IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Has Concluded its Visit to Honduras and Presents its Preliminary Observations

August 3, 2018

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María Isabel Rivero
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Tegucigalpa - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has completed its on-site visit to Honduras, which took place between July 30 and August 3, 2018. The aim of the visit was to observe the human rights situation in the country on the ground.

The delegation was led by the first vice-president of the IACHR, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño; and also included the second vice-president, Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva; commissioners Flávia Piovesan and Antonia Urrejola, and commissioner Joel Hernández García, the IACHR rapporteur for Honduras. Among the other members of the delegation were the executive secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão; the assistant executive secretary, María Claudia Pulido; the chief of staff of the executive secretariat, Marisol Blanchard Vera, the special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza; the special rapporteur on economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (ESCER), Soledad García Muñoz, and experts from the executive secretariat.

The IACHR met with government authorities, civil society organizations and representatives, human rights defenders, indigenous authorities, international organizations, and other bodies representing academia, the media, and the private sector. It also gathered testimonies from victims of human rights violations and their families. The IACHR carried out unrestricted visits to different regions of Honduras, including Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Tela, Puerto Lempira, and Bajo Aguán; and it visited various state-run institutions, including prisons and military bases.

The IACHR wishes to thank President Juan Orlando Hernández and his government for their openness to international scrutiny, which took the form of the invitation to carry out this visit and led to a frank, constructive dialogue at the highest levels of government. The IACHR is grateful for the information provided by the government and civil society organizations. It would also like to acknowledge the efforts made by victims of human rights violations and their families to present testimonies, petitions, and messages. Likewise, the IACHR values the support provided by the Organization of American States’ Honduras office, the office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the United Nations Development Programme.

The IACHR has been following the human rights situation in Honduras closely. It has observed structural issues around justice, security, inequality, and discrimination, which have been affecting the human rights of the country’s inhabitants for decades. The grave human rights violations that followed the 2009 coup d’état have seriously affected the Honduran people, and this episode continues to have repercussions today.

The IACHR acknowledges the Honduran government’s creation of the State Secretariat at the Office of Human Rights. This began to function in January 2018 and seeks to promote and implement the Public Policy and National Action Plan on Human Rights.

For there to be full enjoyment of human rights in the country, it is essential that Honduras make progress on the process of democratic institution-building, guarantee a true separation of powers, and strengthen the rule of law.

Given the impunity and violence that Honduras has historically faced, the state must step up its efforts to guarantee the population’s rights so that Hondurans can rebuild their trust in state institutions.

Serious challenges continue to face democratic institutions and the rule of law. Widespread structural impunity and corruption have eroded trust in public institutions. The recent process to elect a new public prosecutor revealed the weakness of current standards and the need to better regulate these. Another matter of concern is the lack of balance between the public powers that would allow the rule of law to function optimally.

Inequality and a lack of development for some sectors of the population are rooted in a system that benefits an elite minority that has connections with the upper echelons of political and private power. The resulting structural inequality in the country has a disproportionate effect on vulnerable groups.

With regard to the postelectoral conflict, the IACHR observed that the political climate remains polarized. Public perceptions around the lack of legitimacy of the elections gave rise to protests that were repressed through an indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force. The armed forces also took part in this repression, which contravenes intra-American standards. In any democratic system, it is essential that there be a clear and specific separation between domestic security, which is the role of the police force, and national defense, which is the role of the armed forces. As a result of the state response to the demonstrations, at least 22 people were murdered; hundreds of people were injured, including members of the security forces; and over a thousand people were arrested, many of whom reported having been mistreated during their detainment and subsequent deprivation of freedom. It was also reported that the security forces carried out illegal raids on houses. Given the irreversible nature of the consequences that the use of force can lead to, the IACHR considers that it should only be used a last resort to prevent a more serious incident than the one caused by the state’s reaction itself. In this sense, the use of force should be exceptional and should comply with the principles of legality, absolute necessity, and proportionality.

