Freedom of Expression

Joint Press Release R18/17


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras express concern over adopted reforms in the Honduran penal code, retrogressive for human rights and freedom of expression


February 23, 2017


WASHINGTON D.C. & TEGUCIGALPA – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras express concern over the adopted reforms in the Honduran penal code, which may lead to a negative impact in the legitimate exercise and enjoyment of the guarantees and fundamental rights, the protection and promotion of freedom of expression in the country.


On February 21, the Congress of Honduras adopted a reform over article 335 of the penal code, which typifies the criminal offence of terrorism; on February 22, in the same law, it was added and approved article 335 B which typified the criminal offence of apology and incitation of terrorism acts, oriented towards punishing "those who publicly or through means of communication or diffusion for the public makes apology, exaltation or justification of the criminal offence of terrorism or of those who took part in its execution, or incite another or others to committing or financing terrorism will be sanctioned with imprisonment from four to eight years".


The IACHR, the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression and the OHCHR in Honduras take with concern the ambiguity of the offenses as defined in the adopted reform, since they facilitate broad interpretations which can lead to sanctions over conducts which do not correspond to the seriousness and nature of the criminal offence of terrorism. The adoption of too broad definitions of terrorism may bring deliberate distortions of the term, which can be used in order to sanction reinvidications and social movements or the work of human rights defenders.


Albeit it corresponds to the State to determine the conducts which shall be considered as felonies in its obligation to take measures to protect life, integrity and security of the people of Honduras, from the principle of legality derive elements that shall be observed by the States before exercising this power. In this sense, penal models must be formulated without ambiguities, in strict, precise and unequivocal terms which can define clearly which conducts must be sanctioned, establishing with precision which elements and factors distinguish them from other behaviors that are not illegal or that should be sanctioned under other criminal definitions. Penal dispositions typifying conducts in broad, vague or ambiguous ways, allowing its arbitrary application in different contexts, including public demonstrations and the defense of human rights, go against the principle of legality.


Regarding the incitement to violence —understood as the incitement to commit crimes, the breaking of public order or national security— the IACHR have repeatedly stressed that it must be backed up by actual, truthful, objective and strong proof that the person was not simply issuing an opinion (even if that opinion was hard, unfair or disturbing), but that the person had the clear intention of committing a crime and the actual, real and effective possibility of achieving this objective.


The criminalisation of speech relating to terrorism should be restricted to instances of intentional incitement to terrorism understood as a direct call to engage in terrorism which is directly responsible for increasing the likelihood of a terrorist act occurring, or to actual participation in terrorist acts.


Regarding information transmitted through means of communication, States should not restrict reporting on acts, threats or promotion of terrorism and other violent activities unless the reporting itself is intended to incite imminent violence, it is likely to incite such violence and there is a direct and immediate connection between the reporting and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence, as stated in the joint declaration on freedom of expression and countering violent extremism adopted by the rapporteurs on freedom of expression in 2016.


A principal, autonomous body of the OAS, the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.


About the OHCHR in Honduras


On May 4, 2015, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and the Republic of Honduras signed an agreement in order to establish the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country. With the purpose of enhance the enjoyment of human rights, the office monitors independently the situation of human rights in Honduras, advising State institutions and civil society organizations and disseminate information about the human rights.