Honduras | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Honduras

Honduras

Partly Free
46/100
Overview: 

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.

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • In February, the head of the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) resigned, citing hostility from the government and a lack of support from the Organization for American States (OAS), which backs the panel.
  • Despite government efforts to undermine the work of the MACCIH, in June the body announced charges against 38 government officials and politicians, who are accused of misusing public funds for the president’s 2013 campaign, as well as opposition campaigns. Among those implicated are high-ranking members of the ruling National Party (PN) and opposition Liberal Party (PL), a number of former government ministers, and members of Congress.
  • In November, a court found seven of the eight suspects in the 2016 killing of indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres guilty of murder. However, rights activists expressed concern that the masterminds of the crime had not been identified.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 20 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 7 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

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 a controversial 2015 decision, the Honduran Supreme Court voided Article 239 of the constitution, which had limited presidents to one term. President Juan Orlando Hernández was subsequently reelected in 2017, with the Supreme Electoral Council (TSE) announcing in December—three weeks after the actual poll—that he had taken 42.95 percent of the vote, to opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla’s 41.42 percent. The OAS noted numerous issues with the electoral process, which it said “was characterized by irregularities and deficiencies, with very low technical quality and lacking integrity,” and appealed for new elections to be held. The government dismissed the OAS petition, and by year’s end the United States, the European Union (EU), and Canada had recognized Hernández as the winner of the election.

Post-election protests led to clashes between civilians and security forces, resulting in the deaths of 23 protesters.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

Members of the 128-seat, unicameral National Congress are elected for four-year terms using proportional representation by department. In the 2017 polls, the governing PN acquired an additional 13 seats, but still fell short of holding a legislative majority. The opposition Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE) party and PL lost seven seats, and one seat, respectively. While the 2017 presidential and parliamentary votes were held concurrently, stakeholders accepted the results of the legislative elections; only the presidential poll was disputed.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4

The TSE came under heavy criticism for its administration of the 2017 presidential poll, notably after a preliminary vote count had showed Nasralla with a significant lead, but later announcements and ultimately the final result—which was released three weeks after the elections—showed a victory by Hernández. The delay prompted protests and widespread allegations of TSE incompetence and bias toward the ruling party. As the vote-counting process dragged on, OAS and EU election monitors expressed concerns regarding the lack of transparency and irregularities surrounding the presidential vote, and voiced support for Nasralla’s demand for a recount. The OAS eventually called for the poll to be rerun, but authorities dismissed the recommendation.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 8 / 16

B1.      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 / 4

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 Anti-Corruption Party (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. PAC lost all but one of its seats in 2017, but LIBRE maintained its position as the second-largest party in the parliament.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2 / 4

Opposition parties are competitive, and in 2017, opposition candidates took a significant portion of the vote in both the legislative and presidential elections. However, the many serious irregularities surrounding the TSE’s administration of the 2017 presidential election prompted EU and OAS election monitors to question the validity of the vote count, and the opposition insisted that a PN-aligned TSE had denied the opposition candidate victory in the presidential race.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 1 / 4

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. President Hernández’s appointments of military officials to civilian posts, many related to security, have underscored that influence. There were numerous reports of vote buying during the 2017 polling period.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

All adult citizens may vote, and voting is compulsory. Ethnic minorities remain underrepresented in Honduras’ political system and in the political sphere generally, though there have been modest efforts by the government to encourage their participation and representation. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have also worked to improve minority representation in government. After being criticized for failing to do so in past elections, the TSE in 2017 printed voter information materials in indigenous and Afro-Honduran languages. However, no representatives of the Afro-Honduran (Garifuna) population were elected to Congress in 2017.

Women are also underrepresented in politics. The TSE has struggled to implement parity laws. In the 2017 elections, women won 27 of 128 congressional races and 23 of 298 mayoral posts. However, women’s rights groups are becoming more visible in the political sphere.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 5 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4

In 2014, the Hernández administration eliminated five cabinet-level ministries and created seven umbrella ministries in an effort to cut costs. Critics have argued that the restructuring concentrated power in too few hands. Two new executive decrees passed in March 2018 further consolidated power in the executive branch.

The opposition’s ability to prevent the ruling party from achieving a legislative majority has forced political parties to form coalitions to pass legislation.

While the results of the 2017 presidential election were hotly disputed, stakeholders accepted the results of the year’s legislative elections. The new government began its term in January.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

Corruption remains rampant in Honduras, but some safeguards have been implemented to address the issue. In December 2018, the mandate of the Special Commission for Purging and Transformation of the National Police was extended through January 2022, following its success in removing corrupt police officials. By the end of 2018, the commission’s work had resulted in the removal of over 5,000 police officers for misconduct.

The MACCIH, which was established in 2016, has since helped facilitate the approval of new anticorruption legislation aimed at preventing illicit campaign donations. However, there are reports that political elites have taken efforts to undermine or interfere with its work. The head of the MACCIH, Juan Jiménez Mayor, resigned in February, citing hostility from the government and a lack of support from the OAS, which backs the panel. In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the public prosecutor’s new anticorruption agency, the Fiscal Unit against Impunity and Corruption (UFECIC), which has worked closely with the MACCIH, was unconstitutional. Civil society activists assailed the decision as an attack on the anticorruption framework. However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office responded to the ruling by stating that if the MACCIH was judged to be constitutional, then the UFECIC must also be constitutional, and the latter body continued its work.

