Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Honduras

Amid a general climate of crime and violence, human rights defenders, Indigenous, peasant and Afro-descendant leaders involved in land disputes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists, justice officials and journalists were targeted with violence and intimidation by state and criminal actors in retaliation for their work. A weak criminal justice system and corruption contributed to a climate of extensive impunity for these abuses.

Background

The Honduran Supreme Court ruled in April to eliminate an article in the Constitution that limits presidential terms to one in office. The change meant that President Hernández would be able to seek re-election in 2017.

Tens of thousands of protesters dubbed “the indignant ones” (los indignados) protested for months against corruption after a series of scandals involving the government and political parties, in some of the biggest marches in recent Honduran history. The government resisted the protesters’ demand for the formation of an international commission with the power to investigate crimes and corruption by government officials. Instead, it announced in September an initiative in conjunction with the OAS to reform the justice system and strengthen the independence of the judicial branch. The protesters rejected this proposal as insufficient and continued to push for an international commission with investigative powers.

Human rights defenders

Congress approved in April the Protection Law for Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice Officials. The move was welcomed as an important step to protect these groups, but in August a group of civil society organizations wrote to the government to voice concerns about the vagueness and lack of transparency of the draft implementation regulations, and asked to postpone its approval by several months.

Human rights defenders, particularly women, faced threats and violence – abuses which were rarely investigated. The government failed to implement protection measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and to investigate a series of abuses in recent years against Indigenous Tolupan leaders, including the killings of two of their members by local hitmen during demonstrations in 2013.1

In addition to violence, human rights defenders faced judicial harassment in retaliation for their work. Women's rights defender Gladys Lanza Ochoa was convicted of criminally defaming the director of the Foundation for the Development of Urban and Rural Social Housing (FUNDEVI) and sentenced to a year and a half in prison after her organization supported a woman who had accused him of sexual harassment.2 She remained free as she appealed against her sentence. Journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado lost a series of appeals against his conviction on charges of criminal defamation against the dean of the economics school at the Autonomous National University of Honduras (UNAH). His sentence included a 16-month ban on practising journalism.

In August, Honduras said it would comply with 2014 recommendations by the IACHR regarding human rights violations committed by the state against environmental activist Carlos Escaleras Mejía, who was murdered in 1997, and members of his family. The IACHR had established that Honduras was responsible for the violation both of Escaleras right to life, freedom of association and political rights, and of his family’s integrity. The recommendations include accepting international responsibility for the state’s failure to carry out an effective investigation into the killing, fully investigating the murder and disciplining the officials who failed in their duty.

Impunity

Although government statistics showed a decrease in homicide rates, the country continued to suffer from a high rate of violent crime which, together with a deficient criminal justice system, resulted in pervasive impunity for human rights abuses. The Alliance for Peace and Justice, a Honduran NGO, found in a 2014 report that fewer than 4% of murder cases resulted in a conviction.

The ineffective criminal justice system and evidence of corruption and human rights violations by police officers contributed to a lack of trust in law enforcement and justice institutions.

Land disputes

Local campesino organizations in the Bajo Aguán region faced violent attacks and threats in recent years by private security guards with ties to powerful landowners, and abuses by soldiers during evictions related to long-running land disputes. Local organizations in the Bajo Aguán region claim that 90 campesinos were killed between 2008 and 2013. Despite the establishment in April 2014 of a special unit in the Attorney Generals Office to investigative these killings, there was little progress in the cases.

In September, a forced eviction of campesinos in the department of Cortés resulted in the death of a teenager in unclarified circumstances. Peasant farmers said the boy was shot and killed by a policeman but a police spokesperson said the officers who participated in the eviction never fired their weapons, and that the police would launch an investigation.

Legal developments

Local civil society groups warned that proposed changes to the Criminal Code before Congress would eliminate language introduced in 2013 to Article 321, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

  1. El Estado hondureño debe garantizar la vida e integridad personal de líderes Indígenas Tolupanes (AMR 37/2193/2015)
  2. Honduras: Nadie debe ser criminalizado por defender los derechos humanos y Gladys Lanza no puede ser la excepción (AMR 37/001/2015)