A Victory for Justice in Honduras

By Abram Huyser Honig 3-01-2010

Last Wednesday morning I awoke with butterflies in my stomach, as did many of my Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa colleagues here in Honduras: at 9:00 a.m., the trial against us started.

In my last post, I wrote about how SETECH, a security company whose abysmal labor practices have motivated more than 150 complaints lodged with the Ministry of Labor in the last five years, but nonetheless enjoys lucrative government contracts, has been trying for years to silence ASJ's outcries on behalf of poor security guards.

Even the assassination of ASJ labor lawyer Dionisio Diaz Garcia in December 2006 did not silence those cries; but nor was it the last threat to ASJ's work. In January 2007, SETECH filed charges against ASJ -- specifically against ASJ co-founder Kurt Ver Beek -- alleging that an ad published by ASJ chronicling SETECH's labor violations, as established by the Ministry of Labor, constituted slander.

Back to Wednesday morning. The date for the trial had been set eight months earlier, and both sides had been preparing. I walked into courtroom #1 at the Francisco Morazán Sentence Tribunal around 9:15 a.m., and saw an awesome sight: every single chair in the gallery was occupied by an ally of justice, many of them representatives of local and international NGOs, there in support of Kurt and ASJ. On the sidewalk outside the court building, two dozen men, women, and children who had benefited from our work held a peaceful demonstration, holding up signs with slogans like "Justice for ASJ." And all of us there for ASJ in the courtroom knew that there were an additional 300 or so people around the world who had sent e-mails to the Supreme Court on our behalf, and thousands who were praying -- and that all of them were with us in spirit.

To our great surprise, the only person conspicuously absent as the minutes ticked by was the one who had caused the whole trial in the first place: Selvin Richard Swasey, owner of SETECH.

At 10:00 a.m. the three judges on the panel assigned to the case assumed their positions behind the judges' table and called the court to order. On the right of the room sat Kurt and ASJ lawyer Veronica Murillo; on the left sat SETECH's lawyer, Jose Marcelino Vargas, alone. The first order of business was to find out why that was. "My client is currently out of the country," Mr. Vargas stated.

Wow. While we were completely prepared to go to trial, rooted in the knowledge and conviction that Kurt and everyone involved with AJS have always sought simply to speak up for the defenseless, Swasey seemed to have realized that he could not win this unjustly founded trial -- and not only preferred not to show up to the courtroom, but had apparently left the country. Due to Swasey's absence, the judges set a new trial date for November of this year. However, given Swasey's decision not to appear in court today, we believe it is highly unlikely that he will show up for a trial in November, or ever.

There are still many battles to be fought. SETECH continues to exploit its workers (last November 80 of them burned their uniforms in protest because they hadn't been paid in three months) yet also continues to hold government contracts. While the hit-men who killed Dionisio were convicted last year, those who hired them have yet to be brought to justice.

Still, SETECH's no-show on Wednesday for a trial they themselves had been pushing for the last three years was an important victory. We are rejoicing, saying to God, in the words of King David, "You made my enemies turn their backs in flight" (2 Samuel 22:41).

Please join us in thanking God!

Abram Huyser Honig is the communications coordinator at Association for a More Just Society (AJS) / Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ).

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