Honduras 2016/2017

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Honduras 2016/2017

A general climate of violence forced thousands of Hondurans to flee the country. Women, migrants, internally displaced people, human rights defenders – especially lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people as well as environmental and land activists – were particularly targeted with violence. A weak criminal justice system contributed to a climate of impunity.


The government assigned several public security tasks to units made up of officers with military training in an attempt to tackle violence, corruption and organized crime. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) raised concerns about the military carrying out public security operations, including use of excessive force. The presence of military corps on Indigenous territories contributed to social unrest. Over 100 high-ranking police officers were dismissed in a move to purge security forces accused of being infiltrated by organized crime.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Widespread violence across the country forced many to flee – mostly women, children, youth and LGBTI people. People perceived by criminal gangs to have refused to comply with their authority or who had witnessed a crime were routinely harassed, attacked and extorted; young people in particular were forced to join criminal gangs.

Deportees forcibly returned from Mexico and the USA continued to face the same life-threatening situations which initially pushed them to leave. In July, an asylum-seeker who had been forcibly returned from Mexico after the rejection of his asylum application was murdered less than three weeks after his return.1

Human rights defenders

Honduras remained one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for human rights defenders, especially for environmental and land activists. According to the NGO Global Witness, Honduras had the highest number per capita of killings of environmental and land activists in the world.2 Berta Cáceres, leader and co-founder of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was shot dead in her home on 2 March. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had granted her precautionary measures since 2009, but the authorities failed to implement effective measures to protect her. Along with other COPINH members who protested against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the community of Río Blanco, she suffered continued harassment, threats and attacks by state and non-state actors before her death.

On 18 October, José Ángel Flores and Silmer Dionisio George of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán were murdered. Both human rights defenders were shot dead after attending a meeting with several campesino (peasant farmer) people in the Bajo Aguán region, northeastern Honduras. In November, Bertha Oliva, co-ordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) was subjected to a smear campaign, aimed at linking her with drug cartels and discrediting her human rights work. COFADEH has a long history of promoting human rights of campesino people in the Bajo Aguan region.

According to the NGO ACI-PARTICIPA, more than 90% of all killings and abuses against human rights defenders remained unpunished.

LGBTI human rights defenders were also particularly targeted with threats and attacks. René Martínez, president of the Sampedrana Gay Community in the city of San Pedro Sula, was found dead on 3 June with his body bearing signs of torture. The Worldwide Movement for Human Rights reported that members of the LGBTI rights group Asociación Arcoiris were victims of 36 security incidents between July 2015 and January 2016, including killings, threats, surveillance and harassment. The military was accused of infiltrating social movements and attacking human rights defenders.

The Law to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Commentators and Justice Officials had yet to be properly implemented.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

A lack of resources for institutions responsible for supporting Indigenous Peoples continued to be a concern. Several Indigenous Peoples claimed their rights to consultation and to free, prior and informed consent had been violated in the context of projects to explore and exploit natural resources in their territories. A lack of access to justice for Indigenous Peoples in cases of aggression, including killings, remained a challenge. In addition to Berta Cáceres, one Tolupán Indigenous leader was killed on 21 February; he had been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 2015. The perpetrators had yet to be brought to justice.

Women’s rights

Women were routinely subjected to violence. Between January and June, 227 women were murdered. During the same period, 1,498 attacks and 1,375 incidents of sexual violence against women were recorded. Attacks against women remained widely underreported. The country continued to lack specific mechanisms for collection and disaggregation of data related to the killings of women. Abortion remained a crime in all cases, including when the life and health of a woman were at risk, or when the pregnancy was a result of sexual violence. Emergency contraception continued to be banned.

Justice system

In February, the National Congress elected 15 new members of the Supreme Court of Justice for the next seven years. Several civil society organizations raised concerns about the selection process, which they said failed to comply with international standards of impartiality, independence and transparency.

Honduras had not yet complied with the resolution of October 2015 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in which it found that the rights of four judges dismissed for opposing a coup in 2009 were violated. The judges had yet to be reinstated, and other measures of reparation were still pending.

  1. Home sweet home? Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador’s role in a deepening refugee crisis (AMR 01/4865/2016)
  2. We are defending the land with our blood: Defenders of the land, territory and environment in Honduras and Guatemala (AMR 01/4562/2016)

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