Preliminary Observations concerning the Human Rights Situation in Honduras
December 5, 2014
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today concluded an onsite visit to Honduras, which it carried out December 1-5, 2014, for the purpose of observing the general human rights situation in the country. The delegation was led by the Chair of the IACHR, Tracy Robinson; the First Vice-Chair, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine; and Commissioners José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Rosa María Ortiz, Paulo Vannuchi, and James Cavallaro. Other members of the delegation included the IACHR Executive Secretary, Emilio Álvarez Icaza; the Assistant Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Abi Mershed; and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, as well as specialists from the Executive Secretariat.
The Commission held meetings with State authorities from the three branches of government, civil society organizations, and others who came forward to present information concerning the human rights situation in Honduras. The Commission went to several different regions, without restrictions—including Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba, Tocoa, El Progreso, San Pedro Sula, Bajo Aguán, and Comayagua—and visited care centers for migrant children, as well as Garifuna peoples and peasant communities. In the course of its visit, the IACHR also went to the San Pedro Sula National Penitentiary, the Comayagua National Penitentiary, the detention center at the facility of the “Los Cobras” special police force, the “Renaciendo” Rehabilitation Center for Adolescents, the “Marco Aurelio Soto” National Penitentiary, and the detention centers located at the Army’s First and Third Infantry Battalions.
The IACHR met with the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández; the Foreign Minister, Roberto Ochoa Madrid; the Secretary of Justice, Human Rights, Governance, and Decentralization, Rigoberto Chang Castillo; the Secretary of Labor and Social Security, Carlos Madero Erazo; the Deputy Foreign Minister, María del Carmen Nasser Selman; the Deputy Secretary of Justice and Human Rights, Karla Cuevas; the Secretary of Defense, Samuel Armando Reyes Rendón; the National Director of Investigation and Intelligence, Gen. Julián Pacheco Tinoco; the Secretary of Health, Edna Yolani Batres; the Attorney General of the Republic, Abraham Alvarenga; the Deputy Attorney General, Jorge Abilio Serrando; and the Director of Prosecutors in the Office of the Public Prosecutor, Rolando Edgardo Argueta. It also met with members of the Secretariat of Security; the Secretariat of Education; the Secretariat of the Development Sector and Social Inclusion; the State Secretariat in the Offices of Labor and Social Security; the National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH); the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (CONAPREV); the National Prison Institute; the National Women’s Institute; the Office on Children, Adolescents, and Families; the Institute for Access to Public Information; the National Agrarian Institute; the National Institute on Migration; and the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL). In the city of San Pedro Sula, the IACHR met with the Deputy Mayor, Liliana Humaña, and other authorities. In the city of Tocoa, the Commission met with the Governor of Colón, Ghisell Padilla Pelayo; the Mayor, Adán Fúnez Martínez; the Coordinator of the Violent Deaths Unit of Bajo Aguán (UMVIBA), Javier Antonio Guzmán; the Attorney for UMVIBA, Mitzy Villatorio V.; the Commander of Operation Xatruch, Col. René Jovel Martínez; the Deputy Commissioner of Police Forces, Marco Tulio Cruz Aguilar; and a Representative of the Secretariat of Health, Jaime Rosales Anaya.
The IACHR also met with the President of the National Congress, Mauricio Oliva Herrera, and congressional representatives. The Inter-American Commission also met with representatives of the Supreme Court, the National Council of the Judiciary, and the National Coordinating Committee of Criminal Court Judges.
The IACHR met with the following civil society organizations: Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa (ACI-PARTICIPA), Asociación Civil Jóvenes Hondureños Adelante Juntos Avancemos (JAH-JA), Asociación de Defensores Públicos de Honduras (ASODEPH), Asociación de Fiscales de Honduras, Asociación Intermunicipal y Vigencia Social de Honduras (AIDEVISH), Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia (AJD), Asociación LGTB Arcoíris de Honduras (Asociación ARCOÍRIS), Asociación Libre Expresión, Asociación de Medios de Comunicación, Asociación de Medios Comunitarios de Honduras (AMCH), Asociación de la Prensa, Asociación de Productores Medicina (APROMENCOL), Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (Honduras chapter of Transparency International), Asociación para una Vida Mejor de Personas Infectadas por el VIH/SIDA en Honduras (APUVIMEH), Asociadas por lo Justo (JASS), Atlántida, Brigadas Internacionales de Paz (PBI), Caritas de San Pedro Sula (CARITAS), Caritas Trujillo, Casa Alianza Honduras (CAH), Casa Asti, Central Nacional de Trabajadores del Campo (CNTC), Centro de Derechos de Mujeres (CDM), Centro de Estudios para la Democracia (CESPAD), Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras (CEM-H), Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH), Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Central Nacional de Trabajadores del Campo (CNTC), Centro de Prevención, Tratamiento y Rehabilitación de Víctimas de la Tortura (CPTRT), Centro de Productos Naturales (CENAT), Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas (CODEMUH), Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa (CUCR), Colegio Profesional Unión Magisterial de Honduras (COPRUMH), Colegio Profesional Superación Magisterial Hondureña (COLPROSUMAH), Colegio de Profesores de Educación Media de Honduras (COPEMH), Colonia Los Cedros, Comisión Ciudadana de Transparencia (CCT), Comisión Internacional de Juristas (CIJ), Comité de América Latina y del Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujeres-Honduras (CLADEM), Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras (CODEH), Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH), Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre), Comité de Oxford para la Ayuda contra el Hambre (OXFAM), Comité Pro Defensa Aguán, Comunidad de Barra Vieja, Comunidad La Ceiba, Comunidad Gay Sampedrana para la Salud Integral (CGSSI), Comunidad Nueva Armenia, Comunidad Nueva Esperanza, Comunidad Santa Fe, Comunidad Santa Rosa de Aguán, Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (COHEP), Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos, Coordinadora de Instituciones Privadas por las Niñas, Niños, Adolescentes, Jóvenes y sus Derechos (COIPRODEN), Coordinadora de Organizaciones Populares del Aguán (COPA), Diario Tiempo, El Heraldo, Empresa Asociativa Campesina de Isletas (EACI), Equipo de Monitoreo Independiente de Honduras (EMIH), Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC-SJ), Escuela Raul Medrano, Federación de Tribus Pech de Honduras (FETRIPH), Federación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras (FUTH), Foro de Mujeres por la Vida, Foro Nacional de Sida (FOROSIDA), Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP), Fundación Alfredo Landaverde (FAL), Fundación Hondureña de Rehabilitación e Integración del Limitado (FUHRIL), Fundación Parque Nacional Pico Bonito (FUPNAPIB), Fundación Pestalozzi, Fundación San Alonso Rodríguez (FSAR), Gemelos de Honduras , Grupo Lésbico/Bisexual Litos (Go Lésbico), Grupo de Mujeres YAACHE, Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN), Hospital Atlántida, Iglesia Católica, Iglesia Evangélica Baustista Misr (IEBM), Instituto Oficial Unión y Esfuerzo (Unión y Esfuerzo), Instituto Psicopedagógico “Juana Leclerc” (IPJL), Instituto Tecnológico de Administración de Empresas (INTAE-SPS), Movimiento Ambientalista Santabarbarense (MAS), Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ), Movimiento Amplio Universitario (MAU), Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador Campesino del Aguán (MARCA), Movimiento Campesino Refundación Gregorio Chávez (MCRGC), Movimiento Campesino Vallecito (MCV), Movimiento de Mujeres de la Colonia López Arellano (MOMUCLAA), Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz Visitación Padilla, Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán (MUCA), Municipal de San Pedro Sula, Observatorio Ecuménico Internacional de los Derechos Humanos (OEIDH), Observatorio Permanente de Derechos Humanos del Aguán (OPDHA), Oficina Municipal de la Mujer (OMM), Organización de Desarrollo Étnico Comunitario (ODECO), Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH), Pastoral Penitenciaria San Pedro Sula, Patronato Colonia D’Antoni, Patronato para el Desarrollo Cultural-La Ceiba (Patronato CD), Patronato Sambo Creek, Patronato Triunfo de la Cruz, SERSO – Jutiapa, Patronato 21 Oct., Pen Internacional-Honduras (PEN), Plan-Internacional, Plan-Internacional Honduras, Plan para la Niñez, Plataforma Agraria, Por el Derecho a una Alimentación Adecuada y a la Nutrición (FIAN-Honduras), Programa de Rehabilitación para Parálisis Cerebral (PREPACE ), Proyecto de Acompañamiento Internacional en Honduras (PROAH), Proyecto Alternativas y Oportunidades, Radio Alter Eco, Radios Comunitarias Lencas–COPINH, Radio Comunitaria Sugua–Sambo Creek, Radio Exclusiva de Tela, Radio Globo and Globo TV, Radio Progreso, Radio Valle de Ángeles, Red Balance, Red de Desarrollo Sostenible, Red Discapacidad Honduras, Red Lésbica CATTRACHAS (CATTRACHAS), Red de Mujeres Jóvenes de Cortés, Red de Mujeres Mariposas Libres, Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras (RNDH), Representantes del Pueblo Tolupán, Servicios Técnicos, Legales y Económicos (SETELEC), Sindicato de Empleados Públicos de la Educación (SIEMPE), Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (STENEE), Sindicato de Trabajadores de la DEI (SITRADEI), Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Bebida y Similares (STIBYS), Sindicato de Trabajadores del Instituto Nacional Agrario (SITRAINA), Sindicato de Trabajadores de la DEI (SITRADEI), Sindicato de Trabajadores del Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (SITRAPANI), Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (SITRAUNAH), Tribuna de Mujeres contra los Femicidios (TMCF), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH), YAAXCHE, and 45 TV.
