Honduras: High criminality, militarisation and attacks against human rights defenders among main issues of concern
High incidence of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists raise concerns among Committee members. Photo credit: National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders of Honduras.
The State of the Honduras appeared before the Human Rights Committee on the 5th and 6th July 2017 for the review of its second periodic report. The country’s delegation, mostly composed of women, presented diverse and rich information on the State’s efforts in combating grave issues such as the high rates of criminality, the frequent attacks on human rights defenders, and the various forms of violations to the right to life. The Committee members posed several questions on those and other concerning issues such as the country’s elevated levels of domestic violence and corruption, as well as questions related to child labour, forced displacement, human trafficking and the rights of minorities, including indigenous peoples. The webcast of the review is available here: part 1 and part 2.
"Honduras is one of the most hostile and dangerous countries for human rights defenders, and this is a long-standing issue in the country… The continuing pattern is extremely disturbing."
Criminality and militarisation
As a country with extremely high levels of violence and criminality, Honduras has tried to combat these issues through the adoption of several measures. Despite recognising and commending the State’s efforts, the Human Rights Committee has nonetheless expressed concern regarding the high rate of homicides, the recruitment of child soldiers and the activity of criminal gangs.
Furthermore, the Committee members inquired the delegation of Honduras as to which steps the country has taken to combat extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. In particular, the Committee made reference to the direct or indirect involvement of the police and the military in extrajudicial killing of individuals related to criminal gangs, including minors, and the figures of hundreds of disappeared persons over the past years. In response, the State of Honduras indicated that it has engaged in the prosecution of those violations and that it has established special units for the investigation of deaths of minors and of disappearances. However, most of these crimes remain in impunity. According to one of the Committee members, only 29% of complaints are passed from the police to the Attorney General for prosecution.
During the review, the Committee members also discussed the need for measures of de-militarisation considering that the military plays a major role in the context of law enforcement operations. The State party presented initiatives in this regard, but did not mention any date for achieving demilitarisation. To the contrary, NGOs highlighted the increase of military police acting as law-enforcement agents.
Right to life
Several discussions in relation to the right to life marked the review session of Honduras. Of special concern to the Committee members, there were questions of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists such as the assassination of the environmentalist leader Berta Cáceres.
The high level of femicides also represents a great challenge for the protection of the right to life in the country. Despite the criminalisation of such practice in the Criminal Code of Honduras, most of the cases remain in impunity. The State party has presented several preventive and repressive measures for addressing this issue, but prevalence of violence against women, including feminicides, remains high.
In addition, Committee members expressed great concern with the fact that Honduras has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, and that the practice is criminalised in the penal code in absolute terms. The Committee reinforced its consolidated understanding that criminalising abortion constitutes a violation of the right to life, the prohibition against ill-treatment, the right to privacy and family life as well as the prohibition on discrimination. In addition, it pointed out that prohibitions on termination of pregnancy pose a high risk to women and girls and that maternal mortality related to unsafe abortions is a serious issue in the country. The delegation of Honduras was also inquired about the impact of the break of the Zika virus on the increase of illegal abortion and whether it would consider changing its domestic legislation in light of that.
Rights of minorities
The protection of the rights of minorities remain a grave concern in the State of Honduras, as indigenous communities and afro-Hondurans such as the Garifuna people are subject to discrimination and forced eviction from their ancestral lands. The Committee members have expressed their concern regarding deaths and attacks related to land disputes notably in the Bajo Aguán region, and they inquired the Honduran delegation on measures to ensure the protection of those minorities. Among the State’s efforts in that direction, reference was made to the draft legislation on free, prior and informed consultations involving those communities, as well as the prosecutions and investigations led by the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Ethnic Groups and the Cultural Heritage.
In relation to other situations of discrimination against minorities, the Committee has made reference to the lack of representation of the afro-Honduran community in the political scenario, and it called upon the State of Honduras to ensure that indigenous and afro-Hondurans are adequately represented in public life and decision-making processes.
Recommendations of the Committee
Within one year, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee’s Concluding Observations:
Voluntary termination of pregnancy and reproductive rights
- Amend its legislation to help women avoid unintended pregnancies and clandestine abortions;
- Ensure access to legal and safe abortion including in cases of threat to women’s lives or health, rape or incest, and unviable fetus, and consider decriminalising abortion.
- Eliminate ban on emergency contraceptive pills;
- Maintain statistics on the impact of restrictions on abortion and emergency contraceptive pills;
- Multiply programs that ensure access to sexual and reproductive health, contraceptives and education in this regard.
Right to life and right to security of the person
- Strengthen National Police to facilitate that they assume the attributions related to public order which are currently in the hands of the Armed Forces;
- Continue the process of certification of members of the National Police;
- Adopt legislation to ensure that private security companies operate in conformity with the Covenant, and improve control over their activities;
- Strengthen the oversight function of the Private Security Services Control Unit and increase its budget;
- Control the possession and use of firearms;
- Reduce the number of arms in circulation, including through the adoption of legislation in this regard.
Rights of persons belonging to minorities
- Accelerate procedures aimed at ensuring prior consultations with indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans to obtain their free, prior and informed consent;
- Ensure that such legislation is consistent with the Covenant and other relevant international standards;
- Protect indigenous peoples from all acts of violence and ensure that they can fully exercise their rights, including land rights;
- Strengthen the capacity of the Prosecutor's Office on Ethnicity, and provide training on the rights of indigenous peoples for law enforcement officials, military and private security personnel, judges and prosecutors;
- Grant integral reparation to the communities of Punta Piedra and Triunfo de la Cruz.
The next (third) periodic report of Honduras should be submitted by 28 July 2021.