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Honduras

Executive Summary

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

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were 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 criminal activity by government agents. The Ministry of Security’s Directorate of Disciplinary Police Affairs investigated members of the Honduran National Police 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.

The National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) reported 15 arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces as of August. The Public Ministry reported two such cases in judicial processing and five other cases under investigation as of September.

On April 27, the Public Ministry filed an indictment against police officer Jarol Rolando Perdomo Sarmiento for the February 6 murder of Keyla Martinez in La Esperanza, Intibuca Department. Perdomo allegedly killed Keyla Martinez after she was detained for violating the country’s COVID-19 curfew.

The government continued to prosecute individuals allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On July 5, the National Tribunal Court found Roberto David Castillo Mejia guilty for his role as one of the alleged intellectual authors of her murder.

There were reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity. On July 6, unknown assailants shot and killed land rights defender Juan Manuel Moncada in Tocoa, Colon Department. Authorities continued to investigate the incident.

Organized criminal groups, 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, human rights defenders, and others. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced the highest rates of violence.

On July 25, media reported individuals shot and killed Liberal Party congressional candidate and former congresswoman Carolina Echeverria Haylock in Tegucigalpa. In September police arrested Denis Abel Ordonez, Michael Andre Mejia, and Walter Antonio Matute Raudales in connection with her murder. Media linked her killing to organized criminal groups and drug trafficking organizations.

b. Disappearance

There were no credible reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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 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, or they encounter a person in possession of evidence related to a crime. 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 21 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: CONADEH reported 38 reports of arbitrary arrest through August. The Public Ministry reported seven cases of alleged illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of September.

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. Nonetheless, 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 and Societal Abuses

Women

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.

Children

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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law grants workers the right to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and strike. It prohibits employer retribution against employees for engaging in trade union activities. The law places restrictions on these rights, such as requiring that a recognized trade union represent at least 30 workers, prohibiting foreign nationals from holding union offices, and requiring that union officials work in the same substantive area of the business as the workers they represent. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police, as well as certain other public employees, from forming labor unions.

The law requires an employer to begin collective bargaining once workers establish a union, and it specifies that if more than one union exists at a company, the employer must negotiate with the largest.

The law allows only local unions to call strikes, prohibits labor federations and confederations from calling strikes, and requires that a two-thirds majority of both union and nonunion employees at an enterprise approve a strike. The law prohibits workers from legally striking until after they have attempted and failed to come to agreement with their employer, and it requires workers and employers to participate in a mediation and conciliation process. In addition the law prohibits strikes in a wide range of economic activities that the government has designated as essential services or that it considers would affect the rights of individuals in the larger community to security, health, education, and economic and social well-being.

The law permits workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) to strike if they continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public-sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products submit their grievances to the Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STSS) before striking. The law permits strikes by workers in export-processing zones and free zones for companies that provide services to industrial parks, but it requires that strikes not impede the operations of other factories in such parks. The STSS has the power to declare a work stoppage illegal, and employers may discipline employees consistent with their internal regulations, including by firing strikers, if the STSS rules that a work stoppage is illegal.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Employers frequently refused to comply with STSS orders that required them to reinstate workers who had been dismissed for participating in union activities. Both the STSS and the courts may order a company to reinstate workers, but the STSS lacked the personnel and transportation resources to verify compliance. By law the STSS may fine companies that violate the right to freedom of association. The law permits fines, and while the monetary penalty is commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, the failure of the government to collect the fines facilitated continued labor law violations.

Workers had difficulty exercising the rights to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining, and the government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Public-sector trade unionists raised concerns regarding government interference in trade union activities, including its suspension or ignoring of collective agreements and its dismissals of union members and leaders.

Some employers either refused to engage in collective bargaining or made it very difficult to do so. Some companies also delayed appointing or failed to appoint representatives for required STSS-led mediation, a practice that prolonged the mediation process and impeded the right to strike. There were allegations that companies used collective pacts, which are collective contracts with nonunionized workers, to prevent unionization and collective bargaining because only one collective contract may exist in each workplace. Unions also raised concerns regarding the use of temporary contracts and part-time employment, suggesting that employers used these mechanisms to prevent unionization and avoid providing full benefits. The government investigated violence and threats of violence against union leaders. Impunity for such crimes remained high, as was the impunity rate for all types of crime.

On April 23, the Public Ministry arrested and charged Josue Exequiel Martinez Martinez, Siriaco Mejia Santos, Francisco Lopez Lazo, and Mario Anibal Lopez Velasquez for the December 2020 murder of Felix Vasquez. Vasquez was the leader of the Union of Field Workers, a member of the Lenca community, an environmental activist, and a LIBRE Party candidate for Congress. The accused were in pretrial detention awaiting the next phase of the judicial process.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor, but the government did not effectively implement or enforce the law. Administrative penalties were insufficient to deter violations and were rarely enforced. On October 7, the National Congress increased penalties for forced labor under the trafficking-in-persons article of the penal code from five to eight years’ imprisonment to 10 to 15 years, bringing the penalties in line with the penalties for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities often did not effectively enforce the law.

