The level of insecurity and violence remained high. Widespread impunity continued to undermine public trust in the authorities and the justice system. Protests in the aftermath of the presidential election were brutally repressed by security forces. Honduras remained one of the most dangerous countries in the Americas region for human rights defenders, especially for those working to protect land, territory and the environment. The government announced the creation of a Ministry for Human Rights and Justice, to become operational in 2018.
Excessive use of force
Mass protests, which began on 29 November around the country to denounce the lack of transparency around the presidential election, were brutally repressed by security forces. Hundreds of people were arrested or detained and a 10-day curfew was implemented in December. Security forces used excessive force against protesters, including with lethal weapons. At least 31 people were killed, and multiple cases of people being injured by firearms or brutally beaten by security forces were also reported, as well as cases that could amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders, particularly environmental and land activists, continued to be at risk of human rights abuses. They were subjected to smear campaigns by both state and non-state actors to discredit their work, and were regularly targeted with intimidation, threats, and attacks. In June, three members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) were attacked by armed assailants while they were in a car, returning from a meeting. Local NGOs said that the justice system continued to be misused to harass and discourage human rights defenders. Unnecessary and excessive use of force by security forces during peaceful protests was also reported.
The vast majority of attacks registered against human rights defenders remained unpunished, as a result of multiple obstacles hindering investigations and trials. There was little progress in the investigation into the killing in March 2016 of Berta Cáceres, the Indigenous environmental defender and co-founder of COPINH. The public hearings of eight suspects detained in relation to the case were postponed on multiple occasions. Independent experts revealed a lack of due diligence in the investigations, including a lack of prosecution of other individuals potentially involved in the crime. There was no information about any progress made by the Public Prosecutor in identifying those responsible for planning her killing.
Although some progress was made to protect human rights defenders through the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Commentators and Justice Officials, efforts to ensure their comprehensive protection remained insufficient.
New provisions of the Criminal Code on terrorism and related criminal offences approved by Congress in February and September were defined in an overly broad and vague manner, contrary to the principle of legality. The provisions could lead to the arbitrary and inadequate application of the Code against peaceful protesters and human rights defenders, which could further criminalize their work and obstruct social movements.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
Several Indigenous Peoples continued to claim that their rights to consultation and to free, prior and informed consent were violated in the context of projects to explore and exploit natural resources in their territories. Killings, aggressions and cases of misuse of the justice system against those defending Indigenous Peoples were reported.
The Draft Framework Law on Free, Prior and Informed Consultation of Indigenous Peoples faced criticism, including of the insufficient participation of Indigenous and Garifuna (Afro-descendant) communities in the process.
Reparation measures ordered in 2015 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in two cases where Honduras had violated the collective land rights of the Garifuna communities had yet to be implemented.
Conflicts persisted due to the lack of secure land tenure. High levels of violence were reported in the Aguán Valley where long-standing land disputes remained unresolved. According to the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán, precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect the life and integrity of leaders in the Aguán Valley were not adequately implemented.
Women, girls and LGBTI people continued to face high levels of gender-related violence. Between January and October, 236 violent deaths of women were registered by the Centre for Women’s Rights. According to the Lesbian Cattrachas Network, killings of LGBTI people also increased, with a total of 35 people killed. Impunity remained high in these cases, as authorities lacked sufficient capacity and resources to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible.
Sexual and reproductive rights
The failure to protect women’s and girls’ rights and guarantee access to safe and legal abortion in any circumstances continued. Despite recommendations from international human rights bodies and mechanisms, in April Congress decided to maintain the prohibition of abortion in all circumstances in the new Criminal Code.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Widespread violence across Honduras remained a key factor of forced migration from the country. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, between January and October, 14,735 Hondurans sought asylum worldwide, mostly in Mexico and the USA. However, large numbers of Hondurans also continued to be forcibly returned from these countries to the same life-threatening situations which initially pushed them to escape. To date, there was no comprehensive mechanism or protocol to detect and address in a systematic manner the protection needs of deportees.