|PR Political Rights||22 40|
|CL Civil Liberties||26 60|
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. Honduras holds regular elections; while the 2017 presidential poll prompted concerns over irregularities, the 2021 elections—which ushered in Honduras’s first female president—were more transparent. However, that year’s executive and legislative elections were marred by unprecedented violence.
- In January, Xiomara Castro of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (Libre) was inaugurated as president, ending National Party (PN) control of that office and becoming the country’s first female chief executive.
- Former president Juan Orlando Hernández, Castro’s immediate predecessor, was arrested by police in Honduras in February, with the Castro administration accusing him of collaborating with drug cartels. Hernández was extradited to the United States in April.
- In July, the National Congress passed a law reforming the Nominating Board, which names nominees to fill Supreme Court seats. The law establishes guidelines for board members and limits some of the discretionary power they enjoy. Critics warned the new law would still allow political influence in the selection process.
- In December, the government enacted a state of exception, allowing authorities to restrict the freedom of assembly and movement in response to gang-related violence. The state of exception affected parts of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula and remained in effect at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is the chief of state and head of government and is elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The leading candidate need only win a plurality; there is no runoff.
Following severe irregularities in the 2017 presidential election, the National Congress created two new electoral bodies in 2019: the Electoral Court of Justice (TJE) and National Electoral Council (CNE).
In November 2021—and in the first presidential contest administered by the TJE and CNE—Xiomara Castro of Libre was elected with 51.1 percent of the vote, ending 12 years of PN executive control. Castro defeated then Tegucigalpa mayor Nasry Asfura of the PN. European Union election monitors lauded that year’s electoral reforms, which allowed for increased transparency and confidence, but noted that severe problems remained. Castro, the nation’s first female chief executive, was elected amid high voter turnout and was inaugurated in January 2022.
|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 seats are renewed in each election.
In the November 2021 polls, Libre won 50 seats, the PN won 44, the Liberal Party (PL) won 22, and the Savior Party of Honduras won 10. The Christian Democratic Party and the Anticorruption Party (PAC) each won 1. The legislative and municipal contests were competitive but were also marred by severe political violence; at least 68 candidates were murdered in the run-up to the elections. Voter intimidation and the abuse of state resources were also reported.
|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 Tribunal (TSE) came under heavy criticism for its administration of the 2017 presidential poll, which prompted protests and allegations of TSE incompetence and pro-PN bias. In 2019, the National Congress created the TJE and the CNE to replace it.
In May 2021, legislators passed a new electoral law, incorporating several reforms to improve public trust and encourage stability and transparency in the electoral process; reforms included voter-registration management improvements, the modernization of the National Identification Document program, and the involvement of multiple parties in the management of electoral institutions. As a result, the November 2021 elections enjoyed a heightened level of legitimacy and did not suffer the irregularities seen in 2017.
|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 free to operate. While power has mostly been concentrated in the hands of the PL and the PN since democratization in the early 1980s, party politics in Honduras shifted in the 2010s. In 2013, Libre and the PAC participated in elections for the first time. Six parties won National Congress seats in 2021.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Although opposition parties were affected by acts of political violence and electoral irregularities favoring the PN, they remained competitive. In 2021, the PN was ousted from the presidency for the first time in 12 years by Xiomara Castro of Libre. The PN also lost its congressional majority and mayoral races in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula that year.
|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|
Elites have traditionally exerted significant influence over political parties, limiting people’s political choices. The military remains politically powerful. Gangs, many with ties to drug trafficking, also sway decisions at the subnational level.
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 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. Ethnic minorities, the LGBT+ population, and women, however, remain politically underrepresented, though political parties must abide by a 40 percent gender quota for their slates of congressional candidates. Some 27.3 percent of the National Congress’s seats are held by women, the highest figure seen in the 21st century.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
Power was consolidated in the executive branch under measures adopted since 2014. 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.
There are growing concerns over the influence that President Castro’s husband, former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (2006–09), and other members of the Zelaya family have over political affairs.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption was rampant under the PN. The Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, established in 2016, was shut down in 2020 despite public support for that body.