The IACHR was informed by the state that in order to determine the truth behind the killings that took place, it had created an investigative panel, which is made up of the Special Prosecutor’s Department, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, the Fiscal Unit Assigned to the Military Police for Public Order, and the Police Investigations Department. Despite this, the IACHR has not received further information on the progress or development of the investigations in question. Likewise, families are not being informed about these. The IACHR urges the state to make headway on these investigations by carrying out the necessary due diligence in order to identify those responsible for these crimes, prosecute them, and sanction them as appropriate. Over eight months after the events took place, victims and their family members continue to report on the lack of access to information regarding these investigations and concrete outcomes in which justice is served.

At present, attempts are being made to start a political dialogue in order to move beyond the political crisis that was sparked by reports of electoral fraud and the violence that took place during the subsequent protests. The IACHR believes that this crisis demands a democratic, inclusive, and participatory solution. In this sense, it is urging all relevant political sectors to take part in this dialogue, which it sees as a major step toward national reconciliation.

The IACHR will monitor investigations into the deaths that took place in this context and the reports of mistreatment during the arrest and detainment of people by the military and national police forces. The IACHR notes that to date, no charges have been pressed against any member of the security forces over their alleged involvement in the killings and injuries that took place in this context.

During its visit, the IACHR received multiple testimonies regarding the excessive and abusive use of force to disperse public demonstrations in other contexts. This is evidence of the government perceiving protests as a risk to state security and governance. Based on these perceptions, the state is prioritizing repression over violence. Student protests, political demonstrations, land claims, and protests against development projects are suppressed using force and those taking part in them are subject to stigmatization, arrest, and criminal proceedings. This contravenes the fundamental principles of international human rights law.

The Preliminary Observations from the visit include evaluations on the current state of affairs for citizen security. There has been a reduction in the homicide rate, although this remains nonetheless high. There has also been an increase in the use of military forces in multiple areas and roles relating to public security. The IACHR has received alarming information regarding the involvement of military agents in killings, executions, kidnapping, and the arbitrary detention and forced displacement of civilians. It has also compiled information on the lack of control mechanisms for illegal firearms and the proliferation of private security firms.

Likewise, the IACHR has analyzed the current state of affairs around the administration of justice and found that the structural problems that were identified in 2014 persist, weakening the guarantees of independence and impartiality and contributing to the structural impunity in the country today. The IACHR noted the profound lack of public trust in the legal system, which was also acknowledged by some government officials. Restoring this is of paramount importance. Likewise, the IACHR wishes to draw attention to the importance of the work of the Department of Forensic Medicine of Honduras. It is essential that this body be able to go about its duties unimpeded, as it provides the Public Prosecutor’s Office with information that is crucial to being able to carry out an effective investigation.

Since the Judiciary Council was declared unconstitutional, judges have been subject to disciplinary control by the Judicial Professional Council, which is not an autonomous body that is independent of the Supreme Court. Furthermore, judges and public prosecutors with “national jurisdiction” continue to operate—these have been assigned by the National Defense and Security Council (CNDS). The IACHR wishes to stress how important it is that the regulations underlying this regime be reviewed, given that authorities from the executive and judicial branches of government take part in the Judicial Professional Council, which calls into question its independence and impartiality when it comes to investigating and sanctioning the cases in question.

The IACHR observed that the right to freedom of expression in Honduras was fraught with complexity. The persistence of high levels of violence against journalists and the impunity around most of these crimes continues to be a serious issue. On top of this structural factor, the legislative branch of government appears to have decided to maintain the crimes of slander, libel, and other legal concepts that affect freedom of expression during the recent comprehensive reform of the country’s Criminal Code and the presentation of a bill to regulate social media. During the postelectoral crisis there were incidents of serious aggression on the part of government and nongovernment players toward journalists and members of the media. This included threats, stigmatization, and social media attacks on journalists from both sides of the political and social chasm that has divided the country. Another facet was the pressure put on publishers, editors, and journalists to influence their coverage of the elections and the events that followed.