The Inter-American Commission also met with various United Nations agencies, including the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UN Women, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
The Commission thanks President Juan Orlando Hernández and his government for the invitation to conduct this visit, and appreciates all the logistical support and assistance provided for the visit to be carried out in a satisfactory manner. The Commission also appreciates the hospitality with which the delegation was welcomed. The Commission also recognizes and values the information provided by the government, and its openness to establish a dialogue with the IACHR.
VIOLENCE AND CITIZEN INSECURITY
The IACHR verified that violence and insecurity are grave problems faced by Honduran society. During this visit, the IACHR constantly received information severely criticizing the actions of public security institutions, as well as the lack of results in efforts to combat violence. This situation has led to high levels of violence in recent years, with serious impacts on individuals in various activities, professions, and occupations, as well as on specific groups.
According to a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants rose in Honduras from 50.9 in 2000 to 81.8 in 2010, 91.4 in 2011, and 90.4 in 2012. In fact, in 2013 Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. According to information provided by the State—based on statistics from the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), which uses a different methodology than that of the UNODC—the homicide rate dropped from 85.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012 to 79 in 2013. Even using these statistics, the homicide rate continues to be one of the highest in the region and in the world.
Violence against Human Rights Defenders
Human rights defenders in Honduras are targets of attacks by those they have identified as responsible for human rights violations or by sectors and groups whose interests run counter to their causes. The Commission observed with concern the figures presented by COFADEH (Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras), which reports that since 2010 there have been 3,064 cases of criminalization, resulting from the improper use of criminal law to intimidate human rights defenders; 22 killings; 2 disappearances; 15 kidnappings; 88 cases in which information has been stolen; and 53 cases involving sabotage of the vehicles in which they were traveling.
The Commission received information concerning the situation of a number of labor union leaders who are criminalized, or they or members of their immediate families are subject to surveillance and stalking. The Commission received information about one union leader whose 18-year-old son “went missing” and was “tied up and tossed out” to the south of the city. Another union leader indicated that unknown individuals had entered his house, hit his wife and daughters, and left them tied up. “This is an action of terror and fear, and they are doing it to all union organizations in order to dismantle them,” he said.
Violence against Indigenous Leaders
The IACHR also received alarming information concerning killings, acts of violence, and death threats against indigenous leaders, particularly those who defend their territories and natural resources, in the context of the development of mega-projects without prior and informed consultation. “So they tell me they’re going to kill me. I’m not afraid. I’m exposed, waiting to die,” a woman who defends the rights of indigenous peoples in La Ceiba told the IACHR. The State, for its part, did not provide the IACHR with information concerning specific measures to prevent killings and acts of violence against indigenous leaders and defenders of indigenous rights. As the Commission has indicated before, many of the attacks on the lives and physical integrity of indigenous leaders and rights defenders are intended to reduce the activities they carry out to defend and protect territories and natural resources, as well as to defend the right to autonomy and cultural identity.
Violence against Children and Adolescents
The widespread context of violence and citizen insecurity makes Honduran children and adolescents especially vulnerable. The IACHR received information from civil society indicating that 454 children and adolescents had died between January and June of this year because of the violence in the country. The Commission observes that there is an urgent need to set up a national system for the promotion and comprehensive protection of children’s rights, with a strong preventive focus that guarantees children’s rights to a family and community life free of all types of violence.
Violence against Journalists and Members of the Media
The IACHR observed the serious situation of insecurity in which journalists and members of the media perform their work in Honduras. Since December 2013, at least two journalists and one media worker have been killed, all in the department of Yoro, for reasons that could be associated with the practice of their profession. One journalist worked for the Vida Televisión station and was a correspondent for the Globo chain; another was a journalist from the municipality of Olanchito. In the case of the man who worked for Radio Progreso, who was a beneficiary of precautionary measures, the judicial investigation reportedly ended with the perpetrator being prosecuted. During the visit, the IACHR was also able to document that serious and multiple attacks and death threats continue to be carried out against journalists because of their profession. “I’m thinking about going into another line of work,” said a journalist who had been forced to move to another region in the country after receiving threats for reporting a case of corruption. This year, one of his sources was killed, along with the police officer who was guarding him. “I have to think of my children. I’m both mother and father to them. These children only have me, and it’s not fair for me to expose them and place them at risk in this way. Unfortunately, I now have to choose between my children and my profession. Believe me, this is not easy for me,” he explained.
Violence against Women
In addition, the IACHR received troubling information concerning the high number of killings and acts of violence against women in Honduras. Civil society organizations reported that 2,592 women had been killed from 2010 through November 2014. According to figures from the UNAH Violence Observatory, 453 violent deaths of women occurred between January and November of this year. The Observatory reported that a woman loses her life an average of every 17 hours. It said that 71 percent of the women murdered in 2014 were killed with firearms. In that regard, organizations reported that the State has not taken effective measures to prevent violence, such as through effective gun control. It was also reported to the IACHR that women continue to be victims of sexual violence on the part of State agents, including members of the military police. With regard to defenders of women’s rights, one such defender in La Ceiba told the IACHR, “There are only a few of us, so we’re exposed. Everyone knows where to find us.”
In terms of family violence against women, a female justice of the Supreme Court told the IACHR that “violence against women is considered natural.” She indicated that the State has “worked hard to protect victims of domestic violence.” For their part, representatives of the State informed the IACHR about various measures it has adopted to address the situation of violence against women. The State reported that it has strengthened the Council of the Judiciary’s Gender Unit to address the situation of violence against women. It noted that under the 2013 legislative amendment to the Criminal Code, femicide was classified as a crime, carrying a sentence of 30 to 40 years. The Commission observes that the grave situation of violence against women demands a much stronger response by the State. It notes that it is essential for the State to take women’s needs into account in the design of citizen security policies and to give special attention to the situation of women in rural areas where there is little presence of State institutions.
Violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans (LGBT) Persons
Civil society organizations reported a high number of cases in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans persons have been killed in Honduras. They reported that from 2009 to December 1, 2014, 174 violent deaths of LGBT persons were registered in the country (90 gays, 15 lesbians, and 69 trans persons), primarily in the departments of Cortés and Francisco Morazán. “There is no government proposal to prevent violent deaths,” one defender of the rights of LGBT persons told the IACHR in Tegucigalpa. For its part, the State indicated that several of such cases involving violent deaths had been prosecuted. However, while the State reported on the investigation into a number of cases, it did not present information on measures to prevent violence against LGBT persons.
