United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Honduras, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa381c.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
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HONDURAS Honduras is a constitutional democracy with a President and unicameral Congress elected for 4-year terms and an independent judiciary headed by a Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). President Carlos Roberto Reina took office in January 1994 as the fourth democratically elected President since the reestablishment of democracy in 1982. Both major parties (Liberal and National) have now assumed power from the other after free elections. The Honduran Armed Forces (HOAF) comprise the army, air force, navy, and the police (Public Security Force--FUSEP) as a fourth branch. The HOAF operates with considerable institutional and legal autonomy, particularly in the realm of internal security and military affairs. It controls the police, numerous private sector businesses, and the national telephone company. In January, however, the legislature removed the merchant marine from military control and placed it under civilian control as of April. In September the Congress passed legislation which will transfer the police from military to civilian control in 1996. The Government established an Ad Hoc Commission on Police and Judicial Reform in 1993, in response to credible allegations of extrajudicial killings by members of the FUSEP, particularly its Directorate of National Investigations (DNI). In January 1994 it established a new Public Ministry containing a new Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DIC) to replace the DNI; however, the DIC is not yet fully staffed or equipped. Human rights organizations, including the Government's National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights (CONAPRODE), say that reports of abuses have declined since the DNI was abolished. However, members of both the armed forces and the FUSEP continued to commit human rights abuses. The economy is primarily based on agriculture, with a small but growing light manufacturing sector. The armed forces play a sizable role in the national economy, controlling numerous enterprises usually associated with the private sector, including a bank, several insurance companies, and one of the two cement companies. In 1994 a drought-induced energy crisis triggered a major recession with real gross domestic product declining 1.5 percent. An improved energy picture and booming world coffee prices created conditions for modest growth of 3-4 percent in 1995. Combined unemployment and underemployment were approximately 58 percent, and the Government estimated that 63 percent of all citizens live in poverty. The Government's human rights record improved somewhat, although serious problems remain in certain areas. The most widespread human rights abuses continued to be arbitrary, illegal and incommunicado detentions, and beatings and other abuse of detainees, sometimes including torture. There was once again a small number of vigilante killings. Impunity for members of the civilian and military elite, exacerbated by a weak, underfunded, and sometimes corrupt judicial system, is a major cause of human rights problems. Prison conditions remained deplorable. Other continuing human rights problems were societal discrimination and violence against women, discrimination against indigenous people, abuse of street children, and the inability of the judicial system to provide prisoners awaiting trial with swift and impartial justice. Almost no elected official, member of the business elite, bureaucrat or politician was tried, sentenced, or significantly fined in 1995. However, there were a few exceptions. Former Honduran Minister Ernesto Paz Aguilar, arrested on August 21 for the sale of Honduran diplomatic and official passports, was released on November 29 for insufficient evidence. However, the Attorney General is still investigating the case, and three other officials involved in the same investigation remain in prison. Active duty police Colonel Juan Blas Salazar was sentenced for narcotics trafficking in November. The mayor of Tegucigalpa was also jailed briefly on accusations of stealing municipal funds, but was released for lack of evidence.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of politically motivated killings, but members of the security forces allegedly committed several extrajudicial killings. The crime rate surged again in 1995, including a rise in the number of homicides. It has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between homicides that may have been extrajudicial acts by government agents and common crimes. Human rights groups have compiled credible evidence to indicate that in at least 40 of these cases renegade elements of the security forces or civilian groups working with them committed extrajudicial killings of supposed habitual criminals. Widespread frustration at the inability of the security forces to control crime, and the well-founded perception that a deeply corrupt police force is complicit in the high rate of crime, has led to considerable public support for vigilante groups. Chief Wilfredo Alvarado of the Criminal Investigations Directorate publicly disclosed that the DIC has evidence of a death squad financed