The committee of relatives of the disappeared in Honduras
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ORGANIZATION
“We have learned to live together, to work, to give, to embrace our pain. I maintain categorically that there is no resentment, but pain and hope…always hope.” Bertha Oliva de Nativi
COFADEH is a non governmental organization with national and international activities whose fundamental aim it is to fight against all different forms of impunity as well as to revive the memory of the victims. Throught it´s daily struggle Cofadeh tries to keep alive the collective memory of the crime of the enforced disappearances and to avoid the fact that silence converts itself as the most complicit of those responsible.
COFADEH was founded in 1982 by Bertha Oliva de Nativí. She started the organisation in 1982 after her husband, Professor Tomás Nativí, was kidnapped and disappeared.
When Bertha was about 20 years old, she fell in love with “the tenderest man in the world”, and this man, Tomás, fell in love with her. Both were in love with a world they wanted to change. They fought for bread and smiles. One night in 1981, he was kidnapped. He is one of the 184 (oficial number) missing people in the country. Bertha Oliva de Nativí is today the General Coordinator of the Comité of Relatives of Missing Prisoners in Honduras (Cofadeh). This organization was founded by her, along with other women like her, who are searching for their loved ones. “They entered my home, killed our friend, and beat my husband until he was unconscious.Just before he became unconscious, Tomás said to me: ‘They may leave you alive......please, give birth to our son.”
In 1981 after 20 years of dictatorial regimes Honduras returns to the democratic process, but that return to power into civil hands did not mean respect for the constitutionalist state nor for human rights, on the contrary it is in this period of time –following the instructions of the US - that the doctrine of NATIONAL SECURITY is already been aplied in South America The doctrine included
a systematic and selective form of human rights violations. The most emblematic violations where torture, murders and enforced disapearances.
At the moment of 1982, 69 families were victims of enforced disappearance and at the end of that same year 12 families organized and formed the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras. (COFADEH).
The organization starts out with very clear and defined objectives; to recuperate with live their by the state disappeared family members .In some cases this objective has been reached but for the majority this was not the case. Between 1980 and 1989 at least 184 persons disappeared without any investigation carried out by the state nor with any conviction of the those responsible.
Since 1982 and every first friday of the month family and friends of the disappeared along with co-workers of Cofadeh plant themselves in front of the national congressbuildig demanding justice in the name of their loved ones. (Plantón)
In 1988 and 1989 the Interamerican Court of Human Rights found the state of Honduras guilty of the disappearance of Manfredo Velasques and Saul Godinez Cruz and was condemned to pay indemnities to the families of the victims and to punishes those responsible. (something that never happened). In the year 2003 the Honduran state once again was condemned by the same court for the disappearance followed by death of Juan Humberto Sánchez in 1992.
In the nineties, Cofadeh reformulates her objectives and revises her mission and vision incorporating other topics of work outside of the ones that already exist; incorporation and representation of victims of severe violations of human rights, promotion and education in Human Rights, investigation and legal documentation of cases. Cofadeh establishes strategic alliances with similar organizations conserving her independence
and work philosophy. It affiliates herself to regional organizations of Human Rights such as FEFEFAM in 1983 and CODEHUCA in 1993 both with a consultive status before the United Nations. Halfway the nineties COFADEH takes on the task to recuperate from the clandestine cemeteries the remains of the disappeared, activity that
after legitimating has been coordinated with the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights of the District Attorney’s office.
At the beginning of 1998 COFADEH incorporates in it’s work the defense of the Collective Rights (or third generation Human Rights) , the environmental rights and the right of ree speech .Cofadeh contributed considerable to the demilitarization of the country and to the construction of democratic processes and the permanent scrutiny of the actions of the security state forces in relation with Human Rights and Public Security.
