Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country held national and local elections in November 2013. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term that began in January 2014. International observers generally recognized the elections as transparent, credible, and reflecting the will of the electorate. The National Congress elected a new 15-member Supreme Court for a seven-year term in February.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Pervasive societal violence persisted, although the state made efforts to reduce it. The March murder of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres underscored state institutions’ lack of effective measures to protect activists. Violence and land-rights disputes involving indigenous people, agricultural workers, landowners, the extractive industry, and development projects continued in rural areas, including the Bajo Aguan region. 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, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.
Other serious human rights problems were widespread impunity due to corruption and institutional weaknesses in the investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial systems, and excessive use of force and criminal actions by members of the security forces. Additional, human rights problems included harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; lengthy pretrial detention and failure to provide due process of law; threats and violence by criminals directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, and members of vulnerable populations; violence against and harassment of women; child abuse; trafficking in persons, including child prostitution; human smuggling, including of unaccompanied children; failure to conduct free and informed consultations with indigenous communities prior to the authorization of development projects; discrimination against indigenous and Afro-descendent communities; violence against and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, including arresting and prosecuting members of congress, judges, prosecutors, police officers, mayors, and other local authorities. Civilian authorities arrested and investigated members of the security forces alleged to have committed human rights abuses. Some prosecutions of military and police officials charged with human rights violations moved too slowly or failed to convict the responsible parties.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women and impunity for perpetrators continued to be a serious problem. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported 222 violent deaths of women in the first six months of the year, compared with 478 violent deaths of women during 2015.
Rape was a serious and pervasive societal problem. The law criminalizes all forms of rape, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. Prosecutors treat accusations of spousal rape somewhat differently, however, and evaluate such charges on a case-by-case basis. The penalties for rape range from three to nine years’ imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties. Rape continued to be underreported, however, due to fear of stigma, retribution, and further violence. The Center for Women’s Rights (CDM) reported that 2,774 women and girls reported sexual crimes to the Public Ministry in 2015. As of October the Public Ministry’s Office of Crimes Against Women had received 1,172 formal complaints of domestic violence and provided 2,989 legal consultations. The CDM also reported that the Public Ministry’s General Directorate for Forensic Medicine conducted 3,022 examinations of sexual violence survivors in 2015, a 40 percent increase over 2014. According to reports from victims, 73 percent of attackers were family members or other individuals the victims knew.
Violence between domestic and intimate partners continued to be widespread. 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 intra-familial violence. In many cases victims were reluctant to press charges against their abusers because of economic dependence on their male partners, their roles in caring for children, and a lack of domestic violence shelters. The CDM reported that 18,070 women filed complaints of domestic violence in special domestic violence courts in 2015.
The government provided services to victims of domestic violence in hospitals and health centers. The national government provided space through September for an NGO in Tegucigalpa to run a shelter, and provided police protection. Local governments, in cooperation with NGOs, operated domestic violence shelters in San Pedro Sula, Choluteca, La Ceiba, and Juticalpa; they also had an office in Comayagua. NGOs operated their own small shelters in Santa Rosa de Copan and Comayagua. The government did not provide enough financial and other resources for these facilities to operate effectively.
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. The quantity and quality of services that these offices provided was uneven. CONADEH reported that in 2015, 37 percent of the 3,372 complaints it received for violations of women’s rights were for domestic violence, 22 percent were for lack of access to justice and due process, and 41 percent were for alleged violations of economic, social, and cultural rights.
In March 2015 the UN special rapporteur on violence against women expressed concern that most women in the country remained marginalized, discriminated against, and at high risk of being subjected to human rights violations, including violence and violations of their sexual and reproductive rights. UN Women reported in 2015 that violent deaths of women and girls, domestic violence, and sexual violence in all forms increased steadily from 2005 to 2014, but UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported a drop in violent deaths of women between 2013 (636 deaths) and the first six months of the year (222 deaths).
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. Sexual harassment was a serious societal problem but was underreported because of fear of stigma and reprisal. The CDM reported that 94 women filed complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace in 2015. The Supreme Court reported receiving only two cases of sexual harassment in 2015 and none in the first six months of the year. In that time one case was brought to trial, four cases were dismissed, two provisionally dismissed, and one case resolved through mediation.