by local businessmen operating against criminals in the San Pedro Sula area. On September 17, the bodies of four alleged criminals were discovered on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. The bodies of all four showed signs of beatings and torture with bruises on their wrists indicating they had been handcuffed. Of the four, only 18-year-old Rony Alexis Betancourt, who had been detained on September 15 by the police in a cell in the 7th Command of FUSEP located in downtown Tegucigalpa, has been identified. Betancourt was stabbed in the abdomen and shot three times. The police claimed they had released Betancourt, an alleged gang member, from custody on September 16. DIC agents are conducting an investigation but have not yet identified any suspects. On August 3, the bodies of three businessmen (owners of an auto parts store) were found outside the city of La Paz riddled with bullets from M-16 and AK-47 rifles. The three had been beaten and tortured with multiple bruises and fractures over all their bodies. The police, who alleged that all three were members of an auto theft gang, claimed that the killings occurred elsewhere and the bodies were dumped outside La Paz. There are no witnesses, and FUSEP had not interrogated or arrested any suspects by year's end. Credible allegations of extrajudicial killings by members of the FUSEP, particularly its now defunct Directorate of National Investigations, led to the creation in January 1994 of the new Public Ministry containing a new civilian-controlled Directorate of Criminal Investigations to replace the DNI. Human rights groups, including the Attorney General's Office, have noted a continuing drop in the number of reports of human rights abuses since the dissolution of the DNI. The new Ministry, responsible for investigating all cases of extrajudicial killings, has completed its program of training and organizing its staff. The Ministry will lack the capability, however, to investigate adequately current or past criminal cases until the DIC reaches a higher level of operational capability. This may not be until the end of 1996 when the DIC expects to reach its goal of 1,500 fully trained and equipped agents. The DIC currently has 450 investigators with practically no communications or laboratory equipment. In June a civilian judge ordered the immediate arrest of Colonel Leonel Galindo Knutsen, implicated in the May 1991 murder of five unarmed members of the National Association of Honduran Peasants involved in a land dispute with him. Galindo has not yet been captured; the DIC continues to search but has been unable to locate him. He has been free since December 1993 when his case was transferred from the military to the civilian court system. There was no progress reported in investigations or prosecutions of other alleged extrajudicial killings committed in previous years. These included the 1994 killing of 78-year- old evangelical pastor Justo Irias Ordonez; the 1993 killings of Eduardo Pina van Tuyl, Guillermo Agurcia Lefebvre, Lourdes Enamorado, Roger David Torres Vallejos, Rigoberto Quezada Figueres, Cleofes Colindres Canales, Juan Jose Menendez, Glenda Patricia Solorzano Medina, and Jorge Alcides Medina Hernandez; the 1992 killings of Juan Humberto Sanchez, Rigoberto Borjas, Ramon Castellon Baide, and Cayo Eng Lee; the 1991 murder of Manuel de Jesus Guerra; and the 1990 killings of Francisco Javier Bonilla Medina and Ramon Antonio Briceno. On May 18, after a full review of the trial records, the First Court of Appeals upheld the 16-year sentence of Colonel Castillo Maradiaga and the 10-year sentence of Sergeant Santos Llovares Funez for the 1991 rape and murder of 18-year-old student Riccy Mabel Martinez. Both will serve their full sentences in the Central Penitentiary in Tegucigalpa.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. In June the Attorney General opened investigations into the disappearances of some 180 people in the 1980's. Various witnesses, survivors, and a few former members of the military have charged that the HOAF, specifically a military intelligence group called Battalion 316, kidnaped, tortured, and murdered many of the disappeared. The Attorney General had several clandestine grave sites excavated in November, and forensic scientists identified several remains as those of persons on the list of disappeared. The Attorney General and the National Commissioner for Human Rights, Leo Valladares, requested from the HOAF and the U.S. Government information they might have to aid this investigation. The HOAF claimed to have no relevant information. The U.S. Government began a review of documents from that period and released to the Attorney General and the Commissioner documents which had already been declassified. In October a judge called former chief of military intelligence Colonel Leonidas Torres Arias to testify in the case of Nelson Mackay, who disappeared in 1982 and whose body was exhumed and identified in December 1994. Torres Arias repeated statements he had made in Mexico in 1982, that the then Chief of the Armed Forces, General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez (now deceased), ordered the forced disappearance of a number of Hondurans, including Mackay. Torres Arias also testified that while he had no evidence linking Colonel Alexander Hernandez to the disappearance and murder of Mackay and others, Hernandez had known of the crimes.