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.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
c. Freedom of Religion
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.
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 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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.
In the 2013 census, approximately 8.5 percent of the population identified themselves as members of indigenous communities, but other estimates were higher. Indigenous groups included the Miskito, Tawahka, Pech, Tolupan, Lenca, Maya-Chorti, and Nahua. They had limited representation in the national government and consequently little direct input into decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.
Indigenous communities continued to report threats and acts of violence against them and against community and environmental activists. Violence was often rooted in a broader context of conflict over land and natural resources, extensive corruption, lack of transparency and community consultation, other criminal activity, and limited state ability to protect the rights of vulnerable communities.
Ethnic minority rights leaders, international NGOs, and farmworker organizations claimed the government failed to redress actions taken by security forces, government agencies, private individuals, and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous persons from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform law or ancestral land titles.
Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendant communities continued to experience discrimination in employment, education, housing, and health services. A 2019 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report noted there were insufficient hospital beds and inadequate supplies at the only hospital that serviced Gracias a Dios Department, home to most of the Miskito community.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country, from the citizenship of their parents, or by naturalization.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The law establishes prison sentences of up to two and one-half years for child abuse. As of June the Violence Observatory reported killings of 80 persons younger than 18.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18. According to UNICEF, 34 percent of women and 12 percent of men ages 20 to 24 married before age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in sex trafficking, remained a problem. The country was a destination for child sex tourism, particularly in the tourist area of the Bay Islands. The legal age of consent is 18. There is no statutory rape law, but the penalty for rape of a minor younger than 14 is 12 to 17 years in prison, or nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is 14 or older. Penalties for facilitating child sex trafficking are six to 12 years in prison and monetary fines. The law prohibits the use of children younger than 18 for exhibitions or performances of a sexual nature or in the production of pornography.
Displaced Children: Civil society organizations reported that common causes of forced displacement for youth included death threats for failure to pay extortion, attempted recruitment by gangs, witnessing criminal activity by gangs or organized criminal groups, domestic violence, attempted kidnappings, family members’ involvement in drug dealing, victimization by traffickers, rape including commercial sexual exploitation by gangs, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, sexual harassment, and discrimination for having a chronic medical condition.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .