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Honduras

Executive Summary

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country held national and local elections in November. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term to begin in January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections to be free, but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included alleged arbitrary and unlawful killings; a complaint of torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; unlawful interference with privacy; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements and criminalization of libel; widespread government corruption, including in the judiciary; threats and violence against indigenous and Afro-descendent communities; and societal violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons..

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity existed in many cases, however, as evidenced by lengthy judicial processes, few convictions of perpetrators, and failures to prosecute intellectual authors of crimes. Perpetrators in emblematic cases dating back many years, such as the 2009 killing of the antidrug czar Julian Aristides Gonzalez, continued to enjoy impunity.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, and women and other members of vulnerable populations.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings. The Supreme Court approved a National Plan to Eradicate Judicial Delay, aimed at reducing wait times for court cases. As part of that plan, the court established three new mobile justices of the peace in July and inaugurated new courts: one in July, two in August, and two in October.

On June 30, Teodoro Bonilla, former vice president of the Judicial Council, was found guilty of influence peddling for using his position in the judiciary to obtain dismissal of charges against two relatives facing criminal prosecution for engaging in organized criminal activities. On September 11, Bonilla was sentenced to serve six years in prison and to pay a fine of 200,000 lempiras ($8,470), the first ever conviction for influence peddling by a government official. The Public Ministry had requested the maximum sentence of nine years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 lempiras ($12,700).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants can receive free assistance of an interpreter, and the Supreme Court created a new public registry of interpreters in November to ensure that defendants had access to free interpretation. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights system.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of other emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of June the judicial system reported three convictions in 10 alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials. The CPTRT reported five cases of illegal entry into homes by members of the security forces as of August. There were also complaints that security forces entered private homes without the required authorization during a 10-day state of emergency and curfew imposed in December.

Ethnic minority rights leaders and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by the security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous peoples from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform laws or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government took steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging members of congress, judges, prosecutors, current and former senior officials, mayors and other local authorities, and police officers. The quasi-governmental National Anticorruption Council had an investigative unit of 15 persons. The council receives government funding, which obliges it to disclose the names of its investigators, making them vulnerable to reprisals. Council staff reported credible personal threats and attempts at intimidation. NGOs said that some individuals who reported public corruption also received threats.

The MACCIH began operations in the country in April 2016 with a mandate to prevent and combat corruption, reform the criminal justice system, reform aspects of the political and elections legal framework, and improve public security.

Corruption: Prosecutions of public-sector corruption predominantly targeted low-level officials and focused on charges of abuse of authority and misconduct in public office, which were easier to prove but carried lower penalties than illicit enrichment, fraud, and money laundering. There were reports that the government’s anticorruption institutions did not take sufficient steps to contain high-level corruption and were unwilling or lacked the professional capacity and resources to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those involved. On September 11, new anticorruption courts staffed with 11 judges and magistrates began operating in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. In May 2016 the Supreme Court ordered the creation of these special courts in order to investigate crimes including corruption, bribery, misuse of public office, misappropriation of public funds, and falsification of documents. Funded by the security tax, the courts were initially provided an approximately 6.5 million lempira ($275,000) budget, and in January judges were selected by a commission that included representatives from the NGO Association for a Better Society and the MACCIH.

On June 19, a tribunal of judges returned guilty verdicts against five former public officials for using shell companies to divert more than 290 million lempiras ($12.3 million) from the Social Security Institute. The tribunal also found defendant Mario Zelaya Rojas, the former director of the institute, guilty on charges of abuse of authority and fraud, and defendants Jose Ramon Bertetty and Vivian Melissa Juarez Fiallos guilty of violation of duties of public officials and fraud. This was the fourth conviction obtained by the Public Ministry against Zelaya and brought total convictions obtained in the case to 15. One of the convictions against Zelaya resulted in a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, the longest on corruption charges for a former public official in the history of the country.

On July 13, the MACCIH announced the start of an investigation into the private energy company Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA), partially owned by the Atala family. Civil society long maintained that DESA, parent company of the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric plant, had ties to the killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres and that government corruption contributed to the climate of impunity surrounding her death. One DESA employee and one former DESA employee were among eight suspects being prosecuted for her killing.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws but did not always comply. The law mandates that the Supreme Auditing Tribunal monitor and verify disclosures. The tribunal published its reports on its website and published the names of public officials who did not comply with disclosure laws. In January the congress passed a Campaign Finance Law that created a Financing, Transparency, and Accountability Unit to improve political campaign fiscal transparency. On May 30, the congress elected and swore in three magistrates to oversee the unit, which falls under the purview of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The new law and unit require political candidates and parties to open bank accounts and report all expenditures in an effort to increase transparency for elected government officials.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of men or women, 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.

