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Honduras

Executive Summary

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The most recent national and local elections were held in November. Voters elected Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE Party as president for a four-year term scheduled to begin in January 2022. International observers generally recognized the elections as free and fair.

The Honduran National Police maintain internal security and report to the Secretariat of Security. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities in support of the national police and other civilian authorities. Some larger cities have police forces that operate independently of the national police and report to municipal authorities. The Military Police of Public Order report to military authorities but conduct operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. The National Interinstitutional Security Force coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the national police, military police of public order, National Intelligence Directorate, and Public Ministry during interagency operations. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agents ; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats to media members by criminal elements and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government prosecuted some officials who committed abuses, including government corruption, but a weak judicial system and corruption were major obstacles to obtaining convictions.

Organized criminal groups, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, business community members, journalists, bloggers, women, and other vulnerable populations. The government investigated and prosecuted some of these crimes, but impunity was widespread.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The reported killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to criminal activity by government agents. The Ministry of Security’s Directorate of Disciplinary Police Affairs investigated members of the Honduran National Police accused of human rights abuses. The Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and the Humanitarian Law Directorate investigated and arrested members of the military accused of human rights abuses.

The National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) reported 15 arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces as of August. The Public Ministry reported two such cases in judicial processing and five other cases under investigation as of September.

On April 27, the Public Ministry filed an indictment against police officer Jarol Rolando Perdomo Sarmiento for the February 6 murder of Keyla Martinez in La Esperanza, Intibuca Department. Perdomo allegedly killed Keyla Martinez after she was detained for violating the country’s COVID-19 curfew.

The government continued to prosecute individuals allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On July 5, the National Tribunal Court found Roberto David Castillo Mejia guilty for his role as one of the alleged intellectual authors of her murder.

There were reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity. On July 6, unknown assailants shot and killed land rights defender Juan Manuel Moncada in Tocoa, Colon Department. Authorities continued to investigate the incident.

Organized criminal groups, such as drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs including MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed killings, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and intimidation of police, prosecutors, journalists, women, human rights defenders, and others. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced the highest rates of violence.

On July 25, media reported individuals shot and killed Liberal Party congressional candidate and former congresswoman Carolina Echeverria Haylock in Tegucigalpa. In September police arrested Denis Abel Ordonez, Michael Andre Mejia, and Walter Antonio Matute Raudales in connection with her murder. Media linked her killing to organized criminal groups and drug trafficking organizations.

b. Disappearance

There were no credible reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the law prohibits such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuses by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers.

CONADEH reported 69 cases of alleged torture or cruel and inhuman treatment by security forces through August, while the Public Ministry received 18 such reports. The quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) received 18 complaints of the use of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment through August.

Corruption along with a lack of investigative resources and judicial delays led to widespread impunity, including in security forces. The Directorate of Disciplinary Police Affairs investigated abuses by police forces. The directorate issued 1,379 recommendations to the Ministry of Security for disciplinary actions as of September following internal investigations of national police members. The Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and the Humanitarian Law Directorate investigated abuses by the military. CONADEH received complaints involving human rights abuses and referred them to the Public Ministry for investigation. The Secretariat of Human Rights provided training to security forces to reinforce respect for human rights. Through September the secretariat trained 2,626 law enforcement officials in human rights and international humanitarian law.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and alleged abuse by prison officials.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Secretariat of Human Rights reported that as of September 7, the total prison population was 20,768 in 25 prisons and one detention center. According to the secretariat, the system was designed for approximately 10,600 inmates.

The government failed to control pervasive gang-related violence and criminal activity within the prisons. Many prisons lacked sufficient security personnel. Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported prison riots, violent confrontations, and killings between gang members in prisons throughout the year.

CONAPREV reported 13 violent deaths in prisons as of September. On June 17, a riot between alleged members of the 18th Street and MS-13 gangs in the maximum-security prison La Tolva in Moroceli, El Paraiso Department, resulted in five dead and 39 injured.

As of September the Secretariat of Human Rights reported the country’s pretrial detention center held 33 individuals. The center, administered by the National Prison Institute, was on a military installation and received some support services from the military. The government used the pretrial detention center to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security, including police and military officials. The government closed two pretrial detention centers in April due to low numbers of these types of pretrial detainees. Long periods of pretrial detention remained common and problematic, with many other pretrial detainees held in the general population with convicted prisoners.

Authorities did not generally segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; as of September the National Prison Institute reported 106 prisoners had been treated for tuberculosis. The lack of space for social distancing combined with the lack of adequate sanitation made prison conditions even more life threatening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretariat of Human Rights reported three prisoner deaths due to COVID-19 through September. There was limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. CONAPREV reported every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, but basic medical supplies and medicines were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

Administration: The judicial system is legally responsible for monitoring prison conditions and providing for the rights of prisoners. The government tasks CONAPREV with visiting prisons and making recommendations for protecting the rights of prisoners. CONAPREV conducted 138 visits to prisons as of September. Media noted that family members often faced long delays or were unable to visit detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these requirements effectively.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant unless they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, or they encounter a person in possession of evidence related to a crime. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners the right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities, although management of this reporting mechanism was often weak. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 21 specific felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them. Some judges, however, ruled that such suspects may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although the public defender mechanism was weak, and authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: CONADEH reported 38 reports of arbitrary arrest through August. The Public Ministry reported seven cases of alleged illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of September.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. For crimes with minimum sentences of six years’ imprisonment, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less.

