was to serve twelve years for murder, abuse of authority, violations of the duties of officials, and illegal detention to the detriment of Herminio Deras García. However, on March 25, 2021, he was granted parole.
On September 28, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. adopted Merits Report No. 158/19, which reached several conclusions and made recommendations to the State; this resolution originated from a petition filed in 2002 by one of Mr. Deras García’s relatives.
On August 20, 2020, the Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. During a public hearing held on May 10 and 11, 2022, the State of Honduras acknowledged its responsibility for the facts and violation of rights established by the Commission in the Merits Report.
The main issue for the Inter-American Court to analyze in this case was whether the State of Honduras was responsible for the extrajudicial execution of the political leader and trade unionist Herminio Deras García.
The Court highlighted that when human rights violations are linked to the exercise of trade union activism or political rights, they can produce a chilling effect on the organizations by limiting individuals’ ability to unite to defend their interests. Notably, the Court noted that the latter is aggravated in contexts of impunity and stressed the importance of granting a reinforced level of protection to the right of freedom of expression of union representatives [par. 79]. Turning to the case in hand, the Court found that Mr. Deras García’s execution, the raids on his home, and the persecution of his family were deliberate acts directed to silence his voice of opposition and stop his political and trade union activism. Taking into consideration the aggressions, threats, and harassment suffered by Mr. Deras García and his subsequent execution, the Court found that the State of Honduras violated his rights to life, personal integrity, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association, and political rights, respectively contained in Articles 4(1), 5(1), 13(1), 13(1), 16(1) and 23(1) of the American Convention of Human Rights (ACHR).
The Court then pointed out that Mr. Deras García’s family, some of whom were children at the time of the events, had been targets of persecution, illegal detentions, ill-treatment, and torture. Additionally, the Court highlighted that some relatives’ homes had been raided. The Court concluded that the State was responsible for the violations of the rights to personal integrity, personal liberty, protection of honor, dignity and private life, protection of the family, the rights of the child and private property, respectively contained in Articles 5. 1, 5.2, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 11.1, 11.2, 17.1, 19 and 21 of the ACHR. Additionally, the Court found Honduras had violated the right of movement and residence, established in Article 22(1) of the ACHR, for the forced exile of two siblings of Mr. Deras García, who had fled the country as a result of the persecution and threats against them.
Regarding the delay in the criminal conviction of the individuals responsible for the extrajudicial execution of Mr. Deras García, the Court stressed that 26 years passed from the day Mr. Deras García was murdered to Mr. Regalado Hernández being found guilty by the Supreme Court and that after his conviction, it took more than seven years for Mr. Regalado Hernández to begin serving his sentence. Moreover, the Court noted that the State failed to comply with its obligations to investigate and prosecute with due diligence since the government authorities did not investigate the other two suspects involved in the execution. Further, the Court remarked that the state officials did not perform an autopsy on the body of Mr. Deras García, nor did they preserve the crime scene. It also stated that there was no investigation of the facts related to the arbitrary detentions, the torture, and the ill-treatment of Mr. Deras García’s family. Given the latter, the Court found the State responsible for violating the rights to a fair trial and judicial protection established in Articles 8(1) and 25 of the ACHR.
Finally, the Court determined that the State infringed the right to humane treatment as established in Article 5(1) of the Convention for the profound suffering caused to 17 family members of Herminio Deras García.
Having considered the violations to Herminio Deras García and his family, the Court ordered the State, as measures of reparations, to:
i). Investigate and prosecute all individuals responsible for the extrajudicial execution of Mr. Herminio Deras García and all those responsible for the other human rights violations declared in the judgment;
ii). Close all open police files against Mr. Deras García’s family members;
iii). Publicly acknowledge international responsibility for the facts expressed in the ruling;
iv). Build a mausoleum on Mr. Herminio Deras García’s grave to honor his memory;
v). Design and execute a national policy on historical memory;
vi). Create and implement a policy for preserving archives and sites of human rights violations committed between the 1980s and the present, including the amendment of the Criminal Code so that it may mirror the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish torture;
vii). Pay pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, costs, and expenses. Specifically, the Court ordered the State to distribute USD 5710 to several members of the Deras García family and USD 46,600.00 to the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras, and USD 7,560.00 to the International Federation of Human Rights, both entities participated as legal representatives for some of Dera García’s relatives.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This decision expands expression by stressing the importance of granting a reinforced level of protection to the right of freedom of expression of union representatives in contexts of human rights violations.
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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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