Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country last held national and local elections in November 2017. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term beginning in January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections as free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.
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 a supporting role to 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 is an interagency command that coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the national police, military police of public order, National Intelligence Directorate, and Public Ministry during interagency operations. Although the Interinstitutional Security Force reports to the National Security and Defense Council, it plays a coordinating role and did not exercise broad command and control functions over other security forces except during interagency operations involving those forces. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements; criminalization of libel, although no cases were reported; serious acts of corruption including by high level officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and threats and violence against indigenous, Afro-descendant communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.
The government continued to prosecute some officials who committed abuses, but a weak judicial system and corruption were major obstacles to gaining convictions. The national curfew and shutdown of government offices in response to COVID-19 severely hampered government efforts to address abuses during most of the year.
Organized-crime 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 many of these crimes, particularly through the national police’s Violent Crimes Task Force.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several 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 other criminal activity by government agents. The Ministry of Security’s Directorate of Disciplinary Police Affairs (DIDADPOL) investigated members of the Honduran National Police (HNP) 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. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with significant delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.
The Autonomous University of Honduras Violence Observatory reported 13 arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces during the year. The Public Ministry reported five such cases undergoing trial, with four cases in the sentencing phase of trial. Five other cases were under investigation. DIDADPOL conducted internal investigations of HNP members in a continuation of the police purge begun in 2016.
On September 16, the Public Ministry filed an indictment against army military police officer Josue Noe Alvarado Giron for the April 24 murder of Marvin Rolando Alvarado Santiago at a military roadblock in Omoa, Cortes. Josue Alvarado allegedly shot Marvin Alvarado after a heated discussion over Marvin Alvarado’s failure to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Josue Alvarado was assigned to Task Force Maya Chorti.
On February 4, media reported unknown assailants shot and killed three National Party local leaders in three separate incidents within five days in Tegucigalpa: Oscar Obdulio Licona Ruiz on January 31 and Dagoberto Villalta and Marcial Martinez on February 4.
The government continued to prosecute individuals allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. The legal process against Roberto David Castillo Mejia, one of the alleged intellectual authors of the killing, continued slowly due to motions and appeals by the defense, and Castillo remained incarcerated. On November 23, the court halted the presentation of evidence hearing after the defense filed an appeal. The appeals court would have to rule on the motion before the trial could move forward.
Reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity continued. On April 2, a private security guard for the sugar company La Grecia shot and killed land rights defender Iris Argentina Alvarez Chavez during a confrontation between land rights defenders and private guards. Police later arrested the guard accused of killing Alvarez.
Organized-crime organizations, 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, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug-trafficking routes experienced the highest rates of violence.
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.
The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) reported 28 cases of alleged torture by security forces through September, while the Public Ministry received three such reports. The quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) received 210 complaints of the use of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment, many related to the enforcement of the national curfew during the COVID-19 pandemic. COFADEH reported police beat and smeared a tear gas-covered cloth on the face of an individual detained for violating the national curfew in April in El Paraiso.
Corruption along with a lack of investigative resources and judicial delays led to widespread impunity, including in security forces. DIDADPOL investigated abuses by police forces. The Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and the Humanitarian Law Directorate investigated abuses by the military. The National Human Rights Commission of Honduras received complaints about human rights abuses and referred them to the Public Ministry for investigation. The Secretariat of Human Rights provided training to security forces to increase respect for human rights. Through September the secretariat trained 2,764 law enforcement officials in human rights and international humanitarian law.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes 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 2, the total prison population was 21,675 in 25 prisons and three detention centers. According to the secretariat, the system had a designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates.
The National Prison Institute (INP) reported 12 violent deaths. On June 11, alleged members of the 18th Street gang in the National Women’s Penitentiary in Tegucigalpa killed six alleged members of the MS-13 gang.
As of September the Secretariat of Human Rights reported the country’s three pretrial detention centers held 79 individuals. These INP-administered centers were on military installations and received some support services from the military. The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. Long periods of pretrial detention remained common and problematic, with many other pretrial detainees held in the general population with convicted prisoners.
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 and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year.
In response to the pervasive violence in the prison system, the government declared an emergency in the National Penitentiary System in December 2019. The emergency decree instituted the Interinstitutional Force as an auditing commission for the penitentiary system. This force is composed of active members of the army and national police. Despite the emergency decree, CONAPREV reported that violence in the prison system continued unabated.
Authorities did not generally segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; as of September the INP reported 153 prisoners were being 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 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported 1,695 cases of COVID-19 in 25 prisons as of September, including cases among medical personnel, security personnel, and administrators. CONAPREV reported 27 prisoner deaths due to COVID-19 through August. There was only 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 was 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 more than 84 visits to adult prisons as of the end of August. Media reports 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.
Improvements: Through August, CONAPREV trained 494 technical, administrative, and security personnel on topics including prison management and human rights.
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 (IACHR) 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, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest after obtaining a warrant. 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 22 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: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government instituted a national curfew, suspending constitutional provisions and limiting the free movement of individuals. Peace Brigades International (PBI) reported more than 34,000 persons were detained for violating the curfew. The Human Rights Board condemned some of these arrests as arbitrary under the guise of curfew enforcement. According to the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, on March 24, police arbitrarily detained Evelyn Johana Castillo, sub-coordinator of the Women’s Network of Ojojona and member of the National Network of Defenders of Human Rights. Castillo was returning from the market at 3:30 p.m. when a police officer arrested her for violating the curfew, even though the curfew did not start until 7:00 p.m. Castillo said the arrest was a reprisal for an encounter a few days previously, when Castillo confronted the officer who was attempting to expel a vendor from a park. The Public Ministry reported 15 cases of alleged illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of November.
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. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 three to nine years’ imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties.
According to Autonomous University of Honduras Violence Observatory statistics, killings of women decreased under the national curfew in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Violence Observatory reported 55 killings of women from March 15 to June 6, compared with 102 for the same period in 2019. The Secretariat of Human Rights noted an exponential increase in gender-based violence and domestic violence during the national curfew. Statistics from the National Emergency System’s call center showed the country was on pace for more than 100,000 reports of domestic violence during the year.
The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties of up to four years in prison for domestic violence. 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. Female victims of domestic violence are entitled to certain protective measures, such as removal of 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 intrafamilial violence.
The law was not effectively enforced, and weak public institutional structures contributed to the inadequate enforcement. With high rates of impunity, including 90 percent for killings of women in the last 15 years according to the Violence Observatory, civil society groups reported that women often did not report domestic violence, or withdrew the 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 judiciary, Public Ministry, National Police, and Secretariat of Health attempted to enhance their responses to domestic violence, but obstacles included insufficient political will, inadequate budgets, 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, 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 various forms of sexual harassment. 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: Generally, individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of having children and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Contraception supplies continued to be limited by shortages and insufficient funding. NGOs continued to criticize the government prohibition on emergency contraception, including for survivors of sexual violence, although the government did provide victims of sexual violence access to other health care services. Women and girls may face criminal penalties after having miscarriages or abortions, and NGOs reported some women delayed or avoided seeking necessary medical care for fear of being arrested.
Although 74 percent of births were attended by skilled health care personnel, NGOs reported that there were significant gaps in obstetric care, especially in rural areas. The Guttmacher Institute reported 78 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods in 2019. The World Bank reported in 2018 that the adolescent birth rate was 72 births per 1,000 15-19-year-olds.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
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. 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.