The Preliminary Observations also analyze the persistence of high levels of inequality and social exclusion that are affecting large swathes of the population. Specifically, there continue to be serious difficulties and challenges around access to basic goods, employment opportunities, natural assets such as land, and means of survival.

With specific regard to the enjoyment of the right to food, the IACHR is concerned over reports of limited access to sources of food production that benefit transnational agribusiness firms and legislative threats to restrict the use, storage, and exchange of traditional seeds by indigenous and peasant communities.

With regard to the right to health, the IACHR is particularly concerned over the difficulties facing the most disadvantaged sectors of the population in accessing medicines and essential treatments. With regard to the right to sexual and reproductive health, the IACHR condemns the fact that the state still criminalizes abortion outright and prohibits the distribution of emergency oral contraception. In Miskito territory, it was found that there were insufficient medical staff and supplies at health centers. This was particularly evident at Puerto Lempira Hospital, which covers the entire population of Gracias a Dios Department and which is suffering from serious shortages of supplies, electricity, and medical specialists. The IACHR observed that the Panamá and Garífuna communities were experiencing similar shortages.

With regard to the right to education, in addition to the unmet demand for bilingual, intercultural education, there are constant complaints about the lack of basic infrastructure and teaching staff, as well as labor and trade union rights.

The Preliminary Observations document contains a detailed analysis of the specific situation of groups that are of particular concern: women; girls, boys, and adolescents; lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people; human rights defenders; people in state custody, including those deprived of freedom and in the custody of the juvenile justice system; indigenous peoples and people of African descent; internally displaced people; and migrants, people in need of international protection, and returnees. This document presents a summary of the observations concerning each of these groups.

Women

The IACHR reiterates its concern around the serious violence being perpetrated against women in Honduras, the different ways in which this is expressed, and the high levels of impunity around this. In 90% of cases, femicides continue to go unpunished, thus facilitating gender-based violence and discrimination. Likewise, the IACHR has observed with concern the violence perpetrated against women in particularly vulnerable situations, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) women and human rights defenders.

The IACHR wishes to stress once more that these acts of violence are not isolated, but are instead symptomatic of a pattern of structural discrimination against women. The machismo and gender stereotypes that are deep-rooted in Honduran society increase the risks that women are exposed to and prevent them from fully exercising their right to live a life free of violence. Likewise, the IACHR expresses its concern over the interconnected nature of the threats women face based on factors such as sexual orientation and gender identity, disability, ethnicity, or race. The IACHR calls particular attention to violations of the rights of women of African descent and Garífuna women. Being a migrant or human rights defender may increase a woman’s risk of being killed or victimized.

With regard to the sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls, and adolescents, the blanket criminalization of abortion continues, even when the pregnancy puts the woman’s life in danger. Honduras is one of only five countries in the world not to contemplate abortion on any ground at all. This is compounded by the Supreme Court of Justice’s ruling prohibiting emergency contraception pills. The promotion, use, sale, distribution, and purchase of such medication carries the same penalties as abortion itself, even when used to treat or assist rape victims. With regard to access to sexual education services, the IACHR has been informed of the lack of comprehensive plans to promote prevention and provide education and access to information on sexual and reproductive health, including family planning methods.

Girls, Boys, and Adolescents

One area of particular concern is the impact that the current socio-economic situation is having on the rights, well-being, and development opportunities of girls, boys, adolescents, and young people. Child poverty rates in Honduras are worse than anywhere else in Latin America. The country is home to less than 4 million children but 435,000 of these boys and girls currently work. Over a million boys, girls, and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 17 do not regularly attend school or are not enrolled in the education system at all. These figures are even more overwhelming among children from indigenous communities or those of African descent, and those with disabilities. Particular attention needs to be paid to including returnee migrant children and those displaced by violence in the education system.

The IACHR wishes to repeat its concern over the Guardians of the Homeland Plan, which introduces the armed forces and the police into the educational sphere in order to control the presence of gangs and maras and the sale and consumption of drugs in schools. This program promotes a military culture that is at odds with the notion of a peaceful society and also stigmatizes and endangers boys and girls from certain social sectors.

