IACHR

Press Release

IACHR and OHCHR Express Concern over the Provisions of the Criminal Code in Honduras and Call for a Review in Accordance with International and Inter-American Human Rights Standards

July 12, 2019

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9000
mrivero@oas.org

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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras expressed their concern over the final text of the country’s new Criminal Code, which was published in May. The legislation contains disproportionate restrictions on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, in addition to provisions whose wordings may affect the right to protest and defend human rights in the country, among other things.

With regard to the disproportionate restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, the IACHR, the IACHR Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, and the OHCHR expressed their concern over the definition of “criminal responsibility for crimes committed through the mass media,” as this continues to describe libel and slander as crimes, and also specifies the different channels whose use implies that a message has been placed in the public domain. They also expressed their concern regarding the definition of the crime of “using secret or privileged information,” and the crimes of espionage and public disturbances. With regard to the latter, the IACHR, the IACHR Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, and the OHCHR observed that the current wording could lead to undue criminalization of the exercise of the right to peaceful protest and may affect people’s exercise of the right to freedom of expression. With regard to provisions that may limit the effective exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and association, both organizations express their concern over the description of the crimes of “illicit assembly and demonstrations,” “association to commit a criminal offense,” and “association to engage in terrorism.” With regard to the latter, the IACHR and the OHCHR noted that as per the wording of the new Criminal Code, the notion of terrorist association is excessively broad in scope and could lead to the criminalization of a broad range of behaviors that do not merit being described as terrorism in the light of international jurisprudence and human rights standards.

The IACHR and the OHCHR also express their concern over the description of the crime of torture, the current wording of which excludes the possibility of this crime being committed by individuals acting on the instruction of government officials or with their agreement. According to international and regional standards on the prohibition and prevention of torture, the description of this as a crime must include the possibility of it being perpetrated by individuals acting on the instruction of government officials who compelled them to commit such acts directly or are complicit in them.

With regard to women’s rights, both organizations noted with concern that the Criminal Code continues to criminalize of abortion under all circumstances. The IACHR and OHCHR uphold that the absolute criminalization of abortion runs contrary to the state’s international obligations to respect, protect, and guarantee women’s rights to life, health, and integrity.

Furthermore, with regard to the crime of usurpation—when someone takes possession of a property or usurps another person’s ownership of a property by means of violence or serious intimidation—the lack of precision regarding the intention for perpetrating such an act is cause for concern. The current wording of the Criminal Code makes it more open to the discretion of judicial authorities whether this crime can be used against human rights defenders, something that both the IACHR and the OHCHR have observed regarding the criminalization of this group in Honduras.

Finally, the IACHR and the OHCHR noted the lack of transparency and access to information that has been observed in several key stages of the discussion process around the Criminal Code at the National Congress, which prevented certain social sectors from taking part in this. This runs counter to the provisions of international legal standards and domestic legislation, particularly with regard to the publication of the decisions being discussed by Congress and the session schedule.

The OHCHR noted once again that the special procedures mandate holders of the UN Human Rights Council provided technical assistance during the consultations Congress held as part of the discussions around the Criminal Code, at which time they made some of these observations known.

The IACHR and OHCHR called upon the state of Honduras to review the legislation discussed in this press release during the vacatio legis for the approved Criminal Code, in accordance with the international human rights standards and commitments Honduras is a party to. In this regard, the IACHR and OHCHR welcomed the fact that the Office of the President is open to reviewing the text of the Criminal Code. Both organizations wish to state once again that they are willing to continue providing Honduras with technical assistance and that will soon be presenting a technical evaluation of the new Criminal Code. The aim of the this is to enable their observations to be taken into consideration by the National Congress and the Office of the President of Honduras, in light of the announcement made by Congress in its press release of July 11, as part of a formal reform process in which a broad range of stakeholders can take part, given the critical role that the criminal code plays in a functioning democratic system.

On May 4, 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the government of the Republic of Honduras signed an agreement to establish an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country. The OHCHR monitors and reports to the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in order to advise the Honduran authorities on the design and implementation of policies, programs, and measures that help promote and protect human rights in the country, guided by the principles of impartiality and independence. As part of the United Nations Secretariat, the OHCHR coordinates global efforts to promote and protect human rights through cooperation and the strengthening of state institutions and civil society.

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. 174/19