Human Rights in Honduras

Certain elements of the present political crisis can be better understood if knowing the history of human rights in Honduras. The last report from the Swedish government on the issue is from 2007, why it refers to the situation when Manuel Zelaya was president.

Situation in 2007

The level of violence is high, not to say extreme, with almost 10 murders per day in average in a country with about 7.5 million inhabitants. There are reports of arbitrary arrests and disappearances. About 60% of those incarcerated are still awaiting sentencing.

Dozens of prisoners are murdered in prison every year, mostly by other prisoners, and there is a real prison crisis in the country (both main party candidates in the Nov 29 elections promise to build a new prison). There were 14 cases of kidnappings reported in 2006 (knowledgeable sources tell me that most kidnappings go unreported, so the real figure can be estimated to 3 to 4 times higher).

The Rechtsstaat does not function for all groups of the population. The poor cannot afford access to the judicial system, and the rich often buy their way out of it according to the report. The transparency index according to Transparency International is 2.5 out of 10, indicating rampant corruption (Sweden has 9.3, the highest of any country).

The ombudsman for human rights is represented in most parts of the country, and is receiving an increasing number of complaints. The special prosecutor for human rights is also considered an important institution, but with inadequate resources according to the report. Another problem is a fear to report crimes, which may in part be due to the lack of a witness protection program.

The UN report on extra-judicial executions shows that impunity is rampant. Even when police officers are known to have carried out murders they are not prosecuted, in the cases cited in the Swedish report.

Intimidation of media and journalists is a regularly occurring problem. Death threats to reporters are not uncommon, and organized crime is trying to influence media. In 2007 one journalist was murdered and several forced into exile.

Jumping to the section on the right to education, the report states that the teachers have among the highest salaries in Latin America. In spite of that, strikes are common. In measurements of quality of education, Honduras is near the bottom. The proportion of children who started elementary school was 87%, middle school 35%, and high school 9% [NB: these terms in Sweden refer to years 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9, respectively].

Present political crisis

Returning to the present political crisis in Honduras, it should be noted that the teachers’ union is one of the four groups participating in the so-called “resistencia,” that is, those demonstrating for the return of Zelaya and/or the creation of a new constitution (for some the first is more important, for others the second). The teachers have left the classrooms on numerous days and in large numbers, thus depriving the children of the right to education. Furthermore, some teachers have even encouraged the children to demonstrate rather than to go to school, and given extra credits to those who do.

The government has responded by ordering that teachers who do not show up to work should not get their salary. The teachers’ union disagreed with that decision. To make sure the decision is implemented the government has had to physically audit the schools, since the administrators are often on the teachers’ side, not on the taxpayers’ side. Personally I think the teachers’ union is acting shamefully irresponsibly, unpatriotic, and worst of all, they are endangering and violating the rights of the children. [Update 2009-10-07: They are now also abandoning members who are being arrested for sedition for just following instructions from their union leaders. This article illustrates just how irresponsible the union was.]

The second point I would like to make, is that since June 28th, most of the international media coverage of Honduras has been focused on exposing human rights violations. The purpose is to lead the consumers of the news to make the emotional association that since there are human rights violations it must be a repressive regime. That notion reinforces the idea that it was a military coup, and further locks the mind to investigate the truth behind the events.

It is in that context that the Swedish report is so enlightening. It reveals that Honduras has not gone from good to bad in terms of human rights, but it is in the process of going from very bad towards somewhat less bad.

The crisis has, however, led to a realization in Honduras (at least in the present government) that it is a national security threat to have such a poor performance on human rights. The decree on state of emergency published Sept 26 reveals this awareness, in article 4 paragraph 1, in which instructions are given on how to safeguard and document that no detainees are beaten.

Nothing bad that doesn’t have something good with it. This political crisis in Honduras has led to the country taking a giant leap forward in political awareness and democratic participation. I have already blogged on the security risk of having large social inequalities. As argued above, having an inadequate human rights situation has also turned out to be a security threat for the state.

