Honduran sovereignty: who has jurisdiction?

Does the Honduran government have the right to enforce its own Constitution? Isn't it a sovereign nation?

Webster's defines ‘sovereignty' as "supreme power, especially over a body politic; freedom from external control...especially, an autonomous state." Therefore, a simple definition of national sovereignty is the right of a legitimate nation-state to enforce its own laws and determine its own fate without influence, pressure or threat of force from an outside source.

Does Honduras have exclusive jurisdiction to enforce its Constitution, or does the rest of the world have a legitimate say in how Honduras self-governs? In order to answer this question one must first ask if Honduras is an autonomous nation, or is Honduras a dependent territory that must first seek permission prior to enforcing its laws. The answer to this question should help make clear the role of the world in Honduran internal affairs.

Honduras has a long and documented history. Once part of the Mayan empire, it was also the landing site of Columbus' final voyage. Shortly thereafter, Honduras became a part of the Spanish Empire in the new world. Honduras was granted independence from Spain in 1821, but did not become a true independent nation until after 1836. Though there have been various wars and military actions, Honduras has never been re-colonized since gaining their freedom from Spain, and has been operating under civilian rule with a new Constitution since the early 1980s. Interestingly, Honduras was one of the first 26 governments to sign the Declaration by United Nations in 1942; they did so as a recognized independent nation-state.

According to Honduran history, as well as (ironically) the history of the United Nations, Honduras as it exists today is an independent nation-state. Until last Sunday, no one at the U.N. or the Organization of American States (OAS) had any question of Honduran independence; recognized as de jure, it had a right to its own sovereignty.

With the issue of independence established, the question of whether Honduras has exclusive jurisdiction to enact and enforce its own laws will now be examined. As with national sovereignty, I believe that defining the term jurisdiction would be beneficial. Webster's defines ‘jurisdiction' as "the power, right, or authority to interpret and apply the law...the authority of a sovereign power to govern or legislate." To apply the definition to our example, jurisdiction means that Honduras has the exclusive right to administer its own laws.

As with sovereignty, there are many different theories on how a country's jurisdiction relates to other nation-states and international organizations, i.e. the U.N. and the OAS. These theories only matter when there is a conflict between a nation-state's laws and international laws, and they can be summarized under two basic views:

1. domestic and international law form a single legal system, and when they conflict, the nation-state's laws are subservient to international law (monism); and,

2. domestic and international law are separate legal systems, and in conflict the international law is subservient to the domestic (dualism). A good example of dualism is the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Art. VI, paragraph 2) which states that the Constitution and all other U.S. statutes are the "supreme law of the land."

Prior to Sunday, Honduras was not known for having a monistic legal system. In other words, the Honduran Constitution and other federal statutes were and are the supreme law of the land and thus enforced above any international law. However, assuming for a moment that Honduras had a monist legal system, one could ask what international law was broken? Was the former president killed? Was there mass genocide? Were any other nations invaded or involved? The answer to all these questions is "no," and I am left asking on what legal grounds does any other nation-state or international organization have to base their demands for the restoration of Zelaya to the presidency?

On Wednesday, July 1, the OAS stated that the Honduran "coup leaders have three days to restore deposed President Manuel Zelaya to power." At this point one may ask "or what?" According to the OAS, if Honduras does not comply, then the OAS would "suspend Honduras in its rights and duties in [the OAS]." This follows a U.N. resolution, adopted June 30, to not recognize any government in Honduras but Zelaya's. Furthermore, the U.S. has indicated that the only possible resolution of the situation is to return Zelaya to power, and a State Department spokesperson said that the "U.S. was still reviewing whether to cut off aid to" Honduras.

Honduran independence has been established by history and recognized by the U.N. As an independent nation-state, Honduras has exclusive sovereignty within the limits of its jurisdiction, which are its borders. Honduras was experiencing a Constitutional crisis due to the illegal actions of its president, and the other two branches of government sought to resolve the crisis by removing the president. As a result, the U.N., the OAS and the United States have taken upon themselves to return the dictator in the making, and ally to Hugo Chavez, to power by threatening the country with lack of aid, oil and assistance. Yet the U.N., the OAS and the U.S. have no legal grounds to demand his return and have defied Honduran sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction. It is my fear that a dangerous precedent is being set, one that opens the door to interfering with a nation-state's government simply because its constitutional actions are disagreed with.

In closing, I will ask two remaining questions. Why Honduras? Why not North Korea or Iran where international law and human rights violations have long and detailed histories?
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