Institutional weakness, corruption, violence, and impunity undermine the overall stability of Honduras. Journalists, political activists, and women are often the victims of violence, and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. While Honduras holds regular elections, irregularities surrounding the 2017 presidential poll prompted election monitors to call the result into question.
- In May, the National Congress approved a new electoral law after two years of deliberation. The new legislation incorporated several reforms, including improvements to the voter registration process. Though the reforms enhanced the credibility of the year’s general elections, some opposition figures have criticized the law, saying it does not go far enough in providing a framework for democratic election management.
- General elections were held in November and administered under the new electoral law, which increased transparency and confidence in the electoral process despite the unprecedented levels of political violence that marred the elections. Opposition candidate Xiomara Castro of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (Libre) was elected to the presidency with 51.1 percent of the vote; Libre also gained control of the National Congress, filling 50 seats.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is both chief of state and head of government, and is elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The leading candidate is only required to win a plurality; there is no runoff system.
In 2019, following severe irregularities in the 2017 presidential election, which saw President Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party (PN) reelected by a narrow margin, Congress created two new electoral management bodies: the Electoral Court of Justice (TJE) and National Electoral Council (CNE). In May 2021, Congress passed new electoral legislation that aimed to improve electoral integrity in the run-up to the November 2021 general elections, which were the first to be administered by the TJE and the CNE.
In November 2021, the Libre Party’s Xiomara Castro was elected to the presidency with 51.1 percent of the vote, ending 12 years of PN control of the office. Castro, who will become the nation’s first woman president, was elected amid record high voter turnout after the electoral reforms enacted in May 2021 improved the voter registration process. The European Union (EU) election mission to Honduras reported that, though several critical problems remain, including high levels of politicization in the electoral process, the May 2021 reforms to the electoral system had allowed for increased transparency and improved confidence in the election results.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because the presidential election, which ended with an opposition candidate’s victory, was held with improvements to voter-registration and security measures and amid high turnout.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
Members of the 128-seat, unicameral National Congress are elected for four-year terms using proportional representation by department.
All 128 seats were contested in the November 2021 elections. Castro’s Libre party won 50 seats, followed by the PN with 44 seats. The remaining seats were filled by the Liberal Party (PL) with 22 seats, the Savior Party of Honduras (PSH) with 10 seats, and the Christian Democratic Party (DC) and the Anticorruption Party (PAC) with one seat each. The election was administered under the May 2021 electoral reforms, and the results were accepted both domestically and internationally.
Despite these reforms, the 2021 congressional and municipal elections were marred by severe political violence; at least 68 candidates were murdered in the run-up to the elections. Other forms of electoral interference, including the abuse of state resources and voter intimidation, were also reported.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because legislative elections were affected by serious violence perpetrated against local elected officials.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The Supreme Electoral Council (TSE) came under heavy criticism for its administration of the 2017 presidential poll, which prompted protests and widespread allegations of TSE incompetence and bias toward the ruling party. In January 2019, Congress created two new electoral bodies to replace the TSE, the TJE and the CNE. In May 2021, after more than two years of deliberation, the congress passed a new electoral law, incorporating several reforms intended to improve public trust and encourage stability and transparency in the electoral process.
These reforms include improvements to voter-registration management, the modernization of the National Identification Document (DNI) program, and provided for the involvement of multiple parties (PN, PL, and Libre) in the management of all electoral institutions. Following the reforms, the 2021 elections enjoyed a heightened level of legitimacy; the severe irregularities of the 2017 elections were not repeated, and the results were widely accepted.
According to the EU election observation mission, the new electoral legislation generally complies with international and regional standards, and provided increased transparency and confidence in the election day proceedings and results of the November 2021 general elections. Though many critics have deemed the reforms insufficient, citing democratic deficits including high levels of politicization, unclear procedures, and a lack of necessary regulations, the reforms were widely considered to represent significant progress in the electoral process. Further reforms aimed at establishing new conflict-resolution processes are planned, but have not yet been enacted.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because opposition parties more actively participated in the management of the CNE and because of improvements in voter-roll and voter-registration management.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Political parties are largely free to operate, though power has mostly been concentrated in the hands of the PL and the PN since the early 1980s. In 2013, Libre and the PAC participated in elections for the first time, winning a significant share of the vote and disrupting the dominance of the PL and the PN. In 2021, representatives from five parties were elected to the National Congress.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Opposition parties are competitive. Though opposition parties were affected by acts of political violence and electoral irregularities favoring the ruling party, several opposition candidates were able to gain power in the November 2021 elections.
In November 2021, the ruling PN was ousted from the presidency for the first time in 12 years by Castro, a member of the opposition party Libre. The PN also lost its congressional majority when Libre candidates won 50 seats.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because an opposition candidate won the presidential election.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1.001 4.004|
Political and economic elites have traditionally exerted significant influence over political parties, limiting people’s political choices. The military, after decades of ruling Honduras, remains politically powerful.