Civil society organizations reported that in Honduras there is a social environment of historical discrimination against LGBT persons that involves violence motivated by prejudice. In this regard, the IACHR points to the link between discrimination against LGBT persons and violence against them due to prejudice. “In Honduras, there are no public policies that benefit LGBT persons. None,” a trans woman who defends the rights of LGBT persons stated to the IACHR in Tegucigalpa.
The Commission also received multiple reports of violations carried out against defenders of the rights of LGBT persons. These defenders are said to be subjected constantly to attacks and harassment by groups seeking to impose a structural discrimination against them through violence. In addition, it was reported, on a number of occasions defenders of LGBT rights have been subject to arbitrary detentions by the National Police, allegedly for posing a threat to “morals and good customs.” One trans woman and rights defender told the IACHR, “In Honduras, you’re criminalized for the simple fact of being trans, for being a human rights defender, for being part of this society.”
Violence against Honduran Migrants
The IACHR received important information on the various forms of violence to which migrants are subject, in their search for better opportunities. The Commission observes with concern the information provided by the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso, indicating that in recent years 400 migrants have disappeared enroute to the United States without the State of Honduras adopting any mechanisms to search for those who are still living, or a technical team to search for and identify remains. Given the complexity of the push and pull factors behind these mixed migration flows in the region, the Commission stresses the importance that Honduras establish strategies in coordination with the countries of the region to develop joint migration policies with a human rights approach, to address these factors comprehensively, and adopt effective measures to prevent the causes behind forced migration.
This situation is particularly disturbing with regard to Honduran children and adolescent migrants who travel unaccompanied, primarily to reunite with their families. The IACHR has received consistent information indicating that from October 2013 through September 2014, more than 18,000 unaccompanied child and adolescent migrants from Honduras were detained in the United States. This number is higher than the total 12,703 detentions registered from 2009 to 2013. In June 2014, more than 13,000 Honduran children were in detention centers in the United States. In response to this problem, the State of Honduras noted that in July of this year it had declared a humanitarian emergency, giving priority to national and international cooperation to coordinate an adequate response. It gave the recently created Office of Children, Adolescents, and Family (DINAF) a mandate to accompany and protect children and families in the process of repatriation and reintegration. Nonetheless, the Commission was informed about the worryingly weak government response in terms of making children a public policy priority and preventing the factors that push them to leave the country. The Commission urges the State to adopt the necessary measures to ensure the full reintegration of returned migrant children to their families and communities, and to design strategies to tackle structural risk factors.
With regard to violence against any human rights defenders—including those who defend the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, unions, children and adolescents, journalists and media workers, women, and LGBT persons—the Commission urges the State of Honduras to intensify and expand the human and material resources devoted to conducting prompt, diligent, and impartial investigations into these killings, and to apply the appropriate criminal penalties, so as to avoid impunity and a repetition of similar incidents.
Violence in the Context of the Conflict over Lands in Bajo Aguán
The Commission traveled to Bajo Aguán, in Tocoa, where, in the context of a land-related conflict, there have been an alarming number of deaths, threats, and acts of harassment and intimidation against peasants who are working in the defense of their territories, and some people have disappeared. During a meeting held at a community center named after Gregorio Chávez, a campesino leader killed in 2012, peasant organizations in the area and members of the Panamá community provided testimony to the IACHR regarding the ongoing serious security crisis and militarization in the region. The IACHR heard testimony of ongoing killings, disappearances, kidnappings, and cases of torture during detentions; the discovery of a clandestine cemetery; the practice of carrying out violent evictions that allegedly do not comply with international human rights standards; and threats made against human rights defenders in the area. These accounts point to a complete absence of the most basic measures to address reports of grave human rights violations in the region—especially to carry out a proper investigation and identify those presumed to be implicated—despite patterns of violence that these peasant organizations have identified regarding the possible participation of State authorities in the alleged incidents.
Members of the community also presented information concerning a close collaboration between public authorities and owners of private landed estates in the area. “Here the police, the military, prosecutors, judges, all of them are ready to defend the owners of the big farms, while we are the ones who are dying,” an inhabitant of the Panamá community told the IACHR. One leader of the campesino movement stated that during an eviction carried out by the military, “they insulted us in a way that was hurtful, threw us to the ground, and hit us. They told us they were going to put a bullet in each of us, while [the military forces] put their weapons up to our ears.” Another community resident said, “I’ve lost my mother and father, because hit men killed my family…. We have gone to different places to lodge complaints about these events, and we have not obtained any results.”
MILITARIZATION AS A RESPONSE
In this context of extensive violence, the Inter-American Commission observes that in recent years Honduras has been undergoing a process of legal and institutional reforms by which the Armed Forces have been participating to a greater extent in various spheres of government. In this regard, the Army has been entrusted with functions that do not necessarily suit its nature, such as for example carrying out citizen security tasks; maintaining high-security detention centers; and educating children and youth.
Military Public Order Police
On August 22, 2013, the Congress of the Republic, by means of Decree 168-2013, created the Military Public Order Police. This measure, according to the official discourse, responds to the need to have a security force that can effectively take on the citizen security challenges posed by the actions of organized crime and other threats to the citizenry, while measures are being adopted to address the alleged disrepute and inadequacies of the National Police. However, there are no facts in evidence to indicate that concrete steps are being taken to strengthen the civilian National Police force. To the contrary, it is a matter of concern that in practice there has been somewhat of a duplication of functions between the military police and civilian National Police, without a clear definition of the specific areas of action, even geographic and operational areas, for each of these security forces. Also of concern are initiatives by the executive branch to elevate this security force to constitutional status, as an integral part of the Armed Forces.
The IACHR notes the breadth and lack of legal specification of the functions of the military police, particularly the provision contained in paragraph 5, Article 7, of Decree 168 (added via Decree 286 of 2013), which establishes that the military police shall also have all those functions and actions that may be ordered by the President of the Republic. In addition, the IACHR believes that it is necessary to understand the content, scope, and manner of carrying out the provision contained in Article 4 of Decree 168 of 2013, which provides that the military police shall receive “the training necessary for dealing with the public.”
The Inter-American Commission also believes that the management of this new military police must be governed by strict criteria of transparency of information provided to the citizenry. In this sense, it is essential for there to be true judicial and institutional oversight of the legality of this security force’s actions, and for any human rights violations it may be responsible for to be duly investigated and punished.
The Military Role in Prisons
The IACHR welcomes efforts made by the government with regard to prison staff and the training provided to security guards working in prisons. However, the Commission observed that concrete progress has yet to be made on moving toward a specialized, essentially civilian prison management model, instead of the police-military model still in effect.
In its visit to the detention center located at the “Los Cobras” military facility, the Commission observed that those detained there are being held in unsanitary conditions that are incompatible with human dignity. The Commission also learned that four days before its visit, the prison administration transferred half of the inmates and opened cell windows into the hallway, and that without these steps the atmosphere would have been even more suffocating. The detention conditions in this establishment constitute, in themselves, a form of inhuman and degrading treatment.
With respect to the situation of the detention centers located at the Army’s First and Third Infantry Battalions, it is troubling that those being detained are only allowed to leave their cells for one hour per day, based on a conception of internal security that is apparently not based on an individualized risk evaluation and does not take into account the minimum standards applicable to persons deprived of liberty.
During the course of its visit, the Commission also observed that in both the First and Third Infantry Battalion, facilities are being built to double the housing capacity of the respective detention centers located on those military bases. Such measures are another reflection of the progressively increasing role of the Armed Forces as the entity responsible for managing high-security detention centers.
The “Guardians of the Fatherland” program
Civil society representatives informed the IACHR that the State-run “Guardians of the Fatherland” program promotes a military culture, by involving the Armed Forces in the civic and religious education of Honduran children and adolescents. They reported that children in communities are picked up in Army vehicles by members of the military, who are carrying their weapons. Children and adolescents carry out activities and exercises in designated areas, divided into groups named after battalions. The civil society representatives stated that in some indigenous communities the children do not have a choice not to participate in the program.
