A new military police has been approved for duty in Honduras in an attempt to fight rampant crime and violence. But this new strategy has raised concerns among human rights defenders and citizens who see the new military force as a setback.
As Themla Mejía reports for news agency IPS, “Ramón Custodio, the national human rights commissioner or ombudsman, said he was staunchly opposed to the new body on the grounds that it violated the constitution and virtually ensured the demise of the national civilian police, re-established 15 years ago when the military began to yield power to civilians.”
Honduras passed a law to create the Military Police for Public Order (Policía Militar del Orden Público, in Spanish) back in August 2013. In Upside Down World, a website that covers politics and activism in the region, Rosemary Joyce and Russell Sheptak explain that “the draft law called for the new force to ‘carry out the takeover of zones, neighborhoods, residential developments, and human settlements or public spaces where gangs or organized crime exercise their illegal activities'”:
Ironically, despite the emphasis on how this new military presence in the streets of Honduran cities should change the security situation, a command decision was taken not to announce when these troops will actually be on patrol in their war against…what?
Journalist Lilian Caballero shared a photo of the military police on October 3:
La policia Militar d #Honduras toma juramento; a partir d hoy pueden demostrar el combate a la delincuencia pic.twitter.com/8oYnPgIM41
— Lilian Caballero (@LilianCaballero) October 3, 2013
Military Police take oath. Starting today they can fight crime.
Gabo Giron in San Pedro Sula said he spotted the police on the streets that same day:
Ya vi que anda la policia militar en las calles #Honduras pic.twitter.com/gR0a5ZDGDD
— Gabo Giron ♪® (@gabogiron1987) October 3, 2013
Writing for the blog InSight Crime, Marguerite Cawley explains that “the national police are notoriously corrupt and a large percentage are thought to have organized crime ties“, but she argues that creating a military police “fails to address the need to reform the existing police.”
While the creation of a militarized police force may be a better alternative than placing the military directly on the streets, the line between the two is hazy and the force ultimately cannot replace the need for an effective national police force. The decision also raises human rights concerns regarding the potential use of military tactics to improve citizen security.
Joyce and Sheptak in Upside Down World add that “there is no political pressure to take a less hostile approach to urban crime” and that according to most polls, “majorities of the Honduran public want military police in the streets, presumably imagining this will cure crime without bringing the kind of violence against bystanders that critics fear”:
For many election cycles, a staple of presidential campaigns has been claiming that your party will improve security; for the Partido Nacional, which according to a recent poll is locked in a statistical tie with LIBRE for the November election, getting the troops out provides a visible sign of how decisively they will act if elected–unlike the current president, also from the Partido Nacional, seen by Hondurans as completely ineffective, and thus an impediment to the election of his party's candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández, the motive force behind this new law.
Hondurans will go to the polls to vote in presidential, parliamentary and local elections next month.
The article in Upside Down World continues:
Which brings us back to the actual deployment of the first 1,000 of a projected 5,000 new militarized police, rushed into service in just over a month, serving as political propaganda if nothing else. If the target size is ever reached, the new force will be one-third the size of the existing civilian police. Better paid and better armed, these new forces may well change the game in cities where the civilian police have been ineffective. However, there are already signs that their missions may take a more troubling turn even then making some of Honduras poorest neighborhoods fire-fight zones.
On Twitter, Carlos Mejía replies to a tweet [es] by political party Partido Anticorrupción (PAC) which says that to eliminate crime there needs to be more jobs and opportunities:
@PAC_HN la generación de trabajo en efecto es necesaria sin embargo también lo es la policía militar. Necesitamos sentirnos seguros. Opinión
— Carlos Mejía (@meji711) October 3, 2013
Creating jobs is indeed necessary, but the military police is also. We need to feel safe. Opinion.
Josue Banegas shares a photo:
Listos para combatir la delincuencia mil policía militar. #Honduras pic.twitter.com/SExjM3LDK8
— JOSUE BANEGAS (@jjbanegas) October 3, 2013
Ready to fight crime, 1,000 military police
And Armando Rene Boquin asks:
@jjbanegas para combatir la delincuencia o para reprimir al pueblo ? — armando rene boquin (@armandorboquin) October 7, 2013
To fight crime or to repress the people?
Meanwhile, Frank Alley wonders:
Listos para operar ¿Brindaran la seguridad que necesitamos? ¿Son la solución?… http://t.co/rsyh4hehbH
— Frank Alley (@tonyalley08) October 4, 2013
Ready to operate. Will they bring the security that we need? Are they the solution?