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution prohibits torture, and police and military authorities issued assurances throughout 1995 that the practice had been stopped, credible charges of torture and other abuse of detainees continue. Some members of the police force resort to abuses to obtain confessions and keep suspects in jail. There were no reports of torture for political motives. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), part of FUSEP, investigates cases of alleged torture and abuse; OPR officials recommend sanctions for police agents found guilty of such mistreatment. However, neither the FUSEP General Command nor the OPR is empowered to punish wrongdoers; only the commander of the accused agent has the authority to do so. Several human rights groups and the Public Ministry criticized the OPR for not being responsive to their requests for impartial investigations of FUSEP agents accused of torture and abuses. In June the Public Ministry established the Office of Human Rights Inspector within the DIC to monitor the behavior of its agents. This office reports to the head of the Human Rights Section and to the minister. Investigations by this office resulted in the firing of 38 DIC agents in 1995. One case of alleged torture involved 20-year-old computer technician Angel Anibal Aguilar Jimenez. On or about May 14, three DIC agents, without a warrant, arrested Aguilar for auto theft. They took him to DIC headquarters and placed him in a detention cell where he alleges they beat him severely over a 2-day period. He claims that one DIC agent placed a 9mm pistol in Aguilar's mouth, threatening to kill him if he did not confess. After failing to extract a confession, Aguilar said they released him. The Honduran Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH) referred this case to the OPR and the Public Ministry for investigation. Authorities have not yet made any arrests. In another case, agents of the Cobra Squadron (special services police) in San Pedro Sula arrested 30-year-old Jose Fredy Aguilera Palma on May 17. They accused Aguilera of the murder of Ramon Garcia and placed him in a detention cell where he claims they beat him savagely with fists and gun butts. Aguilera alleged that the Cobra agents placed over his head a hood laced with lime and placed electrical wires on his tongue in order to extract a confession. Aguilera says he confessed to the murder after 24 hours because he could no longer stand the pain of torture. The case remains under investigation by the DIC. Authorities have not yet arrested any suspects. Prison conditions are consistently deplorable. Prisoners suffer from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, and a lack of adequate sanitation. In the Central Penitentiary in Tegucigalpa, there are 2,584 inmates, of whom only 517 have been convicted and are serving sentences. The rest are still awaiting trial, some for as long as 2 years. More often than not, wardens house the mentally ill and those with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases together in the same cells. A new, larger detention facility in Tamara lacked water and power and did not open in 1995. Prisoners with money routinely buy private cells, decent food, and conjugal visitation rights, while prisoners without money often lack the most basic necessities as well as legal assistance. The Government permits prison visits by international human rights organizations.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law states that the police may arrest a person only with a court order, unless the arrest is made during the commission of a crime, and that they must clearly inform the person of the grounds for the arrest. (By law the FUSEP cannot investigate; it only detains suspects.) Police must bring a detainee before a judge within 24 hours; the judge then must issue an initial temporary holding order within 24 hours, release an initial decision within 6 days, and conduct a preliminary investigation to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation. However, in practice, the authorities do not routinely observe these requirements of the law. While bail is legally available, it is used primarily for ostensibly medical reasons. Poor defendants, even when represented by a public defender, are seldom able to take advantage of bail. Under the 1984 Code of Criminal Procedures, a judge, the police, public officials, or any citizen may initiate criminal proceedings. Perhaps as many as 80 percent of the cases reported to the police are never referred to the criminal justice system but instead are settled administratively by the police or by municipal courts, which are separate from the regular judicial court system. There were continued allegations that the FUSEP hired some former members of the DNI, and that these and other security force elements continued to practice arbitrary arrest and detention in a substantial number of cases. Local human rights monitoring organizations asserted, however, that this situation improved markedly after the issuance of a report by the Ad Hoc Commission on Police and Judicial Reform and the dissolution of the DNI. The Constitution prohibits the expatriation of a Honduran citizen to another country; exile is not used as a means of political control.