Furthermore, the climate of insecurity and violence that reigns in the country is particularly detrimental to boys, girls, and teenagers. Children who live in neighborhoods where maras and gangs are particularly well established are among those whose rights are most affected. The IACHR warns that girls, boys, and adolescents are exposed to pressure, threats, violence, and deception by gangs, who use and abuse them for their own ends. They are also stigmatized, discriminated against, and mistreated by security agents, who see them as potential delinquents. With regard to girls and boys who live on the streets, the IACHR is concerned over their extreme vulnerability to so-called social cleansing operations. This violence is the reason that many girls, boys, and adolescents and their families opt for migration or internal displacement.

Furthermore, the IACHR wishes to express its concern over the high number of teenage pregnancies and the levels of sexual violence experienced by girls and teenagers. Honduras has the second-highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America: 24% among 15- to 19-year-olds, on average. It is alarming that a very high percentage of these pregnancies—around 50%—are the consequence of rapes. The sexual abuse of children is cause for deep concern and demands urgent priority action on the part of the state to include a strategy to modify social gender stereotypes, empower and educate girls and adolescents around their rights, and provide access to services such as free 24-hour telephone helplines. During its visit, the IACHR was informed of the progress that the state of Honduras made in 2017 when it modified its legislation to prohibit boys, girls, and teenagers from marrying before the age of 18. To prevent teenage pregnancies, the IACHR urges the state to include sexual and reproductive education in the school curriculum.

The IACHR acknowledges different measures that the state has taken in connection with juvenile justice such as the 2013 reform seeking to make juvenile justice more focused and bring it in line with international standards. Another such measure is the establishment of the National Institute for the Care of Juvenile Offenders (INAMI), which is responsible for overseeing operations at detention centers for adolescents who have been processed by the criminal justice system. However, the IACHR warns that children and adolescents who are deprived of their freedom experience substandard incarceration conditions, excessive use of pretrial detention, and a limited supply of social rehabilitation programs. It also draws attention to the need for more legal authorities who specialize in this age group.

According to the information that the IACHR has at its disposal, juvenile detention centers generally have substandard, unsanitary facilities and no socio-educational programs to help young offenders to reintegrate effectively into society. They are largely unsafe and authorities find them hard to run properly due to the power gangs wield within them. On top of the poor conditions that mark prison facilities in general, the IACHR observed during its visit to the Renaciendo Juvenile Detention Center that schooling is only provided up to sixth grade. In addition, despite the agriculture-related activities that were to begin in the following weeks, the IACHR found that no educational or recreational activities were being offered at this center to guarantee effective social reintegration for adolescents deprived of their freedom. Consequently, the IACHR observes that detention conditions there contravene international juvenile justice standards, as they do not provide treatment that shows respect for human dignity nor are they clearly aimed at the effective, constructive reintegration of detainees into society.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex (LGBTI) People

The IACHR welcomes the human rights education plan initiative, which prioritizes the teaching of gender issues and sexual diversity in schools. Human rights education plays a transformational role, bringing about cultural change to eliminate structural prejudices, long-standing discrimination, stereotypes, and misconceptions about LGBTI people.

However, the IACHR has observed that in Honduras, LGBTI people face acts of violence and widespread discrimination that continue with impunity. According to information provided by civil society organizations, in the last five years, there have been 177 killings of LGBTI people, 21 of which have taken place this year and two during the IACHR’s visit. Investigations into 65 of these killings have been started, but none of them have led to convictions. Violence against LGBTI people is widespread in Honduras and constitutes a clear human rights violation. These cases go unpunished, which generates the impression that violence and discrimination are acceptable.

The IACHR also became aware of a ruling from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the context of a marriage-related initiative that is unconstitutional according to the principles of equality and nondiscrimination, which mentioned the possibility of granting LGBTI people “unequal” treatment. The IACHR believes that this statement may constitute an act of institutional discrimination in and of itself. The right to equality and nondiscrimination is a fundamental principle that obliges the state of Honduras to provide the same levels of protection to all people under its jurisdiction and to adopt measures to eliminate and combat discriminatory practices.