Political violence is widespread, and includes harassment, threats, and intimidation directed at candidates, politicians, and voters, especially women. In 2021, the University Institute for Democracy, Peace, and Security (IUDPAS) reported more than 30 deaths related to political and electoral violence.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
Adult citizens have the right to vote. Members of ethnic minority groups remain underrepresented in Honduras’s political system and in the political sphere generally, though there have been modest efforts by the government to encourage their participation and representation.
Women are also underrepresented in politics. In the 2021 elections, of 3038 open positions, 61.1 percent were won by men and 38.8 percent by women.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
Beginning in 2014, several measures have been passed into law that have increasingly consolidated power in the executive branch. The military, which has traditionally maintained substantial autonomy from civilian oversight, has played an increasing role in both internal security and programs unrelated to security in recent years, prompting the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) to call for demilitarization and a return of nondefense matters to civilian control.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption remains rampant in Honduras, despite efforts to bolster its anticorruption mechanisms in recent years. The Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), which was established in 2016, was shuttered in 2020 despite public support for renewal, marking a pattern of regression in Honduran anticorruption efforts.
The new criminal code that took effect in June 2020 eased penalties for multiple crimes public officials are regularly accused of, including corruption and drug trafficking. The new code also contributed to the dismissal of charges or acquittal of officials implicated in several emblematic corruption cases, including one that exposed large-scale embezzlement in the public health sector.
President Hernández was directly implicated in corruption in 2019, when United States prosecutors identified him and former president Porfirio Lobo as coconspirators in a drug smuggling operation run by Juan Antonio Hernández, the president’s brother. In October 2019, a United States jury convicted the president’s brother; in March 2021, he was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to forfeit $138.5 million for his leadership role in what the US Department of Justice (DOJ) termed “a violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy”.
In October 2021, the legislature passed reforms limiting the public prosecutor’s office access to financial information in cases of corruption and relaxing sanctions against those who do not present campaign finance reports. These reforms also define members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as politically exposed persons (PEPs), a measure that gives the government the power to place NGOs under investigation and freeze their bank accounts, which many groups fear will be abused in order to restrict their ability to fight against corruption.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Government operations are generally opaque. Journalists and interest groups have difficulty obtaining information from the government. Secrecy laws passed in 2014 allow authorities to withhold information on security and national defense for up to 25 years. The laws cover information regarding the military police budget, which is funded by a security tax, as well as information related to the Supreme Court and the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Directorate.
The 2020 creation of a Ministry of Transparency was criticized by civil society representatives as an effort to undermine the efficacy of existing transparency mechanisms.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
Authorities systematically violate the constitution’s press freedom guarantees. Reporters and outlets covering sensitive topics or who are perceived as critical of authorities risk assaults, threats, blocked transmissions, and harassment.
According to the National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (CONADEH), more than 80 journalists have been murdered in the country since 2001; a local press freedom group, the Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre) reported that 97 percent of these murders have gone unsolved.
Journalists are also targeted by various types of defamation laws. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), while defamation was decriminalized under the new criminal code, insult and slander continue to be subject to criminal penalties.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally respected in Honduras.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Academic freedom is undermined by criminal groups, who control all or parts of schools in some areas and subject staff to extortion schemes. Authorities sometimes move to suppress student demonstrations by arresting participants and dispersing the events, and violent clashes between police and student protesters sometimes occur.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Under the Special Law on Interception of Private Communications, passed in 2011, the government can intercept online and telephone messages. Violence, threats, and intimidation by state and nonstate actors curtails open and free private discussion among the general population.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected, but the government consistently uses force to disperse participants. Amnesty International has reported that authorities regularly used tear gas and live ammunition against demonstrators and bystanders during protests or government reprisals. The COVID-19-linked state of emergency included restrictions on freedom of assembly,
In December 2020, three UN special rapporteurs sent a joint letter calling for revisions of sections of the new criminal code that threaten assembly rights, including vague invocations of the word “terrorism” that potentially jeopardized protest organizers.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed further concern regarding penal code reforms passed in October 2021 that impose heavier penalties on charges of usurpation and forced displacement, which the government has used in the past to arbitrarily arrest, criminalize, and prosecute protesters.
Violent crackdowns on electoral rallies and celebrations like those seen in 2017 were not repeated during the 2021 election period. Large political rallies by both the PN and opposition parties were undisturbed, and large public gatherings were held on election day without interference.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because past disruptions of election-related gatherings by authorities were not repeated.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
NGOs and their staff, especially in the human rights and environmental fields, face significant threats, including harassment, surveillance, smear campaigns aimed at undermining their work, and violence. Since January 2014, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the OHCHR have documented the murders of at least 75 human rights defenders. Activists from the Garifuna community have been especially targeted in recent years.