In June, the MACCIH and the UFECIC announced charges against 38 government officials and politicians, who are accused of misusing public funds for the president’s 2013 campaign, as well as opposition campaigns. The inquiry, known as the Pandora Case, has implicated high-ranking members of the ruling PN and opposition PL, a number of former government ministers, members of Congress, and the president’s brother-in-law.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1 / 4

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.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 26 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 9 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 1 / 4

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. A 2017 reform to antiterrorism provisions in the Penal Code justified the jailing of journalists for inciting terrorism or hate. In September 2018, Congress voted to annul the law.

Threats and assaults of journalists remained common during the year. In February, reporter César Omar Silva of the Une TV channel was attacked during a live television broadcast. In August, radio host Sandra Maribel Sánchez reported that she received death threats after airing a segment critical of the government’s health policies.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Religious freedom is generally respected in Honduras.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4

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. Student demonstrators at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) in Tegucigalpa clashed with riot police in July and August 2018 as they occupied the campus to demand lower fuel costs and subsidized public transport. Police fired tear gas into the demonstration.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2 / 4

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.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 4 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected, but demonstrations are often met with a violent police response. In late 2017, following the elections, 23 protesters were killed in a police crackdown on demonstrations against the results, and hundreds were arrested. Election-related protests continued into January 2018, with police firing tear gas into protesters in Tegucigalpa and opening fire on a demonstration in the town of Saba, killing a man.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1 / 4

NGOs and their staff face significant threats, including harassment, surveillance, smear campaigns aimed at undermining their work, detention, and violence. Human rights defenders who work on environmental and land rights issues are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment. In April 2018, human rights lawyer Carlos Hernández was shot and killed by unknown assailants at his office in Tela. Hernández was defending the mayor of Arizona, who had been charged with illegally occupying government property in protest of a hydroelectric project. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that between January 2014 and August 2018, at least 65 human rights defenders were murdered, and over 1,232 attacks against human rights defenders were documented between 2016 and 2017.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

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, violence, and dismissal for their activities. A March 2018 report published by the Solidarity Center and the Network against Antiunion Violence found that between January 2015 and February 2018, 69 people were victimized by antiunion violence, which included threats, murders, and forced disappearances of union leaders.

F. RULE OF LAW: 5 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

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 reasons, and a number of legal professionals have been killed in recent years. Prosecutors and whistleblowers handling corruption cases are often subject to threats of violence.

In a controversial move in 2012, Congress voted to remove four of the five justices in the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber after they ruled a police reform law unconstitutional. In 2013, the legislature granted itself the power to remove from office the president, Supreme Court justices, legislators, and other officials. It also curtailed the power of the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber and revoked the right of citizens to challenge the constitutionality of laws. These moves laid the groundwork for the controversial 2015 constitutional change that allowed for the reelection of Juan Orlando Hernández in 2017.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4

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. In 2017, authorities established several new courts in an attempt to address lengthy trial delays. Authorities in the armed forces have dishonorably discharged members accused of rights violations before their trials have taken place.

In June 2018, Congress reelected Attorney General Óscar Chinchilla in a process that was widely criticized for alleged interference by the president and members of Congress, as well as a lack of transparency. Members of Congress who were under investigation for corruption were involved in the selection process, which, according to legal experts, created conflicts of interest.

In November, a court found seven of the eight suspects in the 2016 killing of indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres guilty of murder. Among those convicted were two officials with a company constructing the hydroelectric dam Cáceres had opposed and former members of the military. Although rights activists viewed the convictions as a step forward in achieving justice for slain human rights defenders, they expressed concern that the masterminds of the crime had not been identified.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4

The number of homicides declined slightly in 2018 to 3,682, down from 3,864 homicides in 2017. However, violent crime and gang violence remain serious problems, and have prompted large-scale migration out of Honduras. Many parents opt to send their children towards the United States to avoid gang recruitment, and those who return to their neighborhoods are often targeted by gangs, and in some cases, killed for fleeing the community.

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 security operations.

Prisons are overcrowded and underequipped, and prison violence remains rampant due in large part to the presence of gangs.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4

Violence and discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people and indigenous and Garifuna populations persist, and while antidiscrimination laws are on the books, in practice victims of such abuses have little recourse. In August 2018, the IACHR reported 177 murders of LGBT people in the previous five years, which resulted in 65 investigations and no convictions.

Honduras has among the highest femicide rates in the world, and few such murders are investigated. According to the UNAH, 380 women were murdered in 2018.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 8 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4

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 Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that there were 190,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Honduras as of the end of 2018, which was largely a result of gang activity, death threats, and extortion.      

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

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.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Honduras. In August 2018, Congress approved several articles of a bill that would ban same-sex couples from adopting children. The legislation awaited final passage at year’s end. LGBT activists argued that the bill was unnecessary, since only married couples are allowed to adopt and same-sex marriage is illegal, and that the legislation was meant to stoke further hostility and discrimination against LGBT people.

Domestic violence remains widespread, and most such attacks go unpunished.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

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.