Human Rights Defenders

Significant progress has been made in relation to the institutional framework for human rights defenders. This includes the passing of the Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Legal Workers, which establishes the National Protection Mechanism, and the creation of a Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Legal Workers.

Despite this progress, the IACHR observes that the state of affairs for human rights defenders continues to be one of extreme risk due to the constant violence, criminalization, and slander they are exposed to. Although the IACHR notes that the numbers of human rights defenders that are killed in the country have decreased significantly, the overall number of acts of aggression in recent years is worrying.

The IACHR wishes to stress that the state of Honduras has a duty to fight impunity around attacks against human rights defenders, which implies carrying out serious, independent, transparent investigations to identify those responsible for planning and perpetrating these crimes, bringing them to trial, and guaranteeing appropriate compensation. The IACHR notes that the new Special Public Prosecutor’s Office for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders will play a major role in this area. Consequently, the IACHR calls on the state of Honduras to provide funding for this unit as soon as possible and to make headway on drafting specialized protocols for investigating crimes against human rights defenders that will support the work of this new office.

Similarly, the IACHR wishes to express its concern over the practice of criminalizing human rights defenders. At meetings with representatives from civil society and human rights defenders in Bajo Aguán, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, and Tela, the IACHR received numerous testimonies concerning the use of criminal offenses such as usurpation, libel and slander, attacks, and threats in order to file civil lawsuits against them as a way of interfering with the defense of human rights. For example, during its visit to the Panamá peasant community in Bajo Aguán, in Colón Department, the IACHR observed with great concern how, in a context of extreme violence due to the agricultural conflict in the region, human rights defenders are subject to lengthy legal proceedings, alternative measures, and arrest warrants. The IACHR received testimonies from peasant leaders accused of seizing land, even when they had not been involved in land recovery processes or did not even live in the region at the time. It was observed in these cases that these processes are widely used as a form of judicial harassment seeking to forcibly evict farmers and silence local resistance.

The IACHR observes that involving human rights defenders in lengthy criminal proceedings, in which alternative measures may also be applied, has a multiplying effect on these intimidation tactics which extend to those who are defending similar causes. The IACHR wishes to reiterate that the state of Honduras must prevent authorities or others from manipulating the punitive power of the state and its judicial bodies to harass human rights defenders. In this sense, the state must take all necessary measures to prevent human rights defenders from being subjected to unfair or unfounded trials as a consequence of legal investigations.

People Deprived of Freedom

The IACHR values the measures that have been taken by the state of Honduras to guarantee the rights of people deprived of freedom. The most notable of these have been the budget increase of 2017, new measures to identify people eligible for prerelease privileges, and the use of electronic surveillance as an alternative to pretrial detention.

Despite this, the IACHR wishes to call attention to the notable increase in overcrowding rates in recent years. The IACHR observes that pretrial detention is one of the most serious problems facing people deprived of freedom in the state of Honduras, as it applies to more than half of the prison population. The IACHR observes that these figures reflect that pretrial detention is not being used as the exceptional measure as which it is intended and that it is used disproportionately among women. The significant increase in the number of prosecutions is mainly due to the reform of the Criminal Procedure Code in 2013, which eliminated the use of alternative measures for 21 offenses. The obligatory use of pretrial detention based on the type of crime runs counter to the American Convention and constitutes an interference on the part of the legislature in the discretionary powers vested in the judiciary. The use of pretrial detention should be based on the right to the presumption of innocence and should be applied in accordance with the principles of exceptionality, legality, necessity, and proportionality.

In recent years, the state has built three “mega-prisons” based on a maximum-security model. These seek to crack down on criminal activity originating from within detention centers. In this regard, the IACHR notes that by establishing this type of prison and applying maximum-security regimes, the state is privileging the security model over a model based on guaranteeing the human rights of people deprived of their freedom and their families.