The law provides penalties of up to four years in prison for domestic violence; however, if a victim’s physical injuries do not reach the severity required to categorize the violence as a criminal act, the only 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. 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.

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: Both the penal and labor codes criminalize 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.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

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.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country, from the citizenship of their parents, or by naturalization. Although birth registration was widely available in 2015, UNICEF reported that, according to the National Population and Housing Census of 2013, an estimated 65,000 children did not have birth registration documents. The largest numbers of unregistered children were in indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities.

Education: Education is tuition-free, compulsory, and universal through the 12th grade, although high school students had to pay fees.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The law establishes prison sentences of up to three years for child abuse.

The Violence Observatory reported the homicides of 326 children as of August. As of July Casa Alianza reported there were no arrests in 80 percent of homicide cases of individuals age 23 and under. While there were some improvements in the overall security situation, there were reports that police committed acts of violence against poor youths.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Early and Forced Marriage: On July 12, the congress amended the law to raise the minimum legal age of marriage for both boys and girls to 18 with parental consent. It was previously 16 for girls with parental consent. According to government statistics, 10 percent of women married before age 15 and 37 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in sex trafficking, continued to be a problem. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The legal age of consent is 18. There is no statutory rape law, but the penalty for rape of a minor under age 12 is 15 to 20 years in prison, or nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is age 13 or older. Penalties for facilitating child sex trafficking are 10 to 15 years in prison, with fines ranging from one million to 2.5 million lempiras ($42,400 to $106,000). The law prohibits the use of children under 18 for exhibitions or performances of a sexual nature or in the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: Many children lived on the streets. Casa Alianza estimated 15,000 children were homeless and living on the streets, primarily in major cities. Casa Alianza assisted 596 street children as of August.

One civil society organization 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 crime, domestic violence, attempted kidnappings, family members’ involvement in drug dealing, victimization by traffickers, discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and discrimination for having a chronic illness.

Institutionalized Children: Between January 2015 and September 2016, at least 10 juveniles were killed while in detention in government facilities, nine of them in the Renaciendo juvenile detention center. CONAPREV reported four incidents at Renaciendo as of August, including violence between members of the 18th Street gang and another gang, Los Chirizos, resulting in the deaths of two minors affiliated with Los Chirizos and injuries to 11 other detainees.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, located primarily in San Pedro Sula, numbered several hundred. Leaders of the Jewish community reported frequent expressions of anti-Semitism in political discourse and events, ranging from swastikas spray painted on public buildings to hate speech in political speeches and on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The Public Ministry is responsible for prosecuting violations. The law requires that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, but few buildings were accessible, and the national government did not effectively implement laws or programs to provide such access.

The government had a disabilities unit in the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion.

Indigenous People

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, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Maya-Chortis, Nahual, Bay Islanders, and Garifunas. 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.

Communal ownership was the norm for most indigenous land, providing land-use rights for individual members of the community. Documents dating to the mid-19th century defined indigenous land titles poorly. Communities complained of lost, stolen, illegally sold, and otherwise contested historical titles. The government continued its efforts to recognize indigenous titles. Lack of clear land titles provoked land use conflicts with nonindigenous agricultural laborers, businesses, and government entities interested in developing lands that indigenous and other ethnic minority communities traditionally occupied or used.

Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendent communities continued to experience discrimination in employment, education, housing, and health services.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law states that sexual orientation and gender identity characteristics merit special protection from discrimination and includes these characteristics in a hate crimes amendment to the penal code. Nevertheless, social discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread. As of October the special prosecutor for human rights was investigating nine formal complaints of discrimination by LGBTI individuals in previous years. Representatives of NGOs that focused on the right to sexual diversity alleged that the PMOP and other elements of the security forces harassed and abused LGBTI persons. As of August APUVIMEH, an NGO that works with LGBTI persons, reported eight violent deaths of LGBTI persons in the central areas of the country. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported five homicides as of August. NGOs also documented multiple instances of assaults and discrimination against LGBTI persons, leading to forced displacement of some individuals.

LGBTI rights groups asserted that government agencies and private employers engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. LGBTI groups continued working with the VCTF, Ministry of Security, and Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights to address concerns about intimidation, fear of reprisals, and police corruption. From September 2016 through July 2017, the VCTF made arrests in four cases.

Transgender women were particularly vulnerable to employment and education discrimination; many could find employment only as sex workers, substantially increasing their risk of violence. Transgender individuals noted their inability to get identity documents with their chosen gender.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Access to employment, educational opportunities, and health services continued to be major challenges for persons with HIV/AIDS. The law provides persons with HIV the right to have access to, and remain in, employment and the education system. The law also defines administrative, civil, and criminal liability and penalties for any violation of the law, which includes denial or delay in care for persons with HIV.

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