UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras this year to guard against possible violations by security forces as they crack down on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said on Sunday.
The militarization of the Central American country has helped stem gang bloodshed Hernandez said, while disputing claims that his policy to “put a soldier on every corner” has resulted in a spike in rights violations.
Nonetheless, he told Reuters, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had agreed to place a human rights ombudsman’s office in Honduras before the end of the year.
“The secretary confirmed this with me yesterday,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
“I want to be clear,” he added, “this is being done at our request.”
His predecessor President Porfirio Lobo rolled out the military in 2012 to fight gangs, and Hernandez upped the offensive.
He said his country’s murder rate has dropped to about 55 per 100,000 residents from more than 86 two years ago.
Hernandez said he did not believe violations had increased under his government. “What I‘m sure of is that with the police force we had before, there were more rights violations and impunity,” he said.
Poverty and chronic violence in Honduras were among the main factors behind a surge in illegal migration from Central America to the United States last year that caused a major political headache for President Barack Obama.
From 2012 to 2014, Honduran soldiers were accused of being involved in at least nine murders, over 20 cases of torture and about 30 illegal detentions, according to data compiled by Reuters.
“Clearly, in this kind of work there can always be imperfections and inappropriate methods used, but we have been emphatic that in the struggle against violence we will not tolerate rights violations,” Hernandez said.
Honduras’ Interior Minister Rigoberto Chang has acknowledged there had been cases of military abuses, but said they were isolated incidents and he promised justice.
More boots on the ground has played well politically for Hernandez. But he dodged questions about any plans he has for changing the constitution to allow him to run for a second term.
“Today, my obligation is to perform my duties well, and attack the problems of violence and poverty,” he said when asked if he wants to seek another term.
Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by David Storey and Eric Walsh