In 2018, a court convicted seven suspects in the prominent 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres; they received multidecade sentences in 2019. In July 2021, David Castillo, the former head of a dam company, was convicted of murder for his role in planning Cáceres’s assassination.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Labor unions are well organized and can strike, though labor actions have resulted in clashes with security forces. The government does not always honor formal agreements entered with public-sector unions. Union leaders and labor activists in both the public and private sector face harassment, dismissal, and violence for their activities. According to a report published in June 2020 by the Network Against Anti-Union Violence, 36 trade unionists were murdered between 2009 and 2019.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Political and business elites exert excessive influence over the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. Judicial appointments are made with little transparency, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers reported in June 2020 that the Supreme Court maintains excessive control over lower-level judicial appointments. The Special Rapporteur also noted Congress’s excessive power over the judiciary. Judges have been removed from their posts for political reasons, and several lawyers have been killed in recent years.
In October 2021, Congress passed reforms limiting the public prosecutor’s office access to financial information in cases of corruption, curtailing the ability of the office to operate effectively.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Due process is limited due to a compromised judiciary and a corrupt and often inept police force, in which many officers have engaged in criminal activities including drug trafficking and extortion. The government has increasingly utilized the armed forces to combat crime and violence. Arbitrary arrests and detentions are common, as is lengthy pretrial detention.
The new criminal code entered into force in June 2020 despite criticism by human rights groups, including over the continued criminalization of insult and slander, definitions of torture and enforced disappearance that were inconsistent with international standards, and a litany of ambiguously worded provisions that could affect free association and assembly rights. According to the OHCHR, the code did contain alternative sentencing provisions that could alleviate severe overcrowding in the country’s prisons.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
The homicide rate has declined notably over the last decade, but violent crime and gang violence remain serious problems, and have prompted large-scale internal displacement and migration. More than 3,600 people were killed in 2021, resulting in a homicide rate of about 39 per 100,000 people.
In response to widespread violence, the government has empowered the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) and other security forces to combat security threats, and these units often employ excessive force when conducting operations.
Prisons are overcrowded and underequipped, and prison violence remains rampant due in large part to pervasive gang presence. Despite the military taking control of prison security in late 2019, violence has continued to rise, leading to the murder of dozens of inmates.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people and Indigenous and Garifuna populations persist at high levels in Honduras. The Cattrachas Lesbian Response Network (Cattrachas), a local NGO, reported an impunity rate of 91 percent in the 373 murders of LBGT+ people between 2009 and 2020. According to the OHCHR, at least 28 LGBT+ people were killed in 2021, including at least five transgender people; Honduras has the world’s highest rate of murders committed against transgender people.
In June 2021, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a landmark ruling, determining that the government was responsible for failing to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the 2009 murder of Vicky Hernández, a transgender woman. This ruling also mandated that the government must allow transgender people to change their gender identity on personal documents and in public records, setting an important precedent in Central America.
According to the OHCHR and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, lands inhabited by Indigenous and Afro-Honduran people are particularly vulnerable to expropriation for development projects without adequate prior consultation, and communities that contest such projects are unable to effectively assert their rights. In February 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called on the government to release eight human rights activists known as the Guapinol defenders, who had been detained for opposing an iron oxide mine inside a protected national park. The trial began in December, after more than two years of pretrial detention.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
While authorities generally do not restrict free movement, ongoing violence and impunity have reduced personal autonomy for the country’s residents. Those living in gang-controlled territories face extortion, and dangerous conditions limit free movement and options for education and employment. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that over 247,000 people were internally displaced in Honduras at the end of 2021.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption, crime, and gang activity inhibits the ability to conduct business activities freely and dissuades entrepreneurs from establishing new businesses. Those who work in the transportation sector (taxi and bus drivers) are notable targets of gangs, but many are unable to flee for fear of retaliatory violence against themselves and their families. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the government uses force to prevent people from attempting to flee the country.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Honduras. In 2019, a law came into force banning same-sex couples from adopting children despite the objection of activists, who called the bill superfluous and discriminatory.
Abortion is illegal in Honduras, including in cases of rape or incest, with criminal sanctions including imprisonment for those accused of terminating their pregnancies. Emergency contraception is also prohibited.
Domestic violence remains widespread, and most such attacks go unpunished. Honduras has among the highest femicide rates in the world, and these murders are rarely investigated. According to the Center for Women’s Rights (CDM), a Honduran NGO, 342 women were killed in 2021.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Lack of socioeconomic opportunities combined with high levels of crime and violence limit social mobility for most Hondurans and exacerbate income inequality. High youth unemployment and low levels of education help to perpetuate the cycle of crime and violence.
Human trafficking is a significant issue in Honduras, which serves as a source country for women and children forced into prostitution; adults and children are also vulnerable to forced labor in the agriculture, mining, and other sectors, and as domestic servants.
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Global Freedom Score47 100 partly free