The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Nonetheless, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants may receive free assistance from an interpreter. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures, such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights System.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the law generally prohibits such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of another emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of September CONADEH had received 33 complaints.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

The government allocated a budget of nearly 21 million lempiras ($865,000) for the continued operation of a protection mechanism for journalists, human rights defenders, and judicial-sector operators. As of August it continued to provide protection to 12 journalists, among other types of activists and human rights defenders. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern regarding weak implementation of the law and limited resources available to operate the government’s protection mechanism. Civil society organizations criticized the government’s failure to investigate threats adequately.

The Honduran National Police’s Special Victim’s Investigations Unit, formerly known as the Violent Crimes Task Force, investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including journalists as well as judges, lawyers, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media members and NGOs stated the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized criminal groups or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, may initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. No cases were reported during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized criminal groups. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized journalists (as well as activists and civil society organizations) who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. On October 7, in a special session held during the Francisco Morazan national holiday, the National Congress passed a change to the penal code expanding the definition of “encroachment” (trespassing) by designating streets and parks as protected spaces and redefining groups of protesters to include as few as two persons. The change increases the penalty from two to four years to four to six years. The law entered into force on November 1.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a moderate fine for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. The law prohibits police from unionizing (see section 7.a.).

On October 7, the National Congress passed changes to the money-laundering law to designate civil society organizations as politically exposed persons due to organizations’ use of foreign aid. The designation requires banks to impose a higher level of scrutiny on politically exposed persons’ financial transactions.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The national curfew instituted in response to COVID-19, however, limited the freedom of internal movement and affected the freedom to leave the country, including for individuals at risk of or subject to persecution or torture. The government ended the curfew on October 1.

In-country Movement: There were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated there were approximately 247,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to violence in the country as of 2020. According to UN reports from 2020, transnational gang activity was a primary contributor to violence-related internal displacement. In addition the center estimated approximately 937,000 individuals were forcibly displaced by natural disasters during 2020. Official data on forced internal displacement, especially displacement due to violence, was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children). NGOs reported IDPs were at increased risk of victimization and exploitation by criminal groups, which was also often the cause of displacement.

The government maintained the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of Persons Displaced by Violence and created the Directorate for the Protection of Persons Internally Displaced by Violence within the Secretariat of Human Rights. The secretariat reported assisting 127 IDPs as of August. Both the secretariat and the commission focused on developing policies to address IDPs. Under the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework, with significant support from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the government continued to build capacity to provide services to vulnerable populations, including IDPs, those at risk of forced displacement, refugees, and returned migrants. Despite incremental progress, government capacities remained relatively nascent and limited.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations that provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government had a nascent system to provide legal protection to refugees. Its operations to receive and process cases were reliant on substantial support from UNHCR.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Transiting migrants and asylum seekers with pending cases were vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation by criminal organizations. Women, children, and LGBTQI+ migrants and asylum seekers with pending cases were especially vulnerable to abuse. Asylum seekers and refugees continued to face acute protection risks in border zones.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. A revision to the penal code that entered into force in June 2020 broadly reduces criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Inconsistent, retroactive implementation of provisions of the revised code led to logjams in the legal system and impunity for some of the accused. Backsliding occurred in cases brought during the four-year mandate of the OAS Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras; several of its cases were dismissed or postponed as courts heard appeals based on the new code. The government took some steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging senior officials on COVID-related procurement corruption. The government launched a new Ministry of Transparency in November 2020 to address some of these concerns. Anticorruption efforts remained an area of concern, as did the government’s ability to protect justice-sector officials, such as prosecutors and judges. Civil society continued to criticize the law for classification of documents related to security and national defense, saying it limited transparency and allowed officials to use the classification of documents to obscure wrongdoing.

Corruption: The new trial of former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo on charges of fraud and misappropriation of public funds, originally set to commence in March, was twice delayed for medical reasons. Periodic medical evaluations had not found Lobo healthy enough to proceed. Her most recent evaluation was in August, and the court declared her fit to stand trial in September. Her retrial was scheduled for February 2022.

Marco Bogran, former director of INVEST-H, the Honduran government entity tasked with providing coronavirus pandemic relief contracts to private firms, remained in pretrial detention awaiting his next court appearance, scheduled for January 31, 2022. Bogran was arrested in October 2020 on two corruption charges for embezzling an estimated 1.14 billion lempiras ($47 million) in public funds and funneling a contract for mobile hospitals to his uncle, Napoleon Corrales. He was arrested again in April for separate but related charges.

In January the government funded the opening of a UN Office of Drugs and Crime office to begin a government transparency project and support the drafting of the country’s first national anticorruption strategy.

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