In 2001 the state of Honduras gives judicial personality to COFADEH under resolution 24-2001 and in that same year COFADEH wins the National prize of Human Rights that actually is been giving out by the National Commissioner of the Protection of Human Rights. Up to this day COFADEH is almost an obliged point of consultancy and information in the matter of Human Rights and Public security, it is part of important civil coalitions and is an interlocutor–intermediary for international organizations specialized in Human Rights. On the side of being a legitimate and credible institution on a technical political level it has also developed her very own institutionalism.
COFADEH is unique in its kind not only because of the content of its work; it is the only organization that works the cases of the enforced disappeared in Honduras; but also because of the fact that since it´s start it has been an effort lead by women and this is has been very important for their struggle. To this day it are still women who lead and decide the past, present and the future of the organization; including daughters and younger sisters now of the disappeared.
Cofadeh has been a collective effort from the start; it is the banner that’s present in favour of the victims. Cofadeh works directly and on a daily base with the victims. It is an effort that gave the families and others live. Bertha Oliva - as the general coordinator of COFADEH - was present together with 300 other International Human Rights defenders at the subscription of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was also nominated as one of the 1000 Peace women for the Nobel prize in 2005 and in Honduras she has received the award for Human Rights from the national Commission of Human Rights. COFADEH has received numerous recognitions for their work on a national and international level in forms of supportletters, prizes, paintings, poems, songs etc.
Cofadeh has been the organization that pursued and introduced in the national calendar the national day of the disappeared. Cofadeh has been an important actor in debates on law `proposalss sucha as; Law of natural resources , penitentiary law, transparency lwa,etc…Cofadeh has never stopped to question the government about the extra-judicial executions of young people and demands together with other hman rights organizations it´s investigation.
Cofadeh has been a facilitator for numerous In Situ visits such as in the case of the death of the environmentalists, clandestine cemeteries of the eighties,...they have received in the recent past several special rapporteurs from the UN on Human Rights issues .
Special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions of minors Asma Jahangir is one of them. Also varios human rights organisations have visited and consuylted COFADEH about arbitrary detentions, the penitentiary system and the enforced disappearances of detainees. Since the beginning COFADEH has been an internacional reference for many organizations and has a long working relationship with Amnesty International.
Important advances in Human Rights issues have been the Honduran ratification of the protocol of enforced disappearances on the 7th of February of 2007. COFADEH has been lobbying for years on this subject in Geneva through the Latin-American federation of the families disappeared.
COFADEH and it´s members are pioneers in the Education of Human Rights in Honduras and Central America an have installed the issue of the enforced disappearances on the agenda of the state during several governments now. In the process of trying to investigate the destiny of the disappeared.
Contribution to the advance of International Human Rights issues.
Among their achievements, in 1987, Honduras became the first state to becondemned by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, because of its violation of guarantees to citizens. One year later, a new case, this time concerning disappearances, was presented to the Court by their organization, the COFADEH, achieving a similar sentence.
* In the case of Velasquez Rodriguez 2and Juan Sanchez 3a judicial precedent was set and these cases are being consulted by other HR organisations that want to make use of the Interamerican Justice system –In the case of Velasquez Rodriguez it took
three years of legal lobby activities before a sentence was spoken out. This was in full period of the Doctrine of National Security. This is very important to mention because it shows that recurring to International law can make a difference in HR-violation
cases although the practice is part of the political system at that moment in a certain place.
* It’s also important to mention that COFADEH does not only aims at Financial reparation for the family members of the disappeared but even more at dignifying the
memory of the ones that disappeared and were assassinated. Part of this dignifying process is to create full knowledge of every step and every detail of the case for the family members and make them part of ongoing debate and trial preparations.
On this subject Bertha said in an interview: "There's a clear message in these cases to our Honduran government and to the military officials -- you can play with Honduran laws but not with international laws."
Special hearings before the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights in Washington:
* Public Security
* Penitentiary system
* Right to information
* Extrajudicial executions of young people
* Several hearings on enforced disappearances
* Protection of natural resources
Contribution to the advance in national Human Rights issues.
