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
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.
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
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.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of women or men, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. The penalties for rape range from nine to 13 years’ imprisonment. The law was not effectively enforced, and weak public institutional structures contributed to the inadequate enforcement.
The law does not criminalize domestic violence but provides penalties of up to 12 years in prison for violence against a family member, depending on the severity of the assault and aggravating circumstances. If a victim’s physical injuries do not reach the severity required to categorize the violence as a criminal act, the legal penalty for a first offense is a sentence of one to three months of community service. Survivors of domestic violence are entitled to certain protective measures, such as removing the abuser from the home and prohibiting the abuser from visiting the victim’s work or other frequently visited places. Abusers caught in the act may be detained for up to 24 hours as a preventive measure. The law provides a maximum sentence of three years in prison for disobeying a restraining order connected with the crime of violence against a woman.
Civil society groups reported that women often did not report domestic violence or withdrew charges because they feared, or were economically dependent on, the aggressor. In addition women experienced delays in accessing justice due to police who failed to process complaints in a timely manner or judicial system officials who deferred scheduling hearings. Institutions such as the National Women’s Institute attempted to enhance the government’s response to domestic violence by opening three additional women’s centers in the country. These efforts were insufficient due to limited political will, inadequate staffing, limited or no services in rural areas, absence of or inadequate training and awareness of domestic violence among police and other authorities, and a pattern of male-dominant culture and norms.
In cooperation with the UN Development Program (UNDP), the government operated consolidated reporting centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula where women could report crimes, seek medical and psychological attention, and receive other services. These reporting centers were in addition to the 298 government-operated women’s offices – one in each municipality – that provided a wide array of services to women, focusing on education, personal finance, health, social and political participation, environmental stewardship, and prevention of gender-based violence.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, including in employment. Violators face penalties of one to three years in prison and possible suspension of their professional licenses, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Contraception supplies continued to be limited. The law prohibits the sale, distribution, and use of emergency contraception for any reason, including for survivors of sexual violence. The government provided victims of sexual violence access to other health-care services.
Although 74 percent of births were attended by skilled health care personnel, NGOs reported significant gaps in obstetric care, especially in rural areas. The World Bank reported in 2018 that the adolescent birth rate was 72 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.
Discrimination: Although the law accords women and men the same legal rights and status, including property rights in divorce cases, many women did not fully enjoy such rights due to barriers in access to justice and lack of information regarding legal protections. Most women in the workforce engaged in lower-status and lower-paying informal occupations, such as domestic service, without the benefit of legal protections. By law women have equal access to educational opportunities.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law criminalizes discrimination based on race and ethnicity and includes crimes committed against individuals because of race or ethnicity as aggravating circumstances to increase penalties for criminal offenses. Nevertheless, social discrimination against racial and ethnic groups persisted, as did physical violence.
As of September the Public Ministry had received nine reports of racial or ethnic discrimination. CONADEH received four reports as of August.
On March 3, unknown assailants killed Martin Pandy, president of the Garifuna community of Corozal, and another community member. Pandy was a human rights and land rights activist.
The government’s National Policy to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination seeks to promote equality and combat discrimination related to the country’s seven indigenous and two Afro-descendent groups, with a focus on social and political participation; access to education, health care, justice, and employment opportunities; and rights to ancestral lands and natural resources. NGOs reported the government did not effectively combat discrimination and promote equal access to government services or employment opportunities.