Emergency shelters for landless farmers in the Bajo Aguán Honduras

Honduras Violence, Public Safety, and Human Rights

Violent crime in Honduras has been a topic of public interest for years and is also perceived as an obstacle to development. Above all, she is responsible for the fact that Honduras only comes 119th (out of 163 countries) in the 2020 Global Peace Index ranking. In the 2013 annual study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the “homicide rate” in Honduras is one of the highest in the world at 90.4 murders per 100,000 residents in 2012. Detailed information on the violence situation can be obtained from the UNDP-funded “Observatorio de la Violencia”. The most current homicide rate figures are from UNODC for 2018 at 38.9 per 100,000 residents. The US organization WorldPopulationReview gives a homicide rate for 2020 of 56.5 per 100,000 residents. However, in recent years there has been an increase in massacres with more than three deaths.

Minors and young people between the ages of 18 and 30 represent the majority of the victims of violence. To prevent youth violence, the government has launched the very controversial “Guardianes de la patria” program. In this program, around 25,000 children from so-called problem areas are to be taught by the military on a voluntary basis. Civil society organizations see this as a further contribution to the militarization of society and the threat to children’s rights. The UN Committee on Children’s Rights has called for the program to be discontinued.

While in the previous decade the main cause of the rampant violence was seen in youth gangs (“maras”), in the last few years this has been more and more recognized in drug trafficking and organized crime, with “maras” being closely linked to organized crime.

Since the murder of the son of UNAH President Julietta Castellanos, the focus has been on the police as the cause of violence. The military has been used to fight crime alongside the police since 2002, but especially since the coup, which has led to an enormous militarization of society. Police duties were assigned to the military by law.

As for human rights concerns, it can be stated that the period of the worst political persecution began at the same time as the formal democratization of the country. In the 1980’s, the great autonomy and abundance of power of the armed forces, which were promoted and influenced by the USA as a bulwark against Sandinism in Nicaragua, made it possible for the military to “disappear” among other things. After the end of the Cold War, the subordination of the military to the civilian government was achieved in 1994. A systematic legal or political appraisal of the human rights violations of the 1980’s never took place, and human rights organizations like COFADEH (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos en Honduras) or CODEH are still fighting today(Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras) for the rights of the victims then (and now) and for their families.

Since the coup against Zelaya, the human rights situation in Honduras has deteriorated drastically, as international observers have established (including: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – CIDH, Human Rights Watch). As Amnesty International reports for 2017/18, political activists are still primarily journalists, state lawyers and lawyers, human rights defenders, people from the LGTBI movement, and indigenous activists and landless smallholders exposed to persecution, intimidation and death threats. According to AI, violence against women has increased in recent years. Frontline Defenders reported 31 murders of human rights defenders in Honduras in its 2019 annual report. Basically, it can be said that civil society’s room for maneuver is strongly suppressed and restricted.

In 2015 the law for the protection of human rights defenders was passed, the implementation of which is inadequate. At the request of the Honduran government, there has been an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since 2016. The report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for 2018 was published in March 2019. One of the most important recommendations is to regulate fair access to land and natural resources and to focus on the socio-economic conditions of the respective population groups instead of criminalizing them. The OACNUDH office has been weakened with the departure of the two leading representatives.

According to constructmaterials, Honduras underwent the OHCHR’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November. The government has submitted a report. Civil society organizations also have reports submitted. The human rights situation has deteriorated since the previous review. Results of the UPR are addressed to the Honduran state. In its recommendations, Germany called on the Honduran government to protect human rights defenders, environmental activists, journalists and other endangered groups. The independence of the judiciary and the involvement of civil society in the protection mechanism were recommended. After the end of the MACCIH, Honduras should strengthen its institutional capacity to fight corruption. Germany is also campaigning for the investigation of human rights violations after the 2017 elections. Honduras received 223 recommendations, almost a third more than in 2015, which clearly shows that there is no progress.

Basically, it can be stated that civil society’s room for maneuver is severely suppressed and restricted and human rights defenders are exposed to attacks and criminalization. These points are particularly clear in the 2019 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights.

Current information on the human rights situation in Honduras can be found on the website of the organization Defensores en Linea and from UN Human Rights. The report by ACI-Paticipa gives an overview of the human rights situation in 2019. The US Department of State also gives a comprehensive overview.

In addition to the persecution of political opponents, there has been an increase in acts of violence against children and young people. However, children and young people are also exposed to human rights abuses such as human trafficking, sexual exploitation and child labor. Another alarming increase in violence can be observed against women and girls. In the investigations of CDM(Centro de Derechos de Mujeres) has seen a sharp increase in violence, the murder of women and girls, after the 2009 coup. The investigation and investigation of all these acts are insufficient and almost always remain inconclusive. The problem of impunity promotes further human rights violations and also creates a climate of mistrust in state institutions and general uncertainty, especially since some perpetrators can be found in the ranks of these bodies.

In connection with the observance of labor rights, especially in the maquila industry, in which mostly women and girls work, enormous violations have been found.

In addition, the human rights situation in prisons is catastrophic. In the past few years, there have been three devastating prison fires in which several hundred inmates have died. The last major fire occurred in Comayagua in February 2012. The year 2019 ended with massacres in three prisons, including the maximum security prison La Tolva, in which more than 40 inmates were killed. The massacres took place at a time when control of the prisons was being handed over to the military by the police. The militarization of prisons is heavily criticized by civil society.

In the event of a violation of human rights, Hondurans have the opportunity to report this to the Comisionado Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CONADEH).

A new penal code should strengthen the legal system. There are several very controversial paragraphs that both criminalize human rights defenders and journalists and, on the other hand, lower the penalties for corruption. The discussions at least succeeded in extending the legislative vacancy, despite the current Corona crisis, the penal code should come into force at the end of June 2020.

The violence situation in the country is complex and the problem of impunity promotes further human rights violations. Politically motivated murders can easily be attributed to everyday crime or drug trafficking. This leads to a blurring of acts of violence and makes them extremely difficult to solve. Drug trafficking and everyday crime also serve as motives for the state to enact laws, such as the popularly known “wiretapping law” or the creation of a special police against terrorism and organized crime (TIGRES). Civil society organizations see them as instruments of oppression and fear increased repression as a result.

Due to the violence and conflicts over resources, there are around 247,000 internally displaced people in Honduras, mainly in the Bajo Aguán, Choloma, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula regions.

Emergency shelters for landless farmers in the Bajo Aguán Honduras