Reproductive Rights: Generally, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to UN estimates, maternal mortality was approximately 129 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was 1 in 300. Although 83 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that there were significant gaps in emergency obstetric care.
The Ministry of Health also worked to expand the provision of family planning services in rural and low-income areas. UNFPA estimated in 2015 that 64 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern contraceptive method, and 11 percent of women had an unmet family planning need. Family planning supplies continued to be limited by shortages and insufficient funding.
There were reports of forced sterilizations of women with HIV, according to the International AIDS Society.
NGOs criticized a 2009 prohibition on emergency contraception medication, which they claimed abridged a woman’s right to make family planning decisions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, selling, distributing, or using emergency contraception carried the same punishments as performing or obtaining abortion, for which the Center for Reproductive Rights reported that women can be sentenced to three to six years in prison; no cases of enforcement were known to be reported.
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. On July 11, the CESCR expressed concern that women living in rural areas, indigenous women, and women of African descent continued to be victims of multiple and cross-sectoral forms of discrimination, as reflected in their high rates of poverty. Most women in the workforce engaged in lower-status and lower-paying informal occupations, such as domestic service, without the benefit of legal protections. Women participated in small numbers in most professions, but cultural attitudes limited their career opportunities. Women participated in the formal labor force at approximately one-half the rate of men. By law women have equal access to educational opportunities. The law requires that employers pay women equal wages for equal work, but often classified women’s jobs as less demanding than those of men to justify women’s lower salaries. Job seekers older than age 30, particularly women, faced age discrimination.
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, the UN Children’s Fund (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. UNICEF assisted the government in extending civil registries to indigenous and remote communities, and, as of 2015, the government had 217 automated registration offices. Only seven registration offices lacked automation, all of them located in isolated areas that lacked electricity.
Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through the 12th grade, although high school students had to pay fees. There was a shortage of middle schools and adequately prepared teachers. According to 2013 census data, girls generally attended at a higher rate than boys did, a gap that widened after age 12. By age 15 there were 6 percent fewer boys in school than girls.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported 412 cases of mistreatment and abandonment of children in 2015. The law establishes prison sentences of up to three years for child abuse.
The Violence Observatory reported the homicides of 570 children–88 girls and 482 boys–in 2015, a 9 percent decrease from 2014. NGOs stated that these figures probably underestimated the number of crimes against children. As of July the children’s rights organization, Casa Alianza, reported the homicides and violent deaths of 147 children; there were no arrests in 80 percent of these cases. The Violence Observatory reported 117 such homicides, a more than 50 percent decrease from 2015. Casa Alianza said the homicides often involved torture, strangulation, and dumping bodies in remote areas. While there were some improvements in the overall security situation, there were reports that police committed acts of violence against poor youths. Human rights groups continued to allege that private citizens and individual members of the security forces used unwarranted lethal force against youths.
Because the country’s antigang legislation specifies lower penalties for minors, gangs continued to employ underage youth in their operations. Children from eight to 12 years old frequently worked as lookouts and collected “war taxes” (that is, extortion payments). Consequently, rival gangs often disputed recruiting areas around schools.
Five street children between the ages of 13 and 16, who were working without authorization to collect and recycle garbage, were killed on February 11 in Tegucigalpa. Media reported that gang members were presumed responsible for the deaths.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 21, although with parental consent boys may marry at 18 and girls at 16. According to government statistics, 10 percent of women marry before age 15 and 37 percent before age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in prostitution, 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. The penalty is nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is age 13 or older. Penalties for facilitating child prostitution are 10 to 15 years in prison, with fines ranging from one million to 2.5 million lempiras ($44,000 to $110,000). 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 there were more than 8,800 street children in major cities. Between September 2015 and August, Casa Alianza assisted 256 street children, 38 more than in the previous 12 months. During the same period, the organization assisted 400 children in its shelters and helped 75 children reintegrate with their families.
