TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — U.S. officials are demanding answers after learning soldiers trained, vetted and equipped by the U.S. government chased down and killed a teenager in Honduras, where the U.S. is already withholding tens of millions of dollars in police and military aid over concerns about human rights violations.
Ebed Yanes, 15, was killed the night of May 26 after driving through a military checkpoint. His father, Wilfredo Yanes, a mild-mannered organic food supplier, tracked down the soldiers, eventually uncovering an allegedly high-level attempt to hide evidence. Further, his quest led to new information reported this week that the unit in question was supported by the U.S.
"The incident with Ebed Yanes was a tragedy and we urge the Honduran government to assure the perpetrators are brought to justice," State Department press adviser William Ostick said Wednesday.
Ostick said U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske in Honduras had discussed the case with the Honduran special prosecutor for human rights and the country's armed forces shortly after the May incident and "encouraged them to investigate the case fully."
The U.S. had vetted the unit, and then provided it with a Ford 350 truck that was used to chase the teen from the checkpoint. Under U.S. law, all foreign units who receive military or police assistance are vetted before receiving any equipment or training.
Ostick said the U.S. expects individuals and units receiving U.S. support to have "the utmost respect for human rights throughout their careers." He said the U.S. government is helping the Honduras strengthen its internal affairs and insists that officials accused of wrongdoing be investigated.
The vetting begins at the U.S. Embassy, where individuals or units nominated for training or assistance are entered into an internal State Department database, called the International Vetting and Security Tracking system. They check governmental, nongovernmental and media reports on human rights abuses. In some cases the embassy also runs the names through local police and government offices for critical information. Embassies sometimes interview victims when there are indications that government forces have been involved in a gross human rights violation.
Earlier this year, the U.S. began withholding funds from Honduras after reports alleged that a newly appointed national police chief had ties to death squads. U.S. law prohibits assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.
Ebed's death, officials said, is not a new trigger for withholding funds, but instead yet another disturbing incident raising concerns in the U.S. government about support for the current Honduran police and military. Other issues include the killings of human rights activists, journalists and opposition lawyers.