It is evident to the Inter-American Commission that the implementation of the “Guardians of the Fatherland” program, an education initiative geared toward children and adolescents, is not a natural function for the Army. The expansion of the Armed Forces’ field of operations to the education and indoctrination of children and adolescents is another manifestation of this phenomenon of militarization of public spaces.
In response to these criticisms, the State argued that through this program, the military only make its premises available and that it coordinates with other entities, such as the church and other volunteers, who provide civil and religious education to children and adolescents at “social risk.” According to the authorities, the program seeks to contribute to young people’s education and reduce the risk that they will become involved with organized crime. The Honduran State also expressed its conviction that this program will generate a culture of peace in a country “where violence reigns.”
The Commission believes that the State’s interest in offering safe places for the education of children and adolescents is legitimate. However, the role of the Armed Forces —the defense of the country from external security threats—is incompatible with the coordination of civic education programs for children. Moreover, it is relevant to observe that this initiative comes within a context of militarization of various State functions that belong to other State agencies. Assigning this initiative to the Armed Forces reflects deficiencies in the State mechanisms responsible for children’s education, and exemplifies the major challenges that remain to build and consolidate a comprehensive system for the protection of children and adolescents.
The Commission has affirmed, in this regard, that matters related to citizen security are the exclusive purview of properly organized and trained civilian police forces. The IACHR reiterates that since the Armed Forces lack adequate training for controlling citizen security, it is up to a civilian police force, one that is efficient and respectful of human rights, to combat insecurity, crime, and violence in the country.
The IACHR observes that, according to what it has learned, the content of the “Guardians of the Fatherland” program is directly influenced by the participation of the military forces and that its implementation at military facilities could pose particular risks for children. In this regard, the Commission recommends that the State develop the necessary competencies to provide opportunities and education for the neediest children through entities that specialize in children’s rights and needs, as another step forward in this process.
VIOLENCE AND IMPUNITY: A VICIOUS CYCLE
During its visit, the Commission confirmed the high rate of impunity that continues to exist in Honduras; according to civil society, impunity ranges between 95 and 98 percent. In Bajo Aguán, for example, even though more than 100 people have been killed in the context of the agrarian conflict in the region, the impunity rate is alarming. In another example of grave impunity, the Commission received information indicating that three years after 362 people died in the fire that took place on February 14, 2012, at the Comayagua National Penitentiary, there has not yet even been an initial hearing in the case. This impunity frustrates expectations for justice for the direct victims of attacks, and forces everyone in Honduran society to limit their circumstances and plans in line with the context of violence in which the society is immersed.
In meetings with various government officials, the Commission received information about some measures that have been adopted for the purpose of restoring society’s confidence in justice institutions, strengthening efforts against organized crime, and reducing corruption. These measures include the creation of special units in the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the strengthening of technical-scientific investigations at crime scenes, and the classification of femicide as a crime. However, as a result of its visit, the Commission attests that critical challenges remain for the announced measures to be effective.
Impunity in Cases involving Violence against Human Rights Defenders
Impunity has serious effects on the work of human rights defenders. The Commission heard the testimony of one beneficiary of provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Court, who stated that “impunity is at the heart of all the violations that affect those of us who defend human rights.” In San Pedro Sula, meanwhile, the Commission heard the testimony of a human rights defender who said that after making inquiries in an attempt to find justice over the killing of one of her brothers, “they grabbed me, put a pistol to my temple, got me into the house, and told me, ‘Shut up, because if you keep meddling we’ll kill you.’” In the end, she said, they ended up killing not her, but her younger brother. She said that “nobody, absolutely nobody, is paying for these deaths.”
Impunity in Cases involving Violence against Journalists and Media Workers
According to information provided by civil society organizations that work on freedom of expression issues, between 2003 and 2009 three journalists and media workers were killed. Since the coup d’état of June 28, 2009, there have reportedly been 46 killings. They stated that in some of these cases there are theories and evidence pointing to a connection between the killings and the practice of journalism, but that the investigations have not advanced sufficiently and in no case has the person who masterminded the killing been identified.
State authorities expressed their commitment to prevention and to ending impunity in these cases. They provided some statistics to the IACHR on the results obtained from the investigations. According to the information received, in 2013 six investigations were opened, prosecutorial summonses were issued in two cases, and there has been one conviction and two acquittals. In 2014, seven investigations reportedly were opened, summonses were issued in two cases, and there were two convictions and one arrest warrant.
Impunity in Cases involving Violence against Women
The IACHR was informed that the impunity rate in cases involving sexual violence and killings of women is 95 percent. With regard to the killings, civil society organizations maintain that including the criminal charge of femicide in the legal system has not produced effective results; for example, out of the total 453 violent deaths of women recorded so far this year, prosecutors have issued 10 summonses. For its part, the State affirmed that so far there have been 70 prosecutorial summonses and 20 convictions, and that the rest of the cases are being investigated to determine whether they qualify as femicides. The State also reported that there are domestic violence courts to investigate cases of violence against women. On that point, civil society organizations note that family courts exist only in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba, and that the existence of these courts does not provide sufficient guarantee that these cases will be investigated, particularly in other parts of the country.
Civil society organizations report that there are serious flaws in the administration of justice with respect to cases involving violence against women, including delays in cases. “When a woman files a complaint about violence, they give her an appointment in three months. From now until March, either the victim reconciles with her assailant or he ends up killing her,” a woman who defends women’s rights in Tegucigalpa told the IACHR. Among the flaws in the justice system, according to civil society organizations, is that prosecutors in the Office of the Prosecutor for Women are not specialized or trained to investigate crimes from a gender perspective. “Women who go there leave worse than when they arrived, because they are told they are responsible for the attacks on them because of how they dress or because they don’t take proper care of their husbands or partners,” a defender of women’s rights in Tegucigalpa told the Commission.
Impunity in Cases involving Violence against LGBT Persons
With regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans persons, civil society organizations informed the IACHR that 141 violent deaths were reported between January 2010 and October 2014. They claim that only 30 cases have been prosecuted, of which nine have resulted in convictions and four in acquittals. According to civil society organizations, there are few cases in which peoples are prosecuted or sentenced because the national system for investigating crimes does not have the tools it needs to recover evidence, and the judicial system does not provide effective protection for witnesses in cases involving violence against LGBT persons. They also indicate that investigations into deaths of LGBT persons are influenced by discriminatory stereotypes. For its part, the State reported that the Unit on Deaths with a High Social Impact, part of the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is investigating these deaths, and that this had made it possible to prosecute certain cases. The State reported that between 2013 and 2014, there had been 32 investigations opened into violent deaths, and in 15 of these cases a prosecutorial summons had been issued. Arrest warrants had been issued in two cases, convictions in three, and acquittals in four of the cases, according to the State.
The IACHR reiterates that it is essential for the State of Honduras to urgently conduct investigations in order to shed light on the deaths of peasants, persons deprived of liberty, human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, women, and LGBT persons, and to prosecute and punish those responsible for these crimes. The State must also adopt permanent protection mechanisms to guarantee the lives and safety of members of these groups who may be at risk. Maintaining impunity not only constitutes a denial of justice for the victims’ next of kin, but also sends a message to society that violence against these persons is tolerated by the State.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE
“National Jurisdiction” Prosecutors and Judges in Support of the Military Police
During its visit, the Commission received information on the appointment of a corps of “national jurisdiction” prosecutors and judges to support the work carried out by the Military Public Order Police. According to provisions of the Military Public Order Police Act, which was published in August 2013 and regulates this initiative, its purpose is to strengthen their independence “for the purpose of…investigating, prosecuting, and convicting criminals.”
Although this is a legitimate aim in the context of violence generated by organized crime, this strategy creates concerns from a human rights perspective. These concerns are fundamental, because under the law it is precisely these prosecutors and judges who not only accompany the military police but also have the exclusive authority to, respectively, bring criminal charges and try cases in which crimes have been committed by members of the military police. In light of the information given to the Commission during its visit, this situation is highly problematic because of the aspects detailed below.
