Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Honduras to the Inter-American Court

April 2, 2014

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case No. 12.816, Adán Guillermo López Lone et al. v. Honduras.

This case has to do with the disciplinary proceedings instituted against Judges Adán Guillermo López Lone, Luis Alonso Chévez de la Rocha, and Ramón Enrique Barrios Maldonado, as well as Magistrate Tirza del Carmen Flores Lanza, in the context of the June 2009 coup d’état in Honduras. The victims belonged to the “Asociación Jueces por la Democracia” (Association of Judges for Democracy), which issued public communiques describing the events surrounding the destitution of former President Manuel Zelaya as a coup d’état. This view directly contradicted the stance of the Supreme Court of Justice, which held that the events involved a constitutional succession. The IACHR concluded that the disciplinary proceedings were instituted for the purpose of punishing actions or statements by the victims against the coup d’état, and that the grounds for doing so ignored the procedure contemplated in the Constitution, which established that the Supreme Court was the competent authority to decide on the judges’ dismissal “following a proposal from the Judicial Career Council.” Contrary to that, the dismissals were carried out by means of Supreme Court agreements so that the Career Council acted after the fact, as an appeal body, despite being a dependent arm of the Court.

Moreover, the IACHR found that the proceedings were plagued by numerous irregularities that affected the victims’ due process. For example, considering the position publicly espoused by the Supreme Court, validating the coup d’état, that authority did not act impartially in ruling on the victims’ dismissals. Nor did it give them the opportunity to recuse the members of the Judicial Career Council, who had been directly asked to serve on the council by its president, with no nomination process that would ensure its independence.

In addition, the Commission concluded that the grounds for disciplining the victims did not adhere to the principle of non-retroactivity and that the decisions taken were not well-founded, which affected the victims’ right to freedom of expression. The intervention of the State’s disciplinary apparatus also aimed to hamper the victims’ participation in the Association of Judges for Democracy, as a consequence of its actions against the coup d’état, so that violations to political rights and freedom of association were also involved. Finally, as a result of the decisions by the Judicial Career Council, the victims did not receive effective judicial protection and did not obtain redress of their rights.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on March 17, 2014, due to the failure by the State of Honduras to comply with its recommendations. The Commission had recommended that the State reinstate the victims into the judiciary, in positions similar to what they had held before, with the same remuneration, social benefits, and rank comparable to what they would hold today if they had not been dismissed, for the period of time that was left in their terms. Alternatively, if it was not possible, for well-founded reasons, to reinstate them, the State should pay compensation. The IACHR also recommended redressing the consequences of the human rights violations established in the case, including both material and nonmaterial damages. Moreover, it recommended that the State of Honduras order the necessary regulatory changes to ensure that disciplinary proceedings against judges are carried out by competent authorities and with sufficient guarantees of independence and impartiality, and order the necessary regulatory changes to ensure that the grounds for disciplining judges and the applicable sanctions are compatible with the principle of non-retroactivity.

This case will enable the Court to expand its case law on the principle of judicial independence and its implications in terms of stronger guarantees for non-retroactivity and due process in the context of a proceeding to punish a judge. Specifically, this case offers the Inter-American Court the chance to examine the importance of respecting such guarantees in light of the principle of judicial independence, in a context of a democratic crisis resulting from a coup d’état. Moreover, the Court will be able to expand its case law on subsequent liability for the exercise of freedom of expression, specifically in terms of the requirement of strict legality when it comes to disciplinary grounds, as well as the way in which the requirements of appropriateness, necessity, and proportionality should be applied.

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.

No. 32/14