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Congress elects the nine Supreme Court justices and names the President of the Court. Their 4-year term coincides with those of the Congress and the President. There continued to be progress in using a career system to enhance qualifications of sitting judges and depoliticize the appointments process, and to break the subcultures of corruption, clientism, patronage, and influence peddling within the judiciary. However, elements within both major political parties continue to resist creation of a completely apolitical, independent judiciary. Members of the Congress and the private sector representing powerful economic and political interests continued to put pressure on the President and Magistrates of the Supreme Court to postpone action on reform initiatives presented to the Congress, thereby permitting politicians to continue appointing judges and court functionaries purely on political criteria and without regard to professional and ethical qualifications. The judicial system and Public Ministry both suffer from extremely inadequate funding. The ability of the Public Ministry to investigate and prosecute human rights violations adequately while continuing to attack corruption in government depends heavily on the Congress' willingness to provide adequate funding. Traditionally, the Honduran Armed Forces insisted that only its own courts-martial could try its members. However, in 1993 the Congress passed a resolution interpreting the jurisdiction of the military court system to be subordinate to the civilian system in cases of civil-military jurisdictional dispute. Since then military authorities have remanded personnel accused of crimes against civilians to the civilian judicial system. Following much publicized investigations of past and present human rights violations by military personnel, in mid-1995 the Public Ministry placed formal accusations of attempted murder and illegal detention against 10 senior active and retired military officers in the civilian court system. A lawyer for three of the accused argued that they could not be prosecuted because they were covered by the three amnesties enacted between 1987 and 1991 by the legislature. At year's end, an appeal was pending. Throughout the year, the military continued to respect civilian court jurisdiction over its members. An accused person has the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to an initial hearing by a judge, to bail, to an attorney provided by the state if necessary, and to appeal. The number of public defenders increased from 51 to 104, providing greater legal assistance to the poor. Despite their efforts, detention of criminal suspects pending trial averaged 18 months and constituted a serious human rights problem. In a number of cases, poor prisoners remain in jail even after acquital or completing their sentences, due to the failure by responsible officials to process release papers. A major contributing factor to the problem of not providing due process in a timely manner is the antiquated criminal procedures system. A significant number of defendants serve the maximum possible sentence for the crime of which they are accused before their trials even begin. In one case, a detainee who was recently released spent 9 years in prison awaiting trial for stealing a tape recorder, a crime with a normal sentence of 6 years. Of the 7,949 detainees in the country's prison population, 7,135 (90 percent) have been neither sentenced nor exonerated. The passage of the 1994 Public Ministry Law and subsequent creation of the new ministry, with 196 public prosecutors assigned nationally (increased from 76 in 1994), is intended to strengthen the citizenry's ability to seek redress from government abuses and to enjoy fair and public trials. The Public Ministry's independence from the other branches of government is also intended to reduce the opportunities for the politically and economically powerful to distort the investigative and prosecutorial process with impunity. After little more than a year of being fully operational, the Public Ministry has taken decisive action by investigating and accusing not only military officers of human rights violations, but also several high ranking former and current government officials of fraud, abuses of power, and diversion of public funds and resources, crimes which seriously diminish the Government's ability to address fundamental economic issues affecting the human rights of the general population. Despite significant efforts by the Public Ministry and the DIC, at year's end the justice system still favored the rich and politically influential and remained weak, underfunded, marginally politicized, and generally inefficient. While the Supreme Court continued to make strides in both organization and investigation of corrupt court officials, the underfunded judiciary remained very vulnerable to influence and corruption. There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution specifies that a person's home is inviolable and that persons authorized by the State may enter only with the owner's consent or with the authorization of a competent authority. Entry may take place only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. or at any time in the event of an emergency or to prevent the