This crisis, when resolved peacefully within the country, will make Honduras stronger. There will be some who will not accept the agreement; some because they are fundamentally opposed to democracy as we know it; some because they have no confidence in the leaders; and some because they have an agenda that is wholly different from that of the state as a whole. But this is normal, and no matter how violent this minority becomes, it must not be allowed to destroy the peace for the majority.

6 thoughts on “Human Rights in Honduras”

  1. Above, re Honduras: “The level of violence is high, not to say extreme”

    And in El Salvador, according to The Tablet, a UK catholic magazine:
    “Violence in El Salvador has escalated so much that last year there were 3,179 murders in the country of 5.7 million, and already by May of this year official figures show that last year’s total is likely to be exceeded. The UK, with a population more than 10 times greater, had 648 murders last year.

    “The people most affected by El Salvador’s daily killings are the poorest, who also suffer from the regular incidents of violence by gangs who live in the same poor communities. There are two major youth gangs with a total estimated membership of between 15,000 and 30,000. In the area of the parish where I work, the gangs demand a “rent” of US$4 from every unit of public transport in the area. If this is not paid, the bus driver and his assistant can be killed. However, many wonder whether the reasons for the killings does not reach far into the institutions of the state.”

    (The Tablet, 3 October. — They usually show texts only a limited time.)

  2. Hej igen Ulf.
    Jag har tänkt på det kommande valet.
    Senast, När Zelaya vann, var jag i Honduras. Alla trodde att Pepe Lobo skulle vinna, men så blev det inte. Jag har för mig att jag läst att Pepe är pro 4 urna. Han låter som han vill vara neutral fram till valet, och idag läser jag i La Prensa, att han är helt övertygad om att han vinner nästa val. Jag tycker att Pepe inte har tagit ordentlig ställning till vad han vill. Min fru säger att Nationalister och Socialister alldrig kan komma överens. Men borde inte Pepe Tänka lite på Honduras , istället för bara tänka partipolitiskt. Jag har alltid gillat Pepe, men idag vet jag inte var han står. Honduranerna har med stark övertygelse visat vad dom tycker om 4 urna. Var står Pepe ????
    Han måste övertyga Honduranerna att han inte vill ha 4 urna…
    Eller ?????

    1. Alla jag hört uttala sig om Pepe säger samma sak, att han inte talar klartext och att de inte litar på honom. Till och med en som jag sett med honom på ett kampanjmöte! Och som stött honom ekonomiskt… han litar inte på Elvin heller, men har mera förtroende för de andra två, kristdemokraten och socialdemokraten. Fast den ene är ju från en minoritet vilket kan ligga honom i fatet eftersom det finns en fördom att man inte kan lita på personer med den hudfärgen, och den fördomen tycker de har besannats nu av USAs politik mot Honduras… Själv vill jag inte uttala mig om frågan, bara valet blir hederligt och erkänt, det är det viktiga. Jo förresten, Pepe har visst senare sagt att det är OK att ändra grundlagen men det måste ske grundlagsenligt. Att hålla en omröstning är inte nödvändigtvis fel, men det måste vara rätt fråga som ställs, och en konstituerande grundlagsförsamling är ALDRIG acceptabel så länge nuvarande grundlag gäller (bara krig eller revolution kan ändra på det).

      PS. Att Pepe skulle vinna förra gången trodde folk för att alla utom 4 ledande affärsmän stödde honom, men Zelaya fick vagnslass med pengar av Chavez via FMLN i El Salvador.

  3. Du har nog rätt. Jag har alltid undrat varför strömmen försvann i hela Honduras, exakt när dom skulle redovisa valresultatet. Vi satt i El Paraiso och hade sammlat hela familjen och festade för att fira Pepe Lobos seger. Men när strömmen kom tillbaka, och resultatet medelade, satt vi bara och stirrade på varanndra och sa, QUE ??

    Keep up the good work.
    Ruben.

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