Christian Organization Works To Restore Peace In Violent Honduras
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Honduras may have the highest murder rate in the world. The Christian organization called the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) is working there exclusively to help restore peace to a traumatized population.
Co-founder Dr. Kurt Alan Ver Beek explains the situation, “Honduras’s violence is widely reported on. It’s been listed as having the highest or one of the highest homicide rates in the world for the last several years. Honduras’s systems of laws and justice are very weak, they are applied unfairly (the poor are neglected), and they suffer from endemic corruption. As an example, an AJS study in 2014 found that 96 percent of homicides in Honduras never result in a guilty conviction. With such an ineffective system, what’s to stop the violence?”
“As a result, drug traffickers have flocked to Honduras as a haven for their illicit activities and have aggravated the situation,” he adds.
And these issues are just the tip of the iceberg Ver Beek describes. “At the same time, public services offered by the Honduran government have been hemorrhaging resources to corruption.”
AJS has programs to address peace and public security on one hand and corruption on the other.
Ver Beek describes three of the peace and public security initiatives:
Violence prevention programs in dangerous neighborhoods that work with 350 especially at-risk youth and their families
Teams of investigators, lawyers, and psychologists who solve homicides (84 arrests in 2014) and sexual abuse cases (17 arrests in 2014) in poor neighborhoods — helping to amend the broken bonds of trust that perpetuate violence
Investigations and data-driven advocacy that inform public policy — helping to reduce the national homicide rate by more than 20 percent in the last three years
Similarly, he lists five anti-corruption initiatives:
A watchdog journalism team
Social auditing of the public health and education systems (brought accountability that kept public schools open for more than the government-mandated 200 days, instead of the 125 days of class they had been averaging)
A legal team that helps investigate and report cases of corruption (helped bring 13 government officials to trial related to corruption in the public medication warehouse)
Land rights reform (125 corruption cases reported)
In-depth investigations into five government divisions (part of an agreement between the Honduran government, Transparency International, and AJS)
Ver Beek reports that real progress is being made. “Based on our experience uncovering and working to reform the medication purchasing system, in March of 2014, an independent trust became responsible for the buying and distribution of pharmaceuticals to state-run hospitals. Purchases made by the trust are handled by the United Nations Office for Project Services with technical assistance from the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund. AJS and other civil society groups are providing independent oversight of the trust, plus the delivery of medications. AJS is now seen as a Honduran civil society leader in reforming the public health system and dislodging corruption from it.”
On Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 4:00 Eastern, Ver Beek will join me here for a live discussion about the dangerous and important work of AJS in Honduras. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about the Association for a More Just Society:
AJS is a Honduran NGO that is focused on issues of anti-corruption and anti-violence in Honduras. Honduras continuously has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and the police/justice system is broken to the extent that there is a 96% probability that a murder will never reach a guilty conviction. This is the reality that AJS is working to change — and the dangerous context in which the organization is operating. The range of AJS’s projects is significant, however the efforts that have received the most international attention involve teams of AJS investigators, lawyers, and psychologists who help to ensure convictions in homicide and child sexual abuse cases. As an example of these efforts, AJS has faithfully worked in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa — and has witnessed a drop of more than 75% in the neighborhood’s homicide rate. AJS also operates an investigative journalism website, runs a corruption report hotline, performs extensive corruption investigations, does policy advocacy, and organizes social audits of the public health and education systems. AJS is a Christian organization, and its staff is made up of about 100 brave Hondurans dedicated to making Honduras’s system of laws and government work properly to do justice for the poor. This work involves certain risk, and in 2006 an AJS lawyer was assassinated on his way to court. It should also be noted that AJS is the Honduran chapter of Transparency International.
Dr. Ver Beek’s bio:
Dr. Kurt Alan Ver Beek has lived and worked on development and justice issues in Central America for more than 25 years. Kurt directs Calvin College’s Justice Studies semester in Honduras and has conducted research on the role of faith in development, the effects of short-term missions, and the impact of the maquila industry on Honduras. He is also a co-founder and board member of the Association for a More Just Society (AJS), a Christian justice organization with a specific focus on Honduras. By standing up for victims of violence, labor and land rights abuse, and government corruption in Honduras, organizations around the world, including Transparency International and the United Nations, are increasingly recognizing AJS as a pioneer in achieving justice for the poor. In addition to fighting against drastic crime in Honduran neighborhoods, AJS works towards peace and public security reforms on a national level.
Kurt received his B.A. in sociology from Calvin College, his M.A. in human resource development from Azusa Pacific University, and his Ph.D. in development sociology from Cornell University. Kurt and his wife, JoAnn Van Engen, are originally from the Midwest, but have made Honduras their home since 1988. In 2001, they moved to one of the poorest communities in the capital city of Honduras. Living there has greatly influenced their understanding of how corruption and violence affect the most vulnerable.
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