President Castro’s immediate predecessor, Juan Orlando Hernández, was directly implicated in corruption in 2019 when US prosecutors identified him and former president Porfirio Lobo as coconspirators in a drug-smuggling operation run by Hernández’s brother. Former president Hernández was arrested by police in Honduras in February 2022—with the Castro administration accusing him of collaborating with drug cartels—and was extradited to face drug-trafficking and arms charges in the United States in April.
President Castro has a mixed anticorruption record. In February 2022, the National Congress passed a law providing amnesty to officials serving during the Zelaya administration, including those targeted or prosecuted for opposing the 2009 coup d’état against Zelaya. Critics objected to the law’s breadth, saying it would pardon those engaged in corruption. Ángel Edmundo Orellana Mercado, who served as transparency minister in 2022, called the law an “impunity pact.” In July, the US State Department released a list of corrupt and undemocratic actors in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; two Libre congresspeople and an advisor to President Castro were included. Since the Castro administration took office, Libre activists have also targeted public-sector employees and demanded employment based on their party affiliation.
However, the Castro administration facilitated the extradition of former president Hernández. In December, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations to create a UN-backed International Mission against Impunity in Honduras.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Government operations are generally opaque. Journalists and interest groups have difficulty obtaining information from the government. A secrecy law passed in 2014 allowed authorities to withhold information on security and national defense for up to 25 years. Civil society representatives criticized the 2020 creation of a Ministry of Transparency as an effort to undermine the efficacy of existing transparency mechanisms.
The Castro administration has taken some steps to foster greater openness and transparency. The Hernández-era secrecy law, which was perceived as a vehicle for official corruption, was repealed in March 2022. In April, legislators repealed a law that created Areas of Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs), which were meant to attract investment but prompted fears that they would facilitate corrupt activities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that some ZEDEs, which allowed private firms operating there considerable autonomy, were still active as of October. In July, legislators passed a law to improve transparency in the nomination of Supreme Court justices, although it was criticized for favoring the interests of political parties, particularly Libre.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because legislators repealed a secrecy law that allowed authorities to withhold information on security-related matters and was viewed as a vehicle for official corruption.
|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 the authorities risk assaults, threats, blocked transmissions, and harassment.
In May 2022, the National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (CONADEH) reported that 92 individuals linked to journalism were killed since 2001. Five journalists were killed in 2022 through October according to the Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre). A special prosecutor’s office for the protection of journalists and other civil society workers has limited resources and few prosecutors, undermining its mission.
|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|
Criminal groups undermine academic freedom, as they 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 2011 Special Law on Interception of Private Communications, the government can intercept online and telephone messages. Violence, threats, and intimidation by state and nonstate actors curtail open and free private discussion among the general population.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected. In the past, PN governments used force to disperse rallies. Amnesty International reported that authorities regularly employed tear gas and live ammunition during protests or government reprisals.
Protests were held in 2022 but the right to assemble was restricted in parts of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in December, when the Castro administration enacted a state of exception in response to gang-related violence. Freedom of assembly and free movement were restricted in affected areas. Those measures remained in force at year’s end.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their staff, especially in the human rights and environmental fields, often faced significant threats, including harassment, surveillance, smear campaigns aimed at undermining their work, and violence under PN governments. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documented the murders of 10 human rights defenders in 2021. Activists from the Garifuna community have been especially targeted with violence. While the Castro administration committed to implementing a policy to protect human rights activists, they are still threatened; in November 2022, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) criticized local PN officeholders for threatening land and environmental campaigners.
LGBT+ campaigners also face violence in Honduras. In January 2022, authorities arrested a member of the MS-13 criminal gang for murdering transgender activist Thalía Rodríguez, though the suspect was later released for lack of evidence.
In 2018, seven suspects were convicted for the prominent 2016 killing of environmental and Indigenous-rights activist Berta Cáceres; they received multidecade sentences in 2019. In 2021, Roberto David Castillo, former president of the Energy Developments power company, was convicted of murder for his role in planning Cáceres’s assassination. In June 2022, Castillo received a 22-and-a-half-year prison sentence.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Labor unions are well organized and can strike. In the past, 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 public and private sectors have faced harassment, dismissal, and violence for their activities. The change in government temporarily decreased tensions with unions since many have ties with the ruling Libre.
|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, judges have been removed from their posts for political motivations, and several lawyers have been killed in recent years.