Polling indicated that lack of economic and educational opportunities, fear of violence, and the desire for family reunification motivated children to seek to emigrate. 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. Casa Alianza reported that as of July 4, the Belen migrant attention center in San Pedro Sula had processed 417 youths deported from Mexico. Casa Alianza identified 261 of these youths as persons displaced by violence.
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 center. CONAPREV reported four incidents at Renaciendo as of August, including violence between members of MS-18 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.
The Jewish community, located primarily in San Pedro Sula, numbered several hundred. There were no known 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 in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, access to the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. Enforcement in the area of employment is the responsibility of the Secretariat of State for Labor and Social Security (STSS), but was not effective due to the STSS’s limited resources and its focus on workplace safety and pay. 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 law includes provisions for inclusive education of students with disabilities. In June the Ministry of Education reported that there were 63,148 students with disabilities in the school system. Also in June the National Federation of Parents of Individuals with Disabilities in Honduras signed an agreement with the ministry to work together to monitor and evaluate the ministry’s Institutional Management Plan for Universal Access to Educational Facilities. The ministry agreed to devote one-third of new teaching positions to facilities that have children with disabilities. In July the ministry announced that more than 6,000 educational centers had conducted analyses of access for children with disabilities and that it would use these analyses to assign necessary staff in 2017. An additional 1,725 educational centers in seven departments had conducted accessibility studies and created accessibility plans. On August 26, the ministry announced it had filled 349 staff positions, including more than 200 new technical assistant positions, in schools having children with disabilities and in indigenous communities. Some parents filed complaints against schools that allegedly refused to register students with disabilities. In 2014 CONADEH estimated that 27 percent of economically active individuals with disabilities had no education and 56 percent had only a primary education.
The government continued to struggle to implement its policy on persons with disabilities. The government had a disabilities unit in the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion.
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 including the Miskito, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Maya-Chortis, Nahual, Bay Islanders, and Garifunas 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.
According to government data, 89 percent of indigenous and Afro-descendent children lived in poverty, 78 percent of them in extreme poverty. In 2014 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concerns about persistent poverty among indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities, as well as their social exclusion. It noted in particular that women in Afro-Honduran and indigenous communities faced multiple forms of discrimination in all aspects of social, political, and economic life. On April 11, the government adopted a Policy against Racism and Racial Discrimination for the Comprehensive Development of the Indigenous and African-Honduran Populations.
The 2013 census reported that 15 percent of male and 17.5 percent of female indigenous persons 10 years and older had no education. The National Institute of Statistics estimated in 2015 that 21 percent of the general population was illiterate, with an illiteracy rate of 36 percent among those ages 60 and over. Illiteracy rates were more than double that in rural areas. Sixty percent of indigenous respondents above the age of 10 reported having a sixth-grade education or less. The Directorate General for Intercultural Multilingual Education began operating in 2013 with a mission to expand educational opportunities in both Spanish and local languages. In 2015 the Ministry of Education increased by 48,000, to 119,000, the number of students educated in bilingual schools that teach in both Spanish and a local language.
On July 21, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples categorized the situation of the indigenous peoples of the country as critical. She stated that their rights over their lands, territories, and natural resources were not protected, that they faced acts of violence when claiming their rights in a general environment of violence and impunity, and that they lacked access to justice. Additionally, they suffered from inequality, poverty, and a lack of basic social services such as education and healthcare.
On March 3, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres was killed in her home. At the time of her death, Caceres was leading opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Intibuca Department. She was granted protective measures from the IACHR and some protective services from the government. In May the government arrested four individuals for involvement in her death. Subsequently, authorities arrested two additional suspects. As of December 20, all six remained in custody pending trial following initial evidentiary hearings. As of December human rights groups, indigenous groups, and members of the Caceres family continued to press authorities to identify and arrest those that ordered her murder, whom they suspected were still at large.