commission of crime. However, as in previous years, there were credible charges that police and armed forces personnel failed at times to obtain the needed authorization before entering a private home. Despite the new system of "duty judges" and "duty prosecutors" to issue search orders, some judges still lack the discipline to make themselves available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Coordination among the police, the court, and the Public Ministry continues to improve; however, interagency liaison problems still undermine the effectiveness of the system. Judges may authorize government monitoring of mail or telephones for specific purposes, such as criminal investigation or national security. However, the armed forces reportedly continued to use its operation of the national telephone company to monitor telephone lines of influential people in government, the military, and the private sector without authorization from the appropriate civilian judicial authority.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the authorities largely respected these freedoms in practice. The media, while often openly critical of the Government and frequently willing to expose corruption, are themselves subject to high levels of corruption and politicization. Serious investigative journalism is still in its infancy. Some journalists request bribes to kill stories. There continued to be credible reports of intimidation by the authorities, instances of self-censorship, and payoffs to journalists. The Government respects academic freedom and has not attempted to curtail political expression on university campuses.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for all forms of religious expression, and the Government respects this right in practice.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens enter and exit Honduras without arbitrary impediment, and the Government does not restrict travel within the country's borders. There were no known instances in which citizenship was revoked for political reasons. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status. The Government provides for granting asylum or refugee status in accordance with the standards of the 1951 United Nations Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens exercised the right to change their government through democratic and peaceful means in the November 1993 elections. International observers found the elections to be free and fair. The national government is chosen by free, secret, direct, and obligatory balloting every 4 years. Suffrage is universal, but the clergy and serving members of the armed forces are not permitted to vote. Any citizen born in Honduras or abroad of Honduran parentage may hold office except for members of the clergy and the armed forces. A new political party may gain legal status by obtaining 20,000 signatures and establishing party organizations in at least half the country's 18 departments. There are no legal impediments to women or minorities participating in government and politics, but in practice, the proportion of women in political organizations and elective office is far lower than their overall representation in society. However, in the 1993 elections voters elected for the first time a woman, Guadalupe Jerezano, as one of the three vice presidents, and the losing opposition slate also had a female vice presidential candidate. Women hold a cabinet ministry and a Supreme Court position, as well as a number of vice ministerial positions. Of the 128 Deputies in Congress, 14 are women and 5 are indigenous. There are few indigenous persons in leadership positions in government or politics, although the Honduran ambassador to the United Nations is a member of the Garifuna indigenous group.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views. On January 31, the Congress ratified a presidential decree amending the Constitution to give the National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights legal status, powers, and a separate budget. The local human rights group CODEH also received official recognition from President Reina, legalizing its status after 13 years of existence. Anonymous telephone callers threatened several individuals active in human rights endeavors. National Commissioner for Human Rights Dr. Leo Valladares received numerous telephone threats against himself and his family. CODEH president Dr. Ramon Custodio and Berta Oliva de Nativi, coordinator for the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), also received numerous telephone threats. Judge Roy Medina has faced death threats since July, when he was assigned to the case of 10 active and retired military officers accused of the detention and attempted murder of 6 students in 1982. Attorney General Edmundo Orellana reported threats against himself and his family due to his investigations of several cases of persons disappeared in the 1980's.