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 January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections as free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings; complaints of torture; 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; widespread government corruption; and threats and violence against indigenous, Afro-descendent communities and 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.
Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, women, and members of vulnerable populations.
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. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces 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 Violence Observatory of the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) reported 16 deaths involving security forces during the first six months of the year. These included eight deaths involving the Honduran National Police (HNP) and eight involving the military.
On September 6, 2nd Lieutenant Chemis Xavier Paz Cruz, assigned to the 5th Battalion of the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP), was convicted of the 2016 murder of Elias Jireh Elver during a patrol in Tegucigalpa. Paz’s sentencing was pending at year’s end.
Following months of investigations into postelection violence, the HNP and the Public Ministry’s Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations (ATIC) concluded 22 investigations into alleged human rights violations by members of both the HNP and PMOP and passed the cases to the Public Ministry for possible prosecution. The Public Ministry launched 17 cases related to abuse of authority in August, noting that more cases would be forthcoming. On September 18, the Public Ministry announced the first case against an HNP officer for the death of a protester.
The government continued to investigate the 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On March 2, the Public Ministry’s ATIC arrested a ninth suspect, Roberto David Castillo Mejia, the former president of the company building the Agua Zarca dam, which Caceres had long opposed. Throughout the year both the Caceres family private attorneys and the defense team complained the Public Ministry restricted access to evidence. Both legal parties asserted their right to review additional evidence that investigators had collected but not analyzed, including electronics such as laptops, cell phones, memory sticks, and tablets. On August 24, the three-judge tribunal ordered the Public Ministry to grant the prosecution and defense access to the requested evidence. The oral hearings for the first eight individuals accused of planning and executing the murder of Berta Caceres, scheduled to begin on September 17, were delayed due to legal motions filed by the Caceres family’s attorneys that called for removal of the three presiding judges. An appellate court denied the motion to dismiss the judges, and oral hearings began on October 20. On November 29, the court convicted seven of the eight defendants of murder and fully acquitted the eighth. The defendants were expected to appeal the verdict.
There continued to be reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity in the Bajo Aguan region, but the overall level of violence in the area was far below its 2012 peak. On September 7, collaboration among the government’s Bajo Aguan Task Force, INTERPOL, and Mexican law enforcement authorities resulted in the arrest and extradition from Mexico to Honduras of Osvin Naun Caballero Santamaria. Caballero was a suspect in several crimes, including the 2016 killings of Jose Angel Flores and Silmer Dionisio George, two leaders of the Unified Peasant Movement of the Bajo Aguan (known as MUCA).
Organized criminal elements, including drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs such as 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 disproportionate rates of violence. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported that as of June, 82 individuals working in the transportation sector had been killed, including 49 taxi, bus, and motorcycle taxi drivers and 33 private company drivers.
On September 5, the HNP reported a national homicide rate of 39.6 per 100,000 inhabitants for the months of January to August. The UNAH Violence Observatory projected a final homicide rate of approximately 40 per 100,000 inhabitants through year’s end. Reports linked many of these homicides to organized crime and gangs.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuse by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers. The quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) reported two complaints of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
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 Ministry of Human Rights reported that, as of September 20, the total prison population was 20,506 in 27 prisons. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates.
The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of September, 23 inmates had died in prison (16 from natural causes, four from violence, two from accidents, and one from suicide). The INP reported no deaths involving prison officials. CONAPREV registered 25 deaths through September and confirmed four inmates died from violence within the prison.
As of September the Ministry of Human Rights reported that the country’s three pretrial detention centers held 62 individuals. These three centers were on military installations and received some support services from the military, but the INP administered them. The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. Pretrial detainees were often held with convicted prisoners.
There was pervasive gang-related violence, and the government failed to control criminal activity effectively within the prisons. Some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel. Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, 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.
Through October 2018 the national prisons had approximately 1,160 female prisoners, 810 of whom the government detained at the National Women’s Social Adjustment penitentiary. Others were held in separate areas of men’s prisons. Children younger than age three could stay with their mothers in prison.
Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. As of September officials reported that 151 prisoners were being treated for tuberculosis. Officials also stated that all penitentiary centers had an antiretroviral treatment program. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, 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: As of September the INP reported no formal complaints for mistreatment of detainees, although CONAPREV alleged 39 possible cases of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Authorities conducted no official investigations of mistreatment because they received no formal complaints. Media reports noted that family members often face long delays or are 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. CONAPREV conducted seven visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August. The judicial system was legally responsible for monitoring prison conditions and providing for the rights of prisoners.