Two of those arrested had links to Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA), the company constructing the dam. Some local community members, including Caceres, opposed the project and claimed that the government had failed to consult appropriately with the indigenous Lenca community as required under International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169; they also criticized DESA for failing to consult with the indigenous community. Other community members, however, supported the project as a source of local employment and development. Although the country has no law defining how to implement ILO 169, in August the Public Ministry began criminal proceedings against the former vice minister of the environment who awarded the concession for the project and against the mayor of the town where it was set to be built. The Public Ministry accused them of abuse of authority and failure to abide by the international obligations of ILO 169. In November a judge ordered another former vice minister of the environment held without bail pending trial for abuse of authority and failure to abide by the international obligations of ILO 169 when authorizing changes to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.
Other indigenous and environmental rights activists also reported threats and acts of violence against them. Ana Mirian Romero of the Indigenous Lenca Movement of La Paz reported receiving death threats and said someone burned her house down. Caceres’ organization, COPINH, reported threats and violence against other members as well. The government took some steps to investigate and arrest those responsible for the violence.
As of September the government was in discussions with indigenous communities over a bill that would regulate prior consultation under ILO 169. As of early November, COPINH and Garifuna indigenous organization OFRANEH decided not to participate in the discussions and instead supported a separate bill presented in Congress earlier in the year. On July 11, CESCR expressed concerns about reports that the government had failed to respect indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation. CESCR insisted that such consultations were necessary to obtain these communities’ input on decisions that could affect them, including when negotiating concessions for the exploitation of natural resources or other development projects.
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. 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 coastlines, forests, areas rich in mineral resources, and other lands that indigenous and other ethnic minority communities traditionally occupied or used. Indigenous communities criticized the government’s alleged complicity in the exploitation of timber and other natural resources on these lands. Indigenous leaders continued to allege that indigenous and nonindigenous groups smuggled drugs and other contraband through their lands and illegally appropriated vast areas of their communal lands.
In October 2015 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of two Garifuna communities that had accused the government of violating their rights by failing to protect their communities’ land from exploitation. As of December, the government was working to create a mechanism to address the ramifications of these rulings.
The government formally recognized nine indigenous and Afro-descendent communities and continued efforts to address indigenous land rights problems. In April the government completed the transfer of land titles to the 12 Miskito territorial councils, including two titles to land in the Rio Platano biosphere. Since 2012 the territorial councils received titles to more than 5,400 square miles, 12 percent of the country’s territory. NGOs helped indigenous communities negotiate with the government and establish their juridical identities.
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 members of the LGBTI community 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 members of the community. As of August the NGO Colectivo Color Rosa reported 11 violent deaths of LGBTI persons, similar to levels in previous years. In October the Public Ministry reported records of 218 cases of violent deaths of LGBTI individuals since 2009, of which 14 cases had resulted in convictions and 171 were still under investigation. NGOs also documented multiple instances of assaults and discrimination against members of the LGBTI community.
On June 2, prominent LGBTI activist and community leader Rene Martinez was killed. Martinez was an activist in the ruling National Party, the president of an LGBTI association in San Pedro Sula, the leader of a local community council, and a volunteer with a community-based violence prevention program. As of early August, the VCTF continued to investigate the case. It was uncertain whether his death was related to his LGBTI status or political activities.
LGBTI rights groups asserted that government agencies and private employers engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. LGBTI groups continued working with the VCTF, the Ministry of Security, and the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights to address concerns about intimidation, fear of reprisals, and police corruption.
In April the HNP assigned 30 new agents to the VCTF, bringing the total to 41 VCTF investigators. As of September the new investigators were going through a training and mentorship phase, after which the HNP would assign them either in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. As of September the VCTF was investigating 17 homicides of members of the LGBTI community. The VCTF arrested two suspects from cases initiated during the year and one suspect from a case initiated in 2015.
The HNP took steps to educate personnel to respond more effectively to cases of gender-based violence and violence against LGBTI persons. The Criminal Investigations School (EIC) designed two new police education modules, one on gender-based violence awareness and the other on LGBTI violence reduction. These modules were included in all EIC courses for recruits beginning on August 22.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Access to employment, educational opportunities, and health services continued to be major challenges for persons with HIV/AIDS. One civil society organization reported that three members of the LGBTI community died of gunshot wounds after medical personnel refused to treat them because they would not submit to HIV tests. Community members reported that transgender women were particularly vulnerable to discrimination, and that many could find employment only as sex workers.