Honduras’ new criminal code continues to concern human rights organisations

Association

On 23rd February 2020, the offices of peasants’ organisation La Via Campesina were looted in Tegucigalpa. According to members of the organisation, a computer and some documents were stolen. Some office equipment and furniture were also damaged. La Via Campesina’s regional coordinator, Rafael Alegría, told news outlets that this could be an attempt to steal information from the organisation and intimidate them. As disclosed by Alegría, this was the fourth time their offices have been looted in recent times, and only one computer was taken while other valuable equipment was left behind. Alegría said that though most of the data taken from the organisation is publicly available, there are concerns that some information related to leaders opposed to military-run agricultural programmes was also taken in the robbery.

On 4th March 2020, a civil society coalition against impunity organised a Forum to present their findings and recommendations for Honduras to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. According to more than 50 CSOs, Honduras is among the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders in Latin America. Over 2,000 attacks were documented in 2016 and 2017, with six defenders killed in this period. In addition, the organisations say that impunity for such attacks prevails while criminalisation of defenders is a common practice. In their report, the CSOs denounced the failure of the State in implementing the National System for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice Workers.

As previously stated on the Monitor, a joint submission was also made to the Human Rights Council about the conditions of civic space in Honduras by CIVICUS, Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia (REDLAD) and the Asociación de Organismos no Gubernamentales (ASONOG). Honduras’ examination will take place in the 36th session of the UPR Working Group, which has been postponed from May to November 2020.

Peaceful Assembly

Civil society organisations in Honduras have warned that the country’s new criminal code could be a threat to civic space. The review period for the legislation was extended by six months in November 2019 and it is set to come into force on 10th May 2020. As previously reported on the Monitor, some controversial articles related to defamation and libel were removed from the text in August 2019 following civil society mobilisation. Yet the new criminal code still contains several provisions that concern human rights organisations because they enable the criminalisation of protests and of defenders’ work. According to Human Rights Watch, vague and broad wording is used to define the crimes of “public disturbances”, “illicit assembly” and “terrorism” – which could be applied to restrict lawful and peaceful assemblies. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have called on Honduras to review these norms and ensure that the new code complies with international human rights standards.

Expression

After publishing information allegedly linking public officials to organised crime in February 2020, journalists associated with the independent broadcaster El Perro Amarillo have reported receiving threats on social media. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in one video a Facebook user said that the outlet’s director Milton Benítez is on a list of journalists to be killed in 2020. Benítez was also targeted by a smear campaign which claimed he has ties with drug trafficking groups. Other reporters of the same outlet have received similar threats. Katia Lara, a documentary producer who collaborates with El Perro Amarillo, told CPJ that she received so many such messages that she has stopped reading them. The reporters say they have requested assistance from Honduras’ national mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders, but were reportedly told to call an emergency number should they face danger.

In February 2020, Honduran organisation Comité por la Libre Expresión (Committee for Free Expression - C-Libre) published the report “Del Silencio Informativo al Éxodo” (“From Informative Silence to Exodus”) on the situation of freedom of expression in the country in 2018-2019. The CSO recorded 237 alerts for attacks on freedom of expression, including the murder of eight people working in news media in this period. Forced displacement was identified as a rising trend, with at least 20 communicators fleeing Honduras for their own safety. Censorship, obstruction of journalistic work and denial of access to information are other issues covered in the report. According to Cesario Padilla, a C-Libre coordinator, the main perpetrators of attacks against journalists were security forces agents and public officials. Most attacks took place against reporters out covering stories. C-Libre also registered 12 online attacks against women journalists, which included cases of dissemination of intimate content without consent.