Despite the fact that the legislation in force prohibits the presence of military forces within the penitentiary system, and despite the state’s claim that it is transforming this into a civil institution, it is still marked by noticeable involvement on the part of the armed forces. Military training is not appropriate for controlling and running detention centers, as this can lead to particular human rights violations, such as the excessive use of force during guard duties and overly strict regimes for controlling the prison population.

Furthermore, the IACHR is especially concerned over the poor conditions of detention it observed at the Honduran prisons that it visited. These have alarming levels of overcrowding, substandard infrastructure, no separation between the accused and convicts, unsanitary conditions, a lack of proper reintegration programs, poor medical care, inadequate nutrition, and insufficient access to clean water.

Indigenous Peoples, People of African Descent, and Garífuna Communities

The IACHR acknowledges that the state of Honduras recognizes the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples and people of African descent. Honduras also informed the Commission that the National Agrarian Institute has begun work on the Mapping of Indigenous Land Deeds project to identify the lands and territories that are claimed by indigenous communities, and that it is drafting a bill to restore land to them. However, the IACHR received reports on the lack of demarcations, land titling, and redistribution or return of lands to indigenous peoples and people of African descent. It has also received worrying reports that public institutions and legal authorities have been issuing private title deeds to third parties within the disputed area.

The IACHR expresses its concern over the hurdles that indigenous people face to being able to enjoy their lands, territories, and natural resources. This issue was confirmed during the visit to the Garífuna community in San Juan, where the Commission was informed that many community members have been forced to move due to pressure on their territories by third parties. The IACHR stresses that indigenous peoples have a right to communal ownership of the land that they have traditionally used and occupied. States have the obligation to prevent the invasion or colonization of indigenous lands by third parties.

The IACHR also received reports on different mining exploration activities and tourism-related or hydro-electrical projects within the territories of indigenous peoples and people of African descent without prior, free, and informed consultation. The state reported that a bill on prior consultation as a safeguard for the rights of indigenous peoples and people of African descent is currently being considered by Congress.

However, the IACHR has also noted information on the lack of involvement of some civil society organizations, indigenous peoples, and people of African descent in drafting the bill in question.

With regard to the status of the Miskito people in La Moskitia, Gracias a Dios Department, the IACHR values the fact that the state has issued title deeds for more than 95% of community lands. The state also reported on the implementation of the Alliance for the Development of La Moskitia, which seeks to improve the population’s access to education, healthcare, and nutrition. However, the IACHR shares the concern of the Miskito people around the occupation of their lands by third parties. The IACHR urges the state to consult on and pass a land restitution law, in accordance with Convention 169 and inter-American standards on the issue.

In its visit to La Moskitia, the IACHR observed a pattern of poverty, unemployment, and a lack of healthcare and energy services, clean water, and sanitation. Likewise, the IACHR received multiple testimonies regarding shortfalls in the implementation of a culturally appropriate bilingual education program. It also documented the multiple health problems that continue to affect Miskito divers who engage in underwater fishing activities.

The IACHR wishes to point out that states have the obligation to adopt measures to guarantee true equality and combat the historical discrimination suffered by vulnerable groups. Furthermore, it wishes to underline states’ obligation to minimize occupational accidents and diseases in both public and private firms.

Internally Displaced People

The IACHR wishes to stress that, according to the information provided by the state, progress is being made on updating and expanding the “Study on the Status of Internal Displacement in Honduras,” to improve the evidence available on the scale and impact of internal displacement in the country. The state needs to move forward promptly and without delay in order to better implement existing measures and adopt additional institutional and financial approaches so as to be able to effectively guarantee the human rights of internally displaced persons. To achieve this, it needs to provide sufficient budgetary resources for the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of People Displaced by Violence.

During the IACHR’s visit, it gathered testimonies from people who claimed they had been forced to relocate within the country as a consequence of different forms of violence, including gang- and mara-related violence; gender and intra-family violence; balance based on sexual orientation and diverse gender identity; violence by government forces following the elections; extractive industries setting up operations; and natural disasters.