First, the Commission notes that the appointment of this corps of prosecutors and judges is confirmed in the framework of the National Defense and Security Council, created in 2011, which includes the joint participation of a number of authorities. They include the President of the Supreme Court; the Attorney General; the head of the Office of the Secretary of State for Security; the head of the Office of the Secretary of State for National Defense; and the President of the Republic, who presides for the purpose of “guiding, designing, and overseeing general public policies related to security, national defense, and intelligence” as well as “harmonizing” actions to improve the performance of the participating agencies. Throughout the Commission’s visit, this common purpose shared by the prosecutor’s office, judges, and members of the military was consistently perceived by a number of organizations to be an aspect that affects the impartiality of these justice sector operators.
Second, under the law creating the Military Public Order Police, the teams of prosecutors and judges to “accompany” these police are appointed before confidence tests are administered by the National Investigation and Intelligence Administration, an agency whose director is appointed by the National Defense and Security Council, outside the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Third, the applicable law indicates that these judges and prosecutors can hold hearings without having to determine their physical location; these can be done online or even from outside the country. The Commission received information concerning at least five cases before courts of national jurisdiction in which hearings were held in military facilities, an aspect that would affect the perception of impartiality in those trials.
Fourth and finally, the Commission observes that the President of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General, who participate in and enter into agreements as part of the National Council, hold significant sway in disciplinary proceedings for judges and prosecutors. This situation creates the risk that these justice operators will guide their actions in accordance with agreements adopted by the National Council, out of fear that they will be subject to disciplinary proceedings if they do not do so.
To sum up, the Commission cautions that, in addition to the involvement of the appointed judges and prosecutors in providing day-to-day support to the military police, the strategy of joint action on the part of the authorities who make up the Council and who share a common purpose means that there is always a degree of direct or indirect participation by authorities outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary in procedures, whether in the appointment or removal of justice operators or in the course of their employment. These outside authorities include the executive branch and, specifically, the head of the Office of the Secretary for National Defense, which represents the military police.
The Commission expresses its concern given that these judges and prosecutors could lack sufficient guarantees of independence and impartiality to try cases involving human rights violations committed by members of the military police, creating a model of special justice with the characteristics of a special jurisdiction. This model also leads to a serious imbalance in the rights of those who are investigated and prosecuted, whose cases can even be heard in military installations or facilities. The Commission urges the State of Honduras to review this law and ensure that it does not violate the standards of independence and impartiality that must exist in the investigation and punishment of human rights violations.
The Council of the Judiciary and the Process of “Judicial Purging”
The Commission has consistently stressed the importance for due process to be observed in cases involving the punishment of judges, so as to ensure their independence and thus guarantee due process in the cases they try. After having learned, in June 2009, about the arbitrary dismissal from office of a number of magistrates and judges in the context of the coup d’état, and in 2013 about the summary dismissal of four Supreme Court justices, the Commission believes it is necessary to pay special attention to the results obtained by the Council of the Judiciary in conducting disciplinary proceedings of judges during the slightly more than one year since it began operations.
The Commission notes, first of all, that the creation of the Council of the Judiciary is an essential step to differentiate the functions involved in imparting justice from those involved in managing and governing the judiciary. The IACHR also observes that, unlike the previous system, the current legal framework does not obstruct the filing of appeals to challenge decisions, whether through an action seeking constitutional relief (amparo) or through a contentious-administrative proceeding. Nevertheless, throughout its visit the Commission noted with concern that a number of justice operators expressed their fear over the Council’s lack of proper investigative proceedings, and over the possibility for its actions to be motivated by political factors intended to produce at any cost a perception of the effectiveness of its work, without respecting the independence of judges.
Specifically, the Commission received information indicating that starting in November 2013, the Council undertook an intense “purging process” of the judiciary, with 28 judges suspended and another 29 dismissed during their first year on the bench. It was reported that this purge began quickly, without any law to establish disciplinary grounds or sanctions to be applied, and based solely on a circular distributed by the members of the Council. The regulation containing these grounds and sanctions was only recently approved, in September 2014, and an appeal now before the Honduran justice system is challenging the fact that disciplinary sanctions are being applied based on a regulation and not on the law.
According to available information, more than 20 judges filed amparo actions in response to Council decisions, and judges expressed their concern that judges ruling on these appeals would fear being subject to disciplinary proceedings. During the visit, the Commission learned only that there had been four judgments in which relief was granted to the disciplined judges.
With regard to the selection and appointment process for judges, the IACHR was informed during the visit about the lack of openness of the proceedings to select criminal court judges of national territorial jurisdiction. Information was also received on trust assessment tests, such as polygraphs for judges and magistrates. These are being challenged through an amparo action which has yet to be ruled on.
Lack of Security and Pressures on Justice Operators
During its visit, the Commission continued to receive information on the lack of security for justice sector operators. According to publicly available information, in 2014 at least 20 judges have received death threats; from 2010 to date, 86 law professionals have been killed; and, according to information provided by the Asociación Jueces por la Democracia (Association of Judges for Democracy), at least three judges have been violently killed in the last two years. This situation is extremely serious. In a country with the highest levels of violence and impunity in the region, the State necessarily has a special obligation to protect, so that its justice sector operators can carry out their work to fight impunity without becoming victims in the very cases they are investigating or deciding.
Several justice operators made reference during the visit to the country’s limited budget for providing comprehensive protection measures for themselves and for their families, and reported that because of this shortfall they generally preferred not to make use of protection measures. They also indicated that the means of protection offered do not necessarily fit their needs. As one prosecutor in San Pedro Sula explained, “Sometimes having personal protection tends to raise your profile and make you a much more sought-after target. Plus they say, ‘Let’s get one of his children’…. It doesn’t do any good to have security for me while my family is at home, by themselves.”
Besides issues of insecurity, the Commission received information concerning other measures used to apply pressure on the work of justice operators. In that regard, justice operators reported to the Commission that prosecutors had used the criminal charge of “prevarication” to intimidate judges for issuing decisions against their interests. The Commission notes its concern that several judges expressed their fear of being targets of this type of criminal prosecution, particularly since Decree 56-2013, which reformed the Criminal Code, established the crime of prevarication as one which does not allow for alternatives to pretrial detention.
During the visit, the Commission also heard concerns regarding threats made to frame judges through sham disciplinary proceedings, for the purpose of frightening them and manipulating their decisions. As an example of this, a trial attorney in San Pedro Sula said that when he told a judge that he was going to present a psychiatric expert to seek changes to the pretrial detention regime being requested by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the judge answered, “Let me be clear. As a criminal court judge, if I dismiss the case against that girl, I’ll be fired the next day.”
Finally, the Commission was concerned to receive information concerning a complaint lodged with the Supreme Court’s Office of the Inspector General of the Courts by the Legal Auditor of the Armed Forces, against Judge Mario Rolando Díaz, President of the Asociación Jueces por la Democracia (AJD). This complaint is allegedly motivated by the AJD’s participation with other organizations in a paid advertisement in a national newspaper, on the occasion of the start of the Commission’s onsite visit.
Pretrial Detention and Prison Conditions
It is of concern to the Commission that more than half the people deprived of their liberty in Honduras are in pretrial detention. According to figures updated through October 2014, Honduras has a prison population of 14,732 individuals, of whom 7,095 are serving a sentence after being convicted and 7,637 (52 percent), have cases pending. The standards of the inter-American human rights system indicate clearly that pretrial detention is a measure that should be used as an exception, with the only legitimate grounds being danger of flight or the possibility that the accused will obstruct investigations, and that it is the prosecutor who must provide reasoned grounds for this measure, depending on the specific characteristics of each case. In this context, it is troubling that the National Congress, through Decree No. 56-2013 to reform the Criminal Procedures Code, established that alternatives to pretrial detention do not apply to a list of 21 crimes. The mandatory application of pretrial detention based on type of crime runs contrary to the American Convention on Human Rights. In fact, the establishment of rules of this type constitutes interference by the legislature in judges’ authority to make such decisions.