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution bans discrimination based on race and sex. Although it also bans discrimination on the basis of class, in fact, both the military and the political and social elite generally enjoy impunity before the legal system. Members of these groups are rarely arrested or jailed. However, the Government made progress toward breaching this wall of impunity in 1995. On August 21 former Foreign Minister Ernesto Paz Aguilar was charged and held without bail in the ongoing criminal investigation into the sale of Honduran diplomatic and official passports. Although he was released on November 29 for lack of evidence, the Attorney General's office continues to investigate the case. Three other officials from the Foreign Ministry remain incarcerated, including Paz Aguilar's sister Maria de Los Angeles Paz Aguilar. In November a judge convicted active duty police Colonel Juan Blas Salazar of cocaine trafficking and sentenced him to 21 years in prison. Salazar has appealed. In 1994 the Congress passed a constitutional amendment to end compulsory military service, which entered into force in April. This measure was designed to end the common practice of forcible recruitment into the armed forces of middle and lower class Hondurans. Implementation of the voluntary service system has gone very slowly, with almost none of the recommendations necessary to attract recruits put into place. Troop levels have dropped sharply as the lack of implementation has given potential recruits no inducement to volunteer. The law does not prohibit homosexual behavior or activity. Gay nightclubs operate openly in three major cities. However, some sectors of society oppose homosexual activity. There were allegations that authorities do not adequately defend homosexuals from threat, harassment, or abuse and that some officials support, promote, or engage in these activities.
Violence against women remains widespread, and serious weaknesses in the Penal Code severely impede efforts to combat it. The Honduran Women's Committee for Peace--Visitacion Padilla has called for legislation to strengthen penalties for crimes against women. Congress continues to resist this legislation. The majority of such violence takes place within the family. The courts do not take action in domestic violence cases unless the victim is badly injured and incapacitated for more than 10 days. Except in the case of children age 12 or under, rape is considered a private crime. Rape victims over age 12 are therefore required to hire a private prosecutor, a luxury few can afford. The penalties for rape are relatively light, ranging from 3 to 9 years' imprisonment. There are no shelters specifically maintained for battered women. Although the law offers some redress, few women take advantage of the legal process, believing that judges would be unwilling to apply the law vigorously. Sexual harassment in the workplace is also a problem. Women are represented in at least small numbers in most of the professions, but cultural attitudes limit their career opportunities. In theory, women have equal access to educational opportunities, but family pressures often impede the ambitions of women intent on obtaining higher education. The law requires employers to pay women, who make up 51 percent of the work force, equal wages for equal work, but employers often classify women's jobs as less demanding than those of men, as a justification for paying them lower salaries. Some organizations have begun to offer assistance to women, principally targeting those living in the rural sectors and marginal neighborhoods of cities. The Honduran Federation of Women's Associations, for example, provides home construction and improvement loans, offers free legal assistance to women, and lobbies the Government on women's causes. The human rights group CIPRODEH continues an education program to make women aware of their rights under the law.
Although the Government has committed itself to protecting children by allocating 30 percent of its 1995 budget to public education and health care, it is unable to prevent abuse of street children (see Section 1.c.) and child workers (see Section 6.d.). In Tegucigalpa there are about 3,500 street children, of whom 2,000 find shelter on any given day. Many of them have been sexually molested; at least 10 percent are chronically addicted to glue sniffing. Over 75 percent of the street children find their way to the streets because of severe family problems; 9 percent are abandoned. Both the police and members of the general population engage in violence against street children. When the authorities arrest street children, they house many of them with adults who abuse them. Casa Alianza worked with the police to end the abuse of children who are arrested and incarcerated in adult prisons. As a result, a temporary center to house juvenile offenders was opened in Tamara July 6. However, detention of children with adults, vigilante violence, and police abuse continue to be a problem due to a general lack of juvenile detention centers.
People with Disabilities
There are no formal barriers to participation by disabled persons in employment, education, and health care, but neither is there specific statutory or constitutional protection for them. There is no legislation that requires accessibility for disabled persons to government buildings or commercial establishments.