The IACHR reminds states that they have the obligation to respect and guarantee the right to freedom of movement and residence to all people under their jurisdiction, which includes the prohibition of arbitrary displacement. This right may be violated when a person falls victim to threats or harassment and the state does not provide the necessary guarantees for them to move freely and reside in the territory in question. Likewise, the lack of effective investigation into violent incidents and widespread impunity may undermine victims’ trust in the legal system and contribute to generating conditions of insecurity. Such impunity may lead to or perpetuate forced displacement or even exile. Internal displacement is a multiple and continuous human rights violation, one that endures until people can return to their places of origin safely, voluntarily, and with dignity, or until they are voluntarily resettled in another part of the country. The IACHR wishes to point out that states are obliged to prevent displacement, protect and assist the displaced, provide and facilitate humanitarian aid, and facilitate the safe return, resettlement, and reintegration of those who have been internally displaced.

Migrants, People Needing International Protection, and Returnees

In Honduras, despite the need for protection that many Hondurans who emigrate abroad have, the IACHR notes that the number of people being deported is on the rise due to the tightening of immigration policies in Mexico and the United States.

The state of Honduras has also informed the IACHR of numerous migration-related measures it has implemented, such as the creation of a Migrant Assistance Task Force, the purpose of which is to coordinate responses from Honduran government institutions to guarantee respect for the human rights of migrants, provide appropriate assistance and protection abroad, and design a strategy to provide assistance and foster reintegration for Hondurans who return to the country. The state also stressed the significance of its having created the Undersecretariat of Consular and Migratory Affairs to guarantee greater emphasis on protection and assistance for migrants and returnees. The IACHR was also informed of the Honduran Migrant Solidarity Fund (FOSMIH), which was created by the Law for the Protection of Honduran Migrants and Their Families.

With regard to assisting migrants who are deported back to the country, the state indicated that three Returning Migrant Assistance Centers (CAMRs) have been established and refurbished. At the CAMRs, the state provides meals, immediate medical attention, psychological care (which is compulsory for children and families), accommodation for 48 hours for those who cannot return to their places of origin, and transportation. A socio-economic case file is started on each Honduran returnee to follow up on them as they reintegrate into their communities of origin. During its visit, the IACHR visited the Assistance Center for Migrant Children and Families in Belén, San Pedro Sula, where it found evidence of a substantial improvement in the conditions and services provided to returnee girls, boys, and families in comparison with what it had found during its visit in 2014.

With regard to migrants who have gone missing en route and investigations into crimes against them and violations of their rights, the IACHR was informed by civil society organizations of the challenges that the families of missing migrants still face when attempting to find and identify their loved ones. In this regard, the state reported that from 2012 to the most recent visit, a total of 440 Hondurans have been reported as missing and DNA samples have been taken from 974 of these individuals’ family members. It also explained that a Committee on Missing Migrants has been established, which is made up of government institutions, civil society organizations, and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF).

Finally, with regard to the reintegration of returnee migrants, the state claimed that since 2017 it has been implementing the Municipal Centers for the Assistance of Returnees (UMAR) in 16 of the municipalities from which the greatest number of migrants leave. The IACHR was also informed that since 2017 the state has been working on an interinstitutional committee to design and draft a migration policy for Honduras that includes return and reintegration into the country.

With regard to returnee migrants, the IACHR believes the state should guarantee reintegration programs for migrants who are returned to Honduras. To guarantee effective, human rights–centered reintegration, the state must, among other measures, ensure the provision of economic, sociocultural, and psychosocial support for returning migrants and for their communities of origin before, during, and after they return.