Forced labor occurred in street vending, domestic service, the transport of drugs and other illicit goods, other criminal activity, and the informal sector. Victims were primarily impoverished individuals in both rural and urban areas (see section 7.c.). Children, including from indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, particularly Miskito boys, were at risk for forced labor in the agriculture, manufacturing, fishing, mining, construction, and hospitality industries. The law requires prisoners to work at least five hours a day, six days a week. Regulations for implementing the law remained under development as of November. The Secretariat of Human Rights stated it was taking every precaution to protect prisoners’ rights and assure that the work provided opportunities for prisoners to develop skills they could use in legal economic activities after their release.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child labor, sets the minimum age for employment at age 14, and regulates the hours and types of work that minors younger than 18 may perform. By law all minors between the ages of 14 and 18 in most industries must receive special permission from the STSS to work, and the STSS must perform a home study to verify that there is an economic need for the child to work and that the child does not work outside the country or in hazardous conditions, including in offshore fishing. The STSS did not approve any authorizations through September. Most children who worked did so without STSS permits. If the STSS grants permission, children between 14 and 16 may work a maximum of four hours a day, and those between 16 and 18 may work up to six hours a day. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors younger than 18, but the STSS may grant special permission for minors between the ages of 16 to 18 to work in the evening if such employment does not adversely affect their education.

The law requires individuals and companies that employ more than 20 school-age children at their facilities to provide a location for a school.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Fines for child labor were not sufficient to deter violations and not commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law also imposes prison sentences of up to two years, eight months for child labor violations that endanger the life or morality of a child age 16 or 17 and up to three years, four months for children younger than 16. The STSS completed 29 child labor inspections as of September and identified 13 minors working without permission. Estimates of the number of children younger than 18 in the country’s workforce ranged from 370,000 to 510,000. Children often worked on melon, coffee, okra, and sugarcane plantations as well as in other agricultural production; scavenged at garbage dumps; worked in the forestry and fishing sectors; worked as domestic servants; peddled goods such as fruit; begged; washed cars; hauled goods; and labored in limestone quarrying and lime production. Most child labor occurred in rural areas. Children often worked alongside family members in agriculture and other work, such as fishing, construction, transportation, and small businesses. Some of the worst forms of child labor occurred, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, and NGOs reported that gangs often forced children to commit crimes (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or ethnicity, national origin, language, place of residence, religion, family or economic situation, disability, or health. Penalties include prison sentences of up to two years and monetary fines. The law prohibits employers from requiring pregnancy tests as a prerequisite for employment; penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations, although penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The law states that a woman’s employment should be appropriate according to her physical state and capacity. There were no reports of this law being used to limit women’s employment.

Many employers discriminated against women. Persons with disabilities, indigenous and Afro-descendant persons, LGBTQI+ persons, and persons with HIV or AIDS also faced discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There are 45 categories of monthly minimum wage, based on the industry and the size of a company’s workforce; the minimum average was above the poverty line. The law does not cover domestic workers, the vast majority of whom were women.

The law applies equally to citizens and foreigners, regardless of gender, and prescribes a maximum eight-hour shift per day for most workers, a 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period for every six days of work. It also provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. The law requires overtime pay, bans excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to four hours a day for a maximum workday of 12 hours, and prohibits the practice of requiring workers to complete work quotas before leaving their place of employment.

In some industries, including agriculture, domestic service, and security, employers did not respect maternity rights or pay minimum wage, overtime, or vacation. In these sectors employers frequently paid workers for the standard 44-hour workweek irrespective of any additional hours they worked. In security and domestic service sectors, workers were frequently forced to work more than 60 hours per week but paid only for 44 hours.

The STSS is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety law, but it did so inconsistently and ineffectively. Civil society continued to raise problems with minimum wage violations, highlighting agricultural companies in the south as frequent violators. The law permits fines, and while the monetary penalty is sufficient to deter violations and commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes, such as fraud, the failure of the government to collect those fines facilitated continued labor code violations. As of September inspectors conducted 8,846 total inspections, compared with 4,102 total inspections for the same period in 2020. The number of inspections increased significantly as the STSS resumed normal inspections, suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of September the STSS had an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce the law effectively.

Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Many inspectors asked workers to provide them with transportation so that they could conduct inspections, since the STSS could not pay for travel to worksites. Credible allegations of corruption in the STSS continued.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health standards, particularly in the construction, garment assembly, and agricultural sectors, as well as in the informal economy. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health law were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes. There was no information available on any major industrial accidents. Employers rarely paid the minimum wage in the agricultural sector and paid it inconsistently in other sectors. Employers frequently penalized agricultural workers for taking legally authorized days off. Health-care workers protested the lack of adequate protective equipment and delayed salary payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment. Under the new inspection law, the STSS has the authority temporarily to shut down workplaces where there is an imminent danger of fatalities; however, there were not enough trained inspectors to deter violations sufficiently.

While all formal workers are entitled to social security, there were reports that both public- and private-sector employers failed to pay into the social security system. The STSS may levy a fine against companies that fail to pay social security obligations, but the amount was not sufficient to deter violations.

Informal Sector: According to the STSS, approximately 75 percent of workers worked in the informal economy, equivalent to approximately 2.7 million persons. There were different methodologies to measure the size of the informal economy, and a March 2020 UNDP report estimated that 82 percent of workers were part of the informal economy. This definition included workers who did not contribute to any form of social security protection, and thus it may have undercounted underemployed workers who rely on jobs in both the formal and informal sectors. According to UNDP data, informal workers played a large role in nearly every industry, including agriculture and fishing; mining; manufacturing; utilities; construction; wholesale retail, hotels, and restaurants; transport and storage; and personal services. These workers are not covered by the contributory social security system and are not protected by the labor code.

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