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Last December, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) and Center for International Policy (CIP) traveled to Honduras for a first-hand look. What we found was a security situation in shambles and a country in dire need of reform. We have compiled our findings into this report which paints a picture of the most alarming issues facing Honduras today, including mass migration, the disturbing and highly visible militarization of law enforcement, grave threats against human rights defenders, and a lack of an effective and independent justice system. The report also examines the role U.S. assistance has played, and can play, in the plight of the Honduran people.

Los defensores de los derechos humanos y periodistas en América Latina y el Caribe pueden no estar al tanto de un poderoso instrumento para poner alto a la impunidad entre las fuerzas militares y policiales que reciben asistencia de los EE.UU.: la “Ley Leahy”.

Introducida por el Senador estadounidense Patrick Leahy en la década de 1990, la Ley Leahy prohíbe al gobierno de los EE.UU. proporcionar asistencia a cualquier unidad militar o policial extranjera si existe información creíble de que tal unidad ha cometido graves violaciones a los derechos humanos con impunidad1. Si el gobierno extranjero toma “medidas efectivas para llevar ante la justicia a los integrantes de la unidad de las fuerzas de seguridad responsables de las violaciones”, el gobierno de los EE.UU. puede reanudar la asistencia a dicha unidad.

Human rights promoters and journalists may be unaware of a powerful tool to curb impunity among military and police that receive U.S. assistance: the “Leahy Law.”

Introduced by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in the 1990s, the Leahy Law prohibits the United States from providing assistance to any foreign military or police unit if there is credible information that such unit has committed grave human rights violations with impunity. If the foreign country takes “effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice,” the U.S. government can resume assistance to that unit.

 

Over the past decade, Honduras has become one of the most dangerous places in the world. In 2013 the country recorded the highest global murder rate, with 79 homicides per 100,000 residents. Honduras has one of the most unequal income distributions and some of the highest under-employment and dropout rates in Latin America, all contributing factors to the rise of street gangs and the recent surge in emigration to the United States. The violence, concentrated in cities and along its border with Guatemala, can largely be attributed to three factors: the international drug trade, gangs and weak security and justice institutions. 

Given the unstable political and security climate, U.S. support for Yemen’s security sector remains a top priority. From Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 to 2014, the U.S. government allocated a total of $343 million in U.S. security assistance to Yemen aimed primarily at strengthening the security forces’ capacity to combat terrorism. As the Obama Administration seeks more funding for U.S. security
assistance to Yemen, there are several serious challenges ranging from concern about the use of U.S. drone attacks, Houthi support for the new agreement and high levels of security force corruption and abuse of power.

This report finds that U.S. assistance has dropped near the lowest levels in more than a decade—about US$2.2 billion foreseen for 2014. But dollar amounts are deceptive. While U.S. diplomatic efforts are flagging, other less transparent forms of military-to-military cooperation are on the rise. For example, the report finds that Special Operations Forces, whose budgets are not being cut as they re-deploy from Iraq and Afghanistan, are visiting Latin America more frequently for joint training in war-fighting skills, intelligence gathering, and other military missions.

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