Recommendations

Based on its preliminary observations from the visit, the IACHR is putting forward the following preliminary recommendations to the state of Honduras:

  1. Work diligently and impartially to advance investigations to identify and sanction those responsible for the acts of violence, deaths, and mistreatment that took place around the protests that followed the most recent elections.
  2. Guarantee due process and ensure that all people detained in the aftermath of the recent elections have broad access to legal counsel, in accordance with inter-American human rights standards.
  3. Strengthen the capacities of the police force to make headway on the plan for gradually replacing the armed forces in public security tasks, in accordance with inter-American human rights standards.
  4. Develop a plan around access to justice to guarantee that victims, their families, and human rights defenders have broad access to investigations and legal proceedings into human rights violations in order to strengthen an independent, impartial justice system.
  5. Review national legislation to eliminate criminal or legal offenses that may restrict or prevent journalists from going about their work and people from exercising their right to freedom of expression.
  6. Strengthen the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life by providing it with protocols, sufficient staff, and a high enough budget to combat the impunity of crimes against human rights defenders and journalists, with a focus on diversity and a gender perspective.
  7. Adopt legislation and public policies that focus on building fiscal policies seeking to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce social inequality.
  8. Develop a national plan to address private companies and human rights.
  9. Adopt a human rights–centered approach to policies for combating corruption.
  10. Make it a priority to investigate, prosecute, and sanction human rights violations from a gender perspective, with a particular focus on femicides against trans women.
  11. Adopt plans, policies, and legislation to guarantee and overcome all obstacles to the full exercise of the sexual and reproductive rights of girls, adolescents, and women.
  12. Ensure that the National Policy on Children responds to children’s need for protection and is based on a realistic, participatory assessment that includes all rights, identifies particularly vulnerable groups, and includes indicators that allow the success and effectiveness of the policy to be monitored.
  13. Review and build a national strategy for the prevention of violence against children that addresses the structural causes that make them more vulnerable to criminal groups. To achieve this, the state must prioritize the prevention and eradication of sexual violence and ensure that a broad range of boys, girls, and adolescents and civil society organizations participate in this process.
  14. Refrain from including regulations that are discriminatory or have discriminatory effects against LGBTI people into the legal system.
  15. Take urgent measures to prevent the legal harassment of human rights defenders, such as implementing protocols and providing training for legal workers to prevent human rights defenders from being subjected to unfair or unfounded prosecutions as a consequence of legal investigations.
  16. Ensure the immediate, appropriate, and effective implementation of all precautionary measures authorized by the IACHR. The state must guarantee that the measures taken are appropriate and effective. Likewise, the IACHR urges the state to investigate further into the sources of risk that underlie these precautionary measures so as to mitigate them.
  17. Strengthen the Mechanism of Protection such that it can handle the increased demand for protective measures and ensure that these are implemented effectively.
  18. Adopt the necessary judicial, legislative, administrative, and other measures needed to bring the use of pretrial detention in the country in line with international standards. The state must promote, regulate, and apply alternative measures to pretrial detention and must repeal the provisions ordering the mandatory application of pretrial detention in connection with a particular type of crime, particularly article 184 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
  19. Guarantee regular visits to prisoners. In particular, the state needs to reform article 10 of the National Penitentiary System visiting regulations to ensure that these only seek to comply with those requirements that are essential to guaranteeing security inside prisons and do not entail excessive expense for people living in poverty or with limited resources.
  20. Take the necessary measures to mark out, provide title deeds for, and return lands and territories claimed by indigenous peoples, as appropriate.
  21. Begin culturally appropriate proceedings to implement the right to free, prior, and informed consultation and consent, incorporating the provisions of Convention 169 and international standards on the matter.
  22. Implement public policies to address the needs of the people living in La Moskitia, particularly to address socio-economic marginalization through effective measures to combat poverty and improve education, employment, and healthcare.
  23. Develop and implement public policies and a specific law that aim to prevent internal displacement and guarantee protection, humanitarian aid, and lasting solutions for internally displaced people, in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the international human rights obligations that the state of Honduras is party to.
  24. Adopt a public policy that aims to guarantee an effective, human rights–centered reintegration process for returnee migrants, especially those in vulnerable situations and/or with a particular need for protection, such as children, victims of human trafficking, people with disabilities, LGTBI people, and people with medical needs.
  25. Implement a special monitoring mechanism with the IACHR to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations made as part of its recent visit to Honduras and the report on this.

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 and to defend 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.

No. 171/18