The small community of indigenous people have little or no ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, or the allocation of natural resources. All indigenous land rights are communal, and the law prohibits sale of such property either by individuals or the tribe. Tribal lands are often poorly defined in documents dating from the mid-19th century, and in most cases lack legal title based on modern cadastral measurements. The Honduran Forestry Development Corporation makes decisions regarding exploitation of timber resources on indigenous lands, often over strenuous tribal objection. Nonindigenous farmers and cattle ranchers regularly usurp indigenous lands. The courts commonly deny legal recourse to indigenous groups and show bias in favor of the nonindigenous parties, who are often people of means and influence. Failure to obtain legal redress frequently caused indigenous groups to attempt to regain land through invasions and other tactics, which usually provoked the authorities to retaliate forcefully. On July 7, the first anniversary of a 1994 pilgrimage, some 5,000 Indians of various tribes again marched to Tegucigalpa to remind the Government of the promises it made in the past year and demand that their rights be respected. After negotiations with a special commission set up by President Reina, indigenous leaders left Tegucigalpa pleased with the agreements that were reached specifying the projects that the Government pledged to implement in favor of Honduras' ethnic communities. They vowed to return to Tegucigalpa if the Government does not fulfill these agreements.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers have the legal right to form and join labor unions, and with the exception of some "parallel" unions formed by the Government, the unions are independent of government and political parties. Although only about 18 percent of the work force is organized, trade unions exert some economic and political influence. In the past year this influence has somewhat diminished. Unions frequently participate in public rallies against government policies and make extensive use of the media to advance their views. There are also three large peasant associations directly affiliated with the trade unions. The Constitution provides for the right to strike, along with a wide range of other basic labor rights, which the authorities honor in practice. The Civil Service Code, however, stipulates that public workers do not have the right to strike. (This does not include those working in state-owned enterprises.) There were legal and illegal strikes during the year by workers in foreign-owned maquiladora (in-bond processing) plants, or "maquilas," exporting textiles and garments to the United States. A number of private firms have instituted "solidarity" associations, which are essentially aimed at providing credit and other services to workers and management who are members of the association. Organized labor, including the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, strongly opposes these associations on the grounds that they do not permit strikes, have inadequate grievance procedures, and neutralize genuine and representative trade unions. The trade union movement maintains close ties with various international trade union organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law protects workers' rights to organize and to bargain collectively; collective bargaining agreements are the norm for companies in which workers are organized. However, although the Labor Code prohibits retribution by employers for trade union activity, it is a common occurrence. Employers threaten to close down unionized companies, harass their workers, and in some cases fire them for trying to form a trade union. Employers actually dismiss relatively few workers for union activity once a union is recognized; these cases, however, serve to discourage other workers from attempting to organize. Workers in both unionized and nonunionized companies are under the protection of the Labor Code, which gives them the right to seek redress from the Ministry of Labor. Labor or civil courts can require employers to rehire employees fired for union activity, but such rulings are uncommon. Generally, however, agreements between management and unions contain a clause prohibiting retaliation against any worker who participated in a strike or union activity. The same labor regulations apply in export processing zones (EPZ's) as in the rest of private industry. Unions are active in the government-owned Puerto Cortes free trade zone (7 of the 11 maquiladora companies there are unionized), but factory owners have resisted efforts to organize the new privately owned industrial parks. The Maquiladora Association has sponsored several meetings between its membership and major labor groups. As a result of these meetings, tensions declined and several maquilas unionized peacefully in the privately owned EPZ's. The attitude of the Government towards organized labor in the EPZ's is the same as for other industries. In a number of U.S.