-COFADEH managed to cause the dissolution of the Department of National Investigations “the most criminal body in the country”, the repeal of Compulsory Military Service and, in 1992, the liberation of the last political prisoners.
-Cofadeh has played a major role in the construction as a legal state obligation of the National Ombudsman for Human Rights and even more important in the restructuring
of the Public Ministry with the objective that civil society would have a place where it could be heard when their rights are being violated. . This has been an ongoing struggle especially because of the levels of corruption that infect all legal and administrative structures in the country.
-The work of Cofadeh has given life to projects such as the right to information; an initiative that has been walled for years now by groups of economical and political power.
-Cofadeh has constructed strong strategic alliances with other institutions to advance in the proposal of the transparency law and access to public information a law that was approved end of 2006.
-Cofadeh has been the organisation that pursued and introduced in the national calendar the National Day of the Disappeared.
-Cofadeh has been an important actor in debates on law `proposals.
-Cofadeh has been part of the interinstitutional commission that has presented the
new Penitentiary law.
Difficulties that Bertha Oliva and COFADEH facing and have faced in carrying out its mandate as a result of governmental or other pressure. There are three actions with which COFADEH has involved itself as organisation that have been reasons for threats in the past and that can be source for receiving treaths in the future by opposing groups in power.
* Cofadeh supports in a very active way and unconditionally the struggle of environmental groups that fight against the deprivation of the woods such as MAO (Movimiento Ambientalista de Olancho) y FANO .Cofadeh has an active part in the investigation of the assassination of two environmentalists by security forces in December 2006 by policemen.
* Cofadeh investigates the assassination of ASJ (Asociación por una Sociedad mas Justa) lawyer Dionisius Diaz murdered in December 2006. This lawyer was working for the Labour Rights for Vulnerable Populations
* Cofadeh is one of the few Human Rights organisations that investigate on a daily base the violations committed by members of the Public Security forces. These are COFADEH´s most crucial activities and gives an actualized database on HR violations in the country.
COFADEH has been a target of constant threats towards Bertha Oliva de Nativi, her colleagues and their families.Almost all of them have have received threats, some have been assaulted, kidnapped and followed. The risks have been a permanent part of this work from the start. In an interview I had wit Bertha Oliva she told me: “In the process of trying to investigate the destiny of the disappeared I have been a target of constant threats as are my colleagues....The risks have been inherent to this work from the start and also for our families; we have been threathed, assaulted, kidnapped and followed....The worst time the last couple of years I have passed when Cofadeh presented a motion of unconstitutionality against the law proposal 332 the so called anti gang law. For months after they phoned me with threats for me and my daughter, Amnesty International did an Urgent Action on my behalf at that moment. But like I always say, it will be history that judges me, it is not what they say but what I do...I also have been processed several times for defamation, for state-terrorism in 2002 what got me very worried at that moment...Of course all of these acusations were false trying to intimidate me and stop me.”
Deaththreats against human rights activists are resurging at this moment after three prisoners were killed on the 19th of June, 2007 by their fellow inmates, Bertha Oliva and several other prominent human rightsactivists in Honduras received deaththreats little time after that President Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party anounced the murder
of the prisoners a a moral lessons for those who want to commit crimes such as rape of minors. These declariations sem. To have been the trigger for a wave of violent murders in the country.
The situation in Honduras and that of it´s Human Rights workers is still very unstable and a daily hazard. It´s like Bertha said: "Each morning I kiss my child when I leave for work, not knowing whether it will be the last time I will see her."
26th of June 2007 International conmemoration day for the victims of torture
Bertha Oliva with the ambassador of Cuba,
his wife and co-workers COFADEH
CONTACTS of the Organization:
Committee of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras
Barrio la Plazuela, avenida Cervantes, casa 1301, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Telephone/fax number: 00 504 220 52 80 / 00 504 222 71 44 / 00 504 220 71 47