Improvements: Through September the INP trained 435 technical, administrative, and security personnel working in 13 prisons on topics such as first aid and appropriate use of force.
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.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The HNP maintains internal security and reports to the Secretariat of Security. ATIC has legal authority to investigate 21 types of crimes and make arrests. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities. Some larger cities have independent police forces that supplement the HNP and report to municipal authorities. The PMOP reports to military authorities but conducts operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. As of September the PMOP had approximately 4,500 personnel organized into eight of 10 planned battalions and was present in all 18 departments. The National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA) coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council. The president chairs the council, which includes representatives of the Supreme Court, National Congress, Public Ministry, and Secretariats of Security and Defense.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. The government took steps to investigate and punish abuses, but corruption and inefficiency resulted in impunity in many cases. The armed forces surrendered members accused of human rights violations to civilian authorities. The armed forces sometimes dishonorably discharged such individuals, even before a criminal trial. The Public Ministry, primarily through the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is responsible for investigating cases in which a government agent is allegedly responsible for killing a civilian. Prosecutors try such cases in civilian courts. Prosecutors and judges attached to FUSINA prosecute and hear cases related to FUSINA operations. A unit within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life manages some cases of homicides committed by members of the security forces and government officials. The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces investigates allegations of human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.
The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces reported that in 2017 more than 6,200 members of the armed forces, including the army, navy, air force, PMOP, and others, received training on human rights. Through June more than 5,800 members of the armed forces received human rights training from military and nongovernmental organization (NGO) instructors.
Corruption and impunity remained serious problems within the security forces. Some members of security forces allegedly committed crimes, including crimes linked to local and international criminal organizations. The Public Ministry’s ATIC investigated some criminal cases involving HNP officers.
As of November the Police Purge Commission reported that, since its creation in 2016, it had referred for removal or provisional suspension more than 5,600 police officers on various grounds including corruption, criminal activity, and poor performance.
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. 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 a 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. 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 authorities did not always abide by these requirements.
Arbitrary Arrest: The Public Ministry reported 49 cases of illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of October. As of September the National Human Rights Commission of Honduras (CONADEH) reported 16 cases of arbitrary arrest by the HNP, two by the DPI, and six by the armed forces.
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 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.
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.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated there were approximately 190,000 IDPs in the country. In 2017 the National Human Rights Commission identified 339 cases of forced displacement and 349 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, and human trafficking. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).
The government maintained the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of People Displaced by Violence, and within the newly created Ministry of Human Rights, the government created the Directorate for the Protection of Persons Internally Displaced by Violence. Both the ministry and the commission focused on developing policies to address IDPs. Following up on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference that the government hosted in October 2017, the participants, including governments from across the region, agreed to the Regional Integral Framework for Protection and Solutions. Under the framework the government pledged to strengthen its capacity to provide services to key population groups, including refugees and returned migrants, through 14 commitments and 28 specific actions between 2018 and 2020.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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: 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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
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.
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 three years for child abuse. The Violence Observatory reported the homicides of 119 children as of July 1.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18 with parental consent. According to UNICEF, 8 percent of children were married before age 15 and 34 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 younger than 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 ($41,700 to $104,000). The law prohibits the use of children younger than age 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. 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 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.
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.html.
The Jewish community numbered more than 250 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
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 has an Office for People with Disabilities located within the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, but its ability to provide services to persons with disabilities was limited.
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.
Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendent communities continued to experience discrimination in employment, education, housing, and health services. An IACHR report noted that there were insufficient hospital beds and inadequate supplies at the only hospital that services the Gracias a Dios Department, home to the majority of the Miskito community.
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 persisted. LGBTI human rights NGOs alleged that the PMOP and other elements of the security forces harassed and abused LGBTI persons. One international NGO reported that five members of the PMOP in uniform allegedly assaulted and raped a gay man on July 16 in Tegucigalpa. The victim submitted to a medical examination with the Public Ministry’s Forensic Medicine Unit, filed a complaint with the HNP’s Criminal Investigation Unit, and temporarily left the country.
LGBTI rights groups asserted that government agencies and private employers engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. The Association for a Better Life, an NGO that works with LGBTI persons, reported an incident of discrimination at San Felipe Hospital in Tegucigalpa where a physician asserted that the victim’s sexual orientation caused him to contract the human papillomavirus and colon cancer. LGBTI groups continued working with the Violent Crimes Task Force, Ministry of Security, and Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights to address concerns about intimidation, fear of reprisals, and police corruption.
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 update identity documents to reflect their gender identity.
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.