Since 2013, the government of Honduras has taken some steps to address the appalling situation of human rights in the country.[1] First, it adopted a public policy and national action plan for human rights in early 2013.[2] Second, the Secretariat (Ministry) of Justice and Human Rights (SJDH in Spanish) supported civil society efforts to establish a national network for the protection of HRDs, journalists, social communicators, and justice system operators.[3] Finally, in mid-2014 the SJDH submitted draft legislation for the protection of journalists, HRDs, and justice system operators (Ley de mecanismos de protección para defensores de derechos humanos, operadores de justicia, periodistas y comunicadores sociales) to Congress. The proposal had been shelved in late 2012 due to lack of support.[4]

The bill, which was approved on first reading by the Honduran National Congress on 4 June 2014 and on second reading on 6 August 2014,[5] was marked, however, by several limitations and loopholes. In light of this, local civil society representatives, supported by international non-governmental organisations, insisted on a more thorough review of the proposal before the third, and final, reading (PI was involved in this process: see box below). Government authorities responded positively, and engaged in a comprehensive consultation process with civil society and other beneficiaries throughout the country. It was thus ensured that the dispositions of the bill met international standards and best practices regarding the protection of HRDs.[6] At the time of publication of this report, the third reading of the draft bill was still pending.

It should be noted that the current interest of Honduran authorities in adopting this legislation stems from consistent pressure exerted by civil society in recent years. Moreover, international recommendations to tackle the high levels of threats and violence against HRDs by regional and international mechanisms also played a role, including those  issued by the  Human Rights Council – through the Universal Periodic Review of November 2010,[7] the country visit report of February 2012 on the situation of HRDs prepared by Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on HRDs[8] the October 2013 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case Carlos Luna López v. Honduras[9]  and a public hearing before the IACHR on 28 October 2013.[10]

PI in Honduras

Since 2011, PI has accompanied and monitored civil society-driven initiatives for the establishment of a legal framework for the protection of HRDs, as well as the SJDH’s preparatory work on draft legislation for the protection of HRDs, journalists and justice system operators. In October 2013, PI was invited to participate with other local and international civil society organisations in a public hearing on Honduras before the IACHR in Washington D.C. Civil society representatives called on the national authorities to open up  dialogue on the bill.

Between late July and early August 2014, PI joined the Centre for Justice and International Law (Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional, CEJIL) on a mission to Honduras. Both organisations engaged with senior government officials and members of Congress, as well as local networks of human rights organisations. The aim of the visit was to influence the ongoing debate on the adoption of the draft legislation for the protection of HRDs, journalists and justice system operators. PI and CEJIL voiced their concerns about several shortcomings identified in the version of the draft then under discussion by Honduran lawmakers; both organisations also provided key advice on how to strengthen the bill in and the light of international standards.

 


[1] This was recently highlighted in the IACHR Annual Report of 2013, which expressed concern about the risk faced by HRDs in Honduras due to the persistence of killings, threats, harassment and break-ins in the offices of their organisations. IACHR. “Annual Report 2013”. § 235 , 239 and 367.

[2] Secretariat (Ministry) of Justice and Human Rights. Executive Decree PCM 003-2013. “Política Publica en Derechos Humanos y Plan Nacional de Acción en Derechos Humanos”. Tegucigalpa. January 2013.

[3] The aim of the network is to promote, protect and defend human rights, monitor the implementation of the National Action Plan for Human Rights approved by the Government and push for the adoption of a law to protect HRDs, journalists and justice system operators. Conexihon. “Conforman Red Nacional de Protección para las y los defensores de DD.HH., periodistas y operadores de justicia”. 6 September 2013.

[4] See Focus Report 2013. op. cit. p. 9.

[5] Conexihon. “Congreso nacional aprueba en segundo debate ley de protección”. 7 August 2014.

[7] At least six of the recommendations dealt with ensuring effective protection of HRDs at risk. See the recommendations to the State of Honduras at the database of UPR-Info, at http://www.upr-info.org.

[8] The report specifically recommended that the Honduran government should adopt a policy and legal framework to protect HRDs. United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya. “Mission to Honduras”. Doc A/HRC/22/47/Add.1.

[9] See Section on the Inter-American System above.

[10] Participating local and international civil society organisations denounced the Honduran State’s failure to comply with the implementation of protection measures for human rights defenders at risk. Protection International. “Honduras does not protect human rights defenders”. 2 November 2013.