The Commission observes that the State of Honduras has failed to comply with the decisions of the inter-American human rights system. The IACHR had indicated to the State that it should, without delay, adopt the necessary measures to ensure that internal control of all prisons is in line with international human rights standards. In addition, a women’s unit continues to exist at the San Pedro Sula Prison, located inside the general enclosure that includes the men’s units, a situation the Commission has condemned before.
FRAGILITY OF INSTITUTIONS
The IACHR has monitored different programs that the State has been implementing to protect the human rights of various sectors of the Honduran population. Given the important role such programs play in the consolidation of a State policy that is respectful of human rights, the Commission received a great deal of information on aspects of some of these programs currently in effect. One subject that came under widespread criticism from civil society is the fact that the Office of the Secretary for Justice and Human Rights has gone from being a State Secretariat to a Sub-Secretariat that is part of the Secretariat of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. The IACHR takes note of this institution’s change of profile, and of the concerns this has raised with respect to the multiplicity of functions under the Secretariat to which it now belongs.
Implementation of Precautionary Measures
With regard to the protection of human rights defenders, justice operators, and journalists, among others, the IACHR took note of the information provided by State authorities concerning the implementation of the current protection program and the efforts being made to modernize it and make it more effective. The Commission, for its part, has granted precautionary measures to protect various human rights defenders, journalists, and others in serious and urgent situations in which there is a need to prevent irreparable harm. Such situations have involved serious threats, acts of intimidation, and attacks, and in some cases, killings. In monitoring the precautionary measures it has granted, the Commission has observed serious deficiencies in the State’s response and a low, sometimes nonexistent, level of effective implementation of these measures.
In the context of various meetings held with civil society, which included beneficiaries of precautionary and provisional measures issued by the inter-American human rights system, the Commission was concerned to learn that there are still flaws in the implementation of the program. It was especially noted that: clear procedures do not exist regarding the range of protection measures available or the systems in place to monitor measures that have been implemented; differentiated approaches are not applied to analyze risk or assign protection measures; and there is a lack of funding to implement tangible protection measures. A number of people told the Commission that there is still a sense of insecurity among beneficiaries, despite their inclusion in the protection program. In this regard, the Commission considers it extremely important for the State to reinforce all actions that may be necessary to effectively implement its protection system. It is particularly essential to have sufficient human resources with the training and preparation needed to respond to requests for protection, evaluate the degree of risk, adopt and implement protection measures, and monitor measures that are in effect.
Draft Legislation to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Journalists and Media Workers, and Justice Operators
In recent months, the State has indicated that it is promoting legislation to protect human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, and justice operators, in order to provide greater protection for those at risk. During its visit, the IACHR received information from State authorities on the status of that bill. Specifically, the Commission was informed that the third debate on the bill is pending before the Congress of the Republic, and that various sectors of civil society had been heard in the context of this process. Numerous organizations expressed their concern over the fact that the legislation: (1) has a complex institutional design, duplicating roles and lacking clarity regarding its operating structure; (2) is ambiguous on the creation of a risk analysis model that would enable a proper determination of risk, based on each person’s needs; and (3) is unclear on the allocation of financial resources to implement the law, among other issues.
In addition, the IACHR received information indicating that the law creating the protection mechanism needs to properly define who is a journalist, communications professional, and media worker, and that protection measures also need to address work-related needs and ensure that those in the communications field can exercise their right to freedom of expression. The IACHR also documented criticisms regarding limitations to journalists’ and media workers’ representation on the National Council for Protection established in the draft legislation.
Civil society organizations pointed out that while some segments of civil society were consulted in one stage of the process, the current contents of the bill that could be discussed soon are still not known. On this point, the Commission would like to urge the State to continue a dialogue with all sectors involved, to be able to take into account their concerns and the international standards that apply to protection mechanisms.
Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists
The Commission received information on the lack of a comprehensive policy to protect human rights defenders, as well as the use of criminal law by some groups—through charges such as “incitement to violence”—to intimidate defenders by instituting criminal proceedings against them. These problems are said to be more acute in places where there are conflicts over land ownership, such as La Ceiba and Bajo Aguán, two places visited by the Commission. On this point, the Commission received troubling information indicating that women leaders who have carried out significant efforts in their communities have been subject to stereotypes and preconceptions by some sectors opposed to their claims.
The IACHR has also received information on the use of the charge of sedition to criminalize journalists in the context of social protests. The IACHR also documented complaints concerning alleged incidents in which critical journalists and students participating in protests have been subject to surveillance and have had their names taken down by authorities.
Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Children and Adolescents
In this context, the Commission also observed that Honduran State institutions are particularly fragile as regards the protection and promotion of the rights of children and adolescents. In this regard, civil society organizations reported that there is still a lack of comprehensive protection and a lack of access to basic services for proper care at the local and municipal level, to guarantee the rights of children and adolescents. In particular, they said that institutions dealing with children’s issues are “deficient,” act in isolation, and do not work closely with each other or with civil society. Members of civil society stated that the situation of children with disabilities is completely invisible in protection programs. For its part, the State affirmed that the leadership of the Office of Children, Adolescents, and Family (DINAF), established this year to replace the Honduran Institute for Children and Family (IHNFA), will make it possible to advance in the development of a comprehensive promotion and protection system. The IACHR hopes that with the recent creation of DINAF, the State will be able to address the serious deficiencies that exist. It also hopes that this agency will have the necessary resources and institutional structure required to ensure effective coordination among State and civil society actors at all levels of government.
In addition, the Commission was informed by civil society organizations that even though there are judges designated to handle cases involving children, these public officials are not specialized in children’s rights. Information was also received indicating that there is a shortage of public defenders available to handle different types of cases involving children in Honduras. For its part, the State reported that there are no provisions regarding the eligibility of judges with this specialization, and that there is still work to be done to ensure that children and adolescents in Honduras have access to specialized public defenders. Based on the information it collected, the Commission urges the Honduran State to strengthen its capacity to protect and defend the rights of children and adolescents, and especially to have judges, prosecutors, and public defenders who are specialized in this field so as to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of effective access to justice for children and adolescents.
Institutions in Charge of Safeguarding Women’s Rights
With regard to women’s rights, civil society organizations maintain that institutions responsible for ensuring the full exercise of women’s human rights have increasingly been weakened since the coup d’état. They claim that while the budget of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Women represents 2 percent of the total allocated to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and judges specialized in domestic violence cases have only 1 percent of the total Supreme Court budget, there is no budget line item for investigations into killings of women. They allege that this shortcoming has an impact in terms of the high level of impunity in which these killings remain. For its part, the State affirmed that the Council of the Judiciary has taken steps to address the problem of violence against women. It also informed the IACHR that support centers have been created to provide women with comprehensive protection, and that women have been informed about their rights and about how to give effect to these rights. The State also indicates that it provides psychological support and legal assistance in lodging complaints. The IACHR recognizes the measures the State has taken; however, it urges the State of Honduras to expand the efforts of its institutions to address the situation of violence against women comprehensively, in particular allocating the financial and human resources needed to address violence against women effectively.
Office of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Hondurans (DINAFROH)
With regard to the rights of indigenous persons and persons of African descent in Honduras, the IACHR was informed that the Secretariat of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Hondurans (SERDINAFROH)—which had been created during the previous administration via executive decree, to promote the integral development of peoples—had been eliminated and that the State agency that monitors this issue had been changed to the Office of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Hondurans (DINAFROH), under the Secretariat of Development and Social Inclusion. Civil society organizations denounced the fact that the agency had lost its ranking as a State Secretariat to become “a secondary agency with a limited budget.” In this regard, the IACHR urges the State of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to allocate an adequate budget to the agency responsible for monitoring the rights of indigenous peoples and Hondurans of African descent. For their part, leaders and defenders of the Garifuna people alleged that the State was making their identity and culture invisible by calling them “Afro-Hondurans” instead of “Garifuna.” By so doing, they said, the institutions are discriminating against them. The IACHR urges the State to recognize the cultural identity of the Garifuna people.