In 2021, legislators passed reforms limiting the public prosecutor’s access to financial information in cases of corruption, curtailing the ability of the office to operate effectively. In July 2022, legislators passed a law regarding the Nominating Board for the Supreme Court; some of its provisions established new guidelines for board members and limited some of the discretionary power they enjoy. Critics of the law warned that it still allowed for political influence in judicial selection. In October, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on the government to ensure a transparent selection process. The board, which was sworn in in September, is due to submit a list of Supreme Court candidates to legislators in January 2023.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
The lack of due process is a serious issue in Honduras. The judiciary and law enforcement agencies are often compromised and underfunded. As such, they are corrupt, targets of influence peddling and undue influence, and often engage in criminal activities.
PN governments utilized the armed forces to combat crime and violence. Arbitrary arrests and detentions were common, as was lengthy pretrial detention. Many people remained in pretrial detention in 2022.
The Castro administration has taken some steps to address due process and law enforcement problems. Ramón Sabillón, a former national police chief who was dismissed by former president Hernández and spent years in exile after arresting drug-trafficking suspects, was named security minister in January 2022. In August, the administration transferred control of prisons from the military to the national police for a one-year period. However, the government’s announcement of a “war against extortion” in November and the resulting state of exception in December led to a suspension of constitutionally protected rights and raised due process concerns.
|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 in recent years, but violent crime and gang violence remain serious problems and have prompted large-scale internal displacement and migration. In response to widespread violence, the government of Juan Orlando Hernández empowered the Military Police of Public Order and other security forces to combat security threats, and that policy has continued under President Castro. However, these units often employ excessive force when conducting operations.
In 2022, authorities reported a 12.7 percent drop in homicides compared to 2021, but Honduras remained the most dangerous country in Central America based on that figure. Prisons remain overcrowded and underequipped, and prison violence remains rampant due primarily to gang activity.
|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. The Cattrachas Lesbian Response Network, a local NGO, recorded 194 murders and 3 disappearances of LGBT+ people between 2017 and 2022. The same NGO found only 22 percent of such murders committed between 2009 and 2022 have been prosecuted.
In 2021, the IACHR ruled that the government was responsible for failing to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the 2009 murder of Vicky Hernández, a transgender woman. In May 2022, President Castro publicly accepted the government’s responsibility for Hernández’s death. The IACHR ruling also mandated that the government must allow transgender people to change their gender identity on personal documents and in public records. The administration committed to complying with this requirement but had not done so as of October.
Lands inhabited by Indigenous and Afro-Honduran people are particularly vulnerable to expropriation for development projects without adequate prior consultation. Communities that contest such projects are unable to effectively assert their rights. In 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the government to release eight human rights activists known as the Guapinol defenders, who had been detained for opposing a mine in a protected national park. Two were acquitted and released in early February 2022, while the Supreme Court ordered the release of the remaining six later that month.
In August 2022, the CONADEH reported that over 100 people experienced or were at risk of forced displacement based on complaints it addressed between 2016 and the first half of 2022.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
Ongoing violence and impunity have reduced personal autonomy and freedom of movement in Honduras. 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 calculated that over 247,000 people were internally displaced at the end of 2021, while 23,100 Hondurans requested asylum in Mexico in the first nine months of 2022.
The December 2022 state of exception curtailed constitutional rights, allowing authorities to restrict movement in parts of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
|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 inhibit the ability to conduct business activities freely and dissuade entrepreneurs from establishing new businesses. Taxi and bus drivers are notable targets of gangs.
|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, despite ongoing calls for reform from LGBT+ activists. A 2019 law banned same-sex couples from adopting children despite the objection of activists, who called the bill excessive 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 illegal.
Domestic violence remains widespread and largely goes unpunished. Honduras has one of the world’s highest femicide rates, and these murders are rarely investigated. According to the Center for Women’s Rights, a local NGO, 297 women died by femicide in 2022.
|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. Human trafficking remains a significant issue. Honduras serves as a source country for women and children forced into prostitution. Adults and children are also vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture, mining, and other sectors, and as domestic servants.
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Global Freedom Score48 100 partly free