-owned maquilas, workers have shown little enthusiasm for unionizing since they believe their treatment, salary, and working conditions are as good as or better than those in unionized plants. In the absence of a union and collective bargaining, several of the EPZ plants have instituted solidarity associations which to some extent exist as company unions for the purpose of setting wages and negotiating working conditions. Others use the minimum wage to set starting salaries and adjust the wage scale by negotiating with common groups of workers and individuals depending on skill, years of employment, and other related criteria. Talks between unions and EPZ plants continue. In February the dismissal of 48 maquila workers by an EPZ firm caused one labor organization to block the entrances of the Inhdelva Industrial Park, preventing some 6,000 workers in the park's 13 maquiladoras from entering. A few days later, workers at another EPZ firm were forced to stand on the sidelines while competing unions fought over which organization legally represented the company's employees. In July workers at the Galaxy Industrial Park blocked the entrances, preventing workers from entering. Labor leaders blame the Government for permitting management to act contrary to the Labor Code, and say that this problem will continue until the Ministry of Labor is reorganized to make it more efficient. They criticize the Ministry for not enforcing the Labor Code, for taking too long to make decisions, and for being timid and indifferent to workers' needs. The Labor Code clearly prohibits blacklisting; nevertheless, there was credible evidence that informal blacklisting occurred in the privately owned industrial parks. When unions are formed, organizers must submit a list of initial members to the Ministry of Labor as part of the process of obtaining official recognition. Before official recognition is granted, however, the Ministry must inform the company of the impending union organization. Ministry officials have consistently been unable to provide effective protection to workers. There are credible reports that, particularly in the EPZ sector, some inspectors have gone so far as to sell companies the names of employees involved in forming a union, which some companies used to dismiss union organizers before recognition was granted. There is also credible evidence that military intelligence maintains files on union activists. The International Labor Organization plans to fund programs such as reform of the Labor Code.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution and the law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. Although there were no official reports of such practices, there were credible allegations of forced overtime in EPZ plants, particularly for women.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution and the Labor Code prohibit the employment of minors under the age of 16, except for children between the ages of 14 to 16 who have the permission of their parents and the Ministry of Labor. The legal age for working without parental consent is 16. An employer who legally hires a child under the age of 16 must certify that the young person has finished or is finishing his or her compulsory schooling. The Ministry of Labor grants a number of work permits to 14- and 15-year-olds each year. It is common for 12- and 13-year-olds to obtain these documents or to purchase forged permits which use the Labor Ministry's letterhead. The Ministry of Labor does not effectively enforce child labor laws, and violations of the Labor Code occur frequently in rural areas and in small companies. Many children work on small family farms, as street vendors, or in small workshops to supplement the family income. According to the Ministry of Labor, human rights groups, and organizations for the protection of children, the most significant child labor problem is in the construction industry. Employment of children younger than the legal working age in maquilas probably occurs, but does not appear to happen on a large scale.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In December 1994, the Government decreed increases ranging from 15 to 33 percent in the minimum wage, the first since June 1993. Daily pay rates vary by the sector of the economy affected and geographical zones: the lowest minimum wage is $1.60 (14.95 lempiras) per day in the agriculture sector. The highest minimum wage is in the mining sector at $2.79 (26 lempiras) daily. Urban workers earn slightly more than those in the countryside. The Constitution and the Labor Code stipulate that all labor be fairly paid, but the Ministry of Labor lacks the staff and other resources for effective enforcement. Even after the third consecutive annual increase, the minimum wage is considered insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The law prescribes a maximum 8-hour day and a 44-hour workweek. There is a requirement for at least one 24-hour rest period every 8 days. The Labor Code provides for a paid vacation of 10 workdays after 1 year and 20 workdays after 4 years. However, employers frequently ignore these regulations due to the high level of unemployment and underemployment, and the lack of effective enforcement by the Ministry of Labor. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing national health and safety laws, but does not do so effectively. There is no provision for a worker to remove himself from a dangerous work situation without jeopardy to continued employment. Reliable reports indicate that there are still as many as 50 deaths per year resulting from serious health and safety hazards facing Miskito Indian scuba divers employed in lobster and conch harvesting off the Caribbean coast. Some complaints, although fewer than in previous years, allege the failure of foreign factory managers to comply with occupational health and safety aspects of Labor Code regulations in factories located in free zones and industrial parks.