National Prison System
Two years after the new National Prison System Act took effect, no substantial change has been made in the Honduran prison model. It is a matter of concern that regulations for this law have not yet been approved and that, as the IACHR was able to verify in its meeting with the National Prison Institute, over the past two years the prison system has been operating without proper regulations in place.
Juvenile Justice System
Another area where the fragility of the country’s institutional framework is manifest is in the juvenile criminal justice system. The Commission expresses its deep concern regarding the conditions it observed in the “Renaciendo” Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adolescents. During its visit to that establishment, the Commission confirmed that, in the wake of the July 2012 riot there, conditions at the facility are still deplorable. For example, the playing field and an entire unit, among other facilities, are still unusable, as is the school, which is why classes have not been offered there since. The IACHR considers it unacceptable for adolescents to be confined to units without any educational or recreational activities, and in general for those in custody to lack medical care, medicine, basic grooming supplies, mattresses, bedding, articles for recreation, and other basic items that should be provided by the State. The inmates are also unable to call their families, since the only telephone line is in the director’s office, and they have only an hour and a half per week of outdoor recreation, outside the cellblocks. Of particular concern is the underlying atmosphere of violence that continues to exist in that prison, given the power in the hands of a group of young people who are allegedly tied to the “Mara 18”; according to what a number of people told the Commission, they have threatened to kill other youth linked to rival gangs, who are also fewer in number.
The Commission also regrets the fact that the Council of the Judiciary of the Supreme Court has yet to appoint enforcement judges in the juvenile criminal justice system, as ordered by Decree No. 35-2013, which established these types of judgeships, among other reforms.
Institutional Framework related to Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
With regard to freedom of expression, the IACHR was pleased to receive information on efforts reportedly being made by the Institute for Access to Public Information, in the framework of the Transparency and Access to Public Information Act, to ensure the full exercise of this right, despite the institute’s budgetary limitations. However, the Commission observes with concern that, in the context of an expansion of military police actions into functions related to citizen security and national security, a new Document Classification Act covering security and national defense documents was published in the Official Gazette on March 7. According to information the Commission received, this law had not been the subject of consultations with civil society and specialized entities. Commissioners of the Institute for Access to Public Information and civil society organizations told the IACHR that the text of the law includes provisions that are regressive with respect to the disclosure standard established by the access-to-information law in effect; contradicts existing law on access to information; and does not meet international standards on access to public information and protection of national security interests. The legal text that was approved establishes the possibility that security agencies can classify security- and defense-related information as “secret” or “ultra-secret” in the name of the “national interest.”
INEQUALITY, SOCIAL EXCLUSION, AND STRUCTURAL DISCRIMINATION
The high levels of inequality and social exclusion that continue to exist in Honduras subject large segments of the population to serious difficulties and challenges in terms of access to basic needs, employment opportunities, and natural resources such as land and means of survival, resulting in a situation of structural discrimination. The Commission gathered testimony concerning the inadequate measures the State of Honduras has adopted to end discrimination. The delegation heard testimony from residents of the Bajo Aguán region, members of the Garifuna people, Miskito deep-sea divers, workers in transnational textile companies, and Honduran returnees—some of the population groups that live in a vulnerable situation as a result of this discrimination and economic and social exclusion, which translates into human rights violations. In addition, the IACHR received troubling information concerning racism against members of the Garifuna people.
Exclusion and Inequality with Respect to Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Descendants
The IACHR is concerned about information it received from civil society indicating that indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants suffer higher levels of poverty than the rest of the population of Honduras. Indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants have lower literacy rates than the rest of the population, higher levels of malnutrition, and a higher rate of contagious and infectious diseases. These inequities are accentuated among indigenous and Afro-descendant women. The IACHR was also informed that the maternal mortality rate among indigenous women is considerably higher than among non-indigenous women.
During the visit, the Commission went to the indigenous community of San Juan and saw the disastrous condition of the streets. “In the summer a steamroller arrives, because tourists come and they fix the streets for them, but then it all falls back into disrepair,” one young Garifuna man told the delegation. The Commission visited the community’s health center, which has no doctor but only a local resident with some knowledge of nursing. Asked about this, a Garifuna woman explained to the IACHR, “There is no doctor or medicine here. If you become seriously ill, you have to go to Tela by taxi, and it costs 100 lempiras or more.”
Civil society organizations also reported that there are 837 potential mining projects, which in geographical terms would cover nearly 35 percent of the national territory. They informed the IACHR that there are 98 mining concessions in the departments of Lempira and Santa Bárbara. They said there are 76 hydroelectric projects for which feasibility studies have been completed, or operational contracts approved, in 14 of the country’s 18 departments (Atlántida, Colón, Comayagua, Copán, Cortés, Francisco Morazán, Intibucá, La Paz, Lempira, Ocotepeque, Olancho, Patuca, Santa Bárbara, and Yoro). As to the companies developing these projects, an indigenous man in La Ceiba stated, “They don’t want to respect our culture, they don’t want to respect our tradition. Not only that, they deceive us. They tell us there will be work, and that’s a farce.” The IACHR was informed that one of the mega-projects will be developed on indigenous peoples’ lands, using their natural resources, and that processes for prior, free, and informed consultation had not been carried out. With regard to mega-projects developed in indigenous territories, one member of the Garifuna people in La Ceiba said, “We don’t want anything that isn’t ours. What we want is to get back what is ours, what they have stolen from us. Our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents have taught us what is ours.” A woman over 60 years old who had been born and raised there said, “Before, we had coconuts, now we have to go buy them. And there is no land to plant yucca. But there are no jobs either. We have kids here who have graduated, who have studied, but there is no work.”
The Commission was also told that processes to grant concessions to companies have been accompanied by considerable repression of indigenous peoples, who had been forcibly evicted. “People are distressed because of the dispossessions and evictions carried out against the Garifuna community,” a member of the Garifuna people told the IACHR. The Commission was also informed that the extensive production of African palm in the northern part of the country has had a disproportionate impact on the Garifuna people. The IACHR also received troubling information concerning the impact of human activity in exacerbating poverty in these communities. For example, the Garifuna community of Santa Rosa indicates that as a result of the work done by companies cultivating African palm in the department of Colón, the course of the Aguán River had been changed, with devastating consequences on the environment and on the community’s access to water, due to the water’s high salinity.
Civil society organizations indicated that there are no laws or regulations to give effect to the rights recognized in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, ratified by Honduras in 1994. They alleged that the Employment and Economic Development Zones Act (ZEDES) “has placed the Garifuna people in imminent danger of being expelled from the northern coast of Honduras.” They allege that this law contemplates the creation of “model cities,” and that five of these cities encompass Garifuna communities, which reportedly were not consulted about this.
The State, for its part, informed the IACHR that it “recognizes the right of ethnic groups to protection and land tenure.” As an example of this, it pointed to the recent transfer of some lands to “native peoples.” The IACHR urges the State of Honduras to intensify its actions to respect and guarantee land rights, and to adopt the necessary measures to comply with its obligation to ensure a prior and informed consultation of indigenous peoples concerning projects that are developed on their lands and territories and that affect their natural resources, taking into consideration the special relationship between indigenous peoples and their land and natural resources.
Freedom of Expression and Community Radio Stations
The IACHR was pleased to receive information on positive measures taken by the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) to ensure that community audiovisual media outlets have access to frequencies on the radio spectrum, through the adoption in August 2013 of the Regulations on Broadcast Services for Community Purposes. During the visit, the IACHR learned that 25 radio frequencies had been granted to various communities in the country, including communities of the Miskito people. However, a number of civil society organizations and community media outlets criticized the regulations and identified deficiencies in the processes and conditions under which frequencies are awarded. The IACHR was interested to receive observations from representatives of Garifuna and indigenous peoples in Honduras, who maintain that the regulatory framework establishes conditions for access which do not recognize their peoples’ traditional customs, forms of social organization, and use of territory, and which have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, information, and culture. They maintain that this contravenes ILO Convention 169, which imposes obligations on the States to adopt special measures to safeguard the persons, institutions, property, and cultures of indigenous and tribal peoples. It also establishes that such special measures shall be adopted in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.
Vulnerability in the Bajo Aguán Region
In the department of Tocoa, the Commission received alarming information on the particular vulnerability experienced by the peasant communities of Bajo Aguán. According to the information the Commission received, the serious conflict over land in this part of the country not only has led to grave acts of violence but has also significantly hampered the exercise of the economic, social, and cultural rights of peasant communities. On top of that, there is a lack of access to justice, unequal power relations in the region, and discrimination based on poverty and economic and social exclusion. “If there is no land, we cannot farm, we do not produce. That is why our struggle will be permanent and will continue until we achieve our objective—land,” said a 65-year-old campesino in the community of Panamá, in the department of Colón.
State authorities indicated that they are taking a human rights approach to address the situation related to the agrarian conflict, in order to lay the groundwork for a solution that can be sustained over time. They also reported that dialogue is taking place with the main actors in the region to address the social situation of local peasant communities. For their part, campesino organizations stated that the evolution of the conflict has exacerbated inequality and exclusion in Bajo Aguán. According to testimony and information received from civil society, as well as observations made in the field by the IACHR delegation in the community of Panamá, serious obstacles exist in terms of access to basic services, including drinking water, food, health, and education, along with the serious problem of a lack of employment opportunities. They also reported on severe environmental alterations due to changes in land use by private companies, which has led to a reduction of the food resources available for people in the area, including access to water and fishing. According to testimony the Commission received, the sale, turn-over, or occupation of extensive tracts of land to private companies for development—such as the single-crop cultivation of the African palm—has restricted the area where peasant farmers can live and limited their access to land for cultivation, even to grow their own food, and has marked out “invisible boundaries” that affect their right to move about freely and to access basic services. The IACHR identified strong tensions between the interests of big business and local peasants’ needs for subsistence. One peasant woman from the Bajo Aguán region told the IACHR, “There is no food, we are dying of hunger. When we can find something, it is only rice and beans. There are no sources of jobs, nothing to eat. These little ones [referring to the children of the community] don’t have anything to eat.”
Honduras must promptly and immediately adopt all necessary measures to remove the structural factors that have created and perpetuated the territorial conflict in Bajo Aguán. In particular, State authorities must adopt measures to address the causes of the conflict and apply the principle of equality and non-discrimination, in order to address the obstacles and barriers that hamper the exercise, respect, and guarantee of the economic, social, and cultural rights of the peasant communities of Bajo Aguán.
WORKING CONDITIONS AND ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE
The Commission was also informed about the precarious working conditions and lack of access to medical care of Miskito deep-sea divers and workers in assembly plants or maquilas, conditions which cause severe physical and mental health consequences and can lead to physical or even mental disabilities.
Miskito Deep-Sea Divers
Specifically, the IACHR received information on the risky conditions for the approximately 2,000 divers who work in deep-sea fishing in the region of La Misquitia; the poverty in which they live; their isolation; the lack of sources of employment; the abusive conditions in which they often work; the absence of measures by the State to provide oversight of deep-sea diving; the fact that there is no hyperbaric chamber in the area to treat divers with decompression sickness; and the complete absence of rehabilitation measures, with the consequence that every year there are deaths in this context and hundreds of deep-sea divers live with permanent disabilities. “I began diving when I was 16 because in La Mosquitia there is no other type of work available. The only source of work is deep-sea diving. The type of diving we do, we go for 12 days and at extreme depths, of 120 to 140 feet. We do not have adequate equipment. We get very tired, and there are accidents,” one person said in testimony to the IACHR. Another stated, “One day, around 5 p.m., after having gone through 12 tanks at a depth of 140 feet, I felt queasy and couldn’t dive anymore, so I got out. The sickness (decompression) hit me; I felt ill and semi-paralyzed, my stomach started to hurt. I had a hard time walking and could no longer urinate or defecate. When this sickness attacks you, you feel like you’re half-dead. After I got that, only one of my legs got better, and I ended up with a cane.” The fact that there is no hyperbaric chamber to provide immediate treatment to divers who suffer from decompression has led hundreds of them to become permanently disabled in recent years. However, neither the lobster company that employs them nor the State has taken measures so that this situation does not continue.
Women Maquila Workers
With respect to the women who work in maquilas, the IACHR received testimony regarding their poor working conditions. The Commission learned that the activities they do require them to maintain certain postures and do repetitive work, as well as put in 12-hour workdays. The IACHR was informed that these workdays are incompatible with the Honduran constitution, which establishes an eight-hour workday. The Commission also notes that organizations representing these groups claimed that the State of Honduras had failed to respond to complaints concerning alleged violations of labor and health rights by the respective private companies.
Disabilities of Miskito Deep-Sea Divers and Maquila Workers
The IACHR also learned that once Miskito deep-sea divers or maquila workers become physically disabled, they face a lack of habilitation and rehabilitation services and medical care, as well as a lack of other employment alternatives. “Three months after we become sick, the boat owner does not remember the workers who have been injured. They don’t give us treatment. They forget about us,” lamented one man who is no longer able to work. Another stated, “We face financial needs. As those responsible for a family, and with a disability, we have no way of giving our children financial support or an education. We are really suffering.” In fact, Miskito divers and maquila workers often continue their respective activities even after they become disabled, because they have no other work opportunities. According to the information received by the Commission, this situation causes their disabilities to worsen and has serious effects on the family, such as problems in ensuring access to education for financial dependents, and family disintegration. Along these lines, the Commission heard the testimony of a maquila worker who has been waiting since 2010 for a review of her working conditions, as mandated by the Honduran Social Security Institute’s Technical Committee on Disabilities. “I have become dependent on my sister and my family,” she said. “I can’t ride on a bus standing up; I always have to sit down. I can’t even carry five oranges. I can’t dress myself. I have had problems with acute depression, and many of my co-workers have too.”
Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health
With regard to women’s right to health, the IACHR received troubling information concerning the impact on women’s reproductive rights of the ban on emergency contraception, adopted in 2009, which even applies in cases of rape. The IACHR also received troubling information on the sterilization of women with HIV, without their prior and informed consent. “In order to sterilize me, they told me that if I got pregnant again I could die,” said a 24-year-old woman in the department of Francisco Morazán. The IACHR urges the State of Honduras to adopt measures to ensure that women in Honduras can exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and their right to the highest level of health.
Situation of Returned Honduran Migrants
With regard to returned Honduran migrants, the Commission observes that once they are deported and returned to the country, a lack of services hampers their reintegration into society. In particular, their working conditions tend to be precarious, and often there are no government programs to help them become reintegrated into the community.
During its visit, the Commission received information on this problem at the local level. In San Pedro Sula, the IACHR visited the Center for Returned Migrants, which helps families who have tried to emigrate and have been deported. The authorities pointed to a series of initiatives designed to help children and adolescents get back into school, for example, and to provide some support in terms of their basic needs. This is done to address some of the factors involved in their migration and to ensure that these families do not risk having to be reintegrated into society in poverty-stricken conditions. Still, the challenges are extensive and structural, and require measures that are equally structural and broad.
The IACHR collected testimony from a number of individuals who were deported from the United States and whose first point of entry into Honduras was the Center for Returned Migrants in San Pedro Sula. They receive a birth certificate there, if they need one, and are registered and given assistance for transportation. One migrant who was deported after living in the United States for several years said, “Now I’m staying here and my children and my spouse over there.” Most of the deported migrants who were interviewed—the majority of them young men—indicated that they would try again to leave a country that does not offer them the least possibility of living a life of dignity. One of the deported migrants said, “I’ll stay for Christmas and then I’ll go back.” During its visit, the IACHR witnessed the commitment of the staff at the center to helping the 114 deportees who arrived that day.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (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.