United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Honduras, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa444.html [accessed 18 April 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Honduras is a constitutional democracy with a President and a 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 as the fourth democratically elected president since the reestablishment of democracy in 1982. Both major parties (Liberal and Nationalist) have now assumed power from the other after free elections. The Honduran Armed Forces (HOAF) comprise the army, air force, navy, and the National 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, the merchant marine, and the national telephone company. In November the Congress passed legislation which will remove the merchant marine from military control in 1995. 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). On January 6, it established a new Public Ministry containing a new Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DIC) to replace the DNI. The Government formally dissolved the DNI in June, but the DIC is still in the process of formation, leaving a gap in investigative capability. Human rights organizations, including the Government's National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights (CONAPRODE), say there was a noticeable drop in reports of abuses after 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 also play a sizable role in the national economy, controlling numerous enterprises usually associated with the private sector, including several insurance companies and one of the two cement companies. Economic activity was plagued by a drought-induced shortage of electricity, and real gross domestic product declined by about 2 percent. Combined unemployment and underemployment were approximately 58 percent, and the Government estimated that 62 percent of all citizens live in poverty. The most widespread human rights abuses were arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, and beatings and other abuse of detainees, sometimes including torture. There was a small number of extrajudicial killings. One major cause of human rights problems is the impunity enjoyed by members of the civilian and military elite, exacerbated by a weak, underfunded, and sometimes corrupt judicial system. Prison conditions remained deplorable. Other continuing human rights problems were violence against women, discrimination against indigenous peoples, 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, politician, or anyone with perceived influence or connections to the elite was tried, sentenced, or significantly fined in 1994.
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 committed several extrajudicial killings. The crime rate surged in 1994, 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 forces or agents and those which were common crimes. In March two FUSEP agents kidnaped, tortured, and stabbed to death a 78-year-old evangelical pastor, Justo Irias Ordonez, in Lepaguare, Olancho (located in a remote part of eastern Honduras). Witnesses to the events claim the two agents went to the home of Ordonez, beat him with rifle butts, tied his hands, and took him to a place known as Pozo Malacate where they sodomized and killed him. The FUSEP commander in Juticalpa arrested the two agents and charged them with the crime. At year's end, they were awaiting trial by civil court. On November 7, the authorities suspended the Chief of Police in La Ceiba and two of his subordinates pending an investigation by the Attorney General's office into the alleged kidnaping and murder of a vendor suspected of killing an 11-year-old boy during an attempted burglary. Officials from the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), the Attorney General's Office, and the police are working together on the investigation, the first time this has ever occurred, according to CODEH. Credible allegations of extrajudicial killings by members of the FUSEP, particularly its now defunct Directorate of National Investigations, led to the creation of the new Public Ministry to manage investigations of criminal cases. The new Ministry is also responsible for investigating all cases of extrajudicial killings, including those of past years. The Government formally dissolved the DNI on June 11 and moved its functions to the new civilian-controlled DIC. Human rights groups noted a drop in the number of reports of human rights abuses since the dissolution of the DNI. The Public Ministry is still in the process of training and organizing its staff and recruiting members for the new DIC. The attorneys and staff of the Ministry will lack the capability to investigate adequately current or past criminal cases until the DIC completes its training in the spring of 1995. The authorities undertook no further investigation or prosecution of alleged extrajudicial killings committed in previous years. These included 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. The family of 18-year-old student Riccy Mabel Martinez, victim of a July 13, 1991 rape and murder, appealed the original verdict in the case (equivalent to second-degree murder), and requested that the two military defendants be convicted of first-degree murder (which would preclude any possibility of pardon). The defendants filed a countersuit; at year's end, both cases were pending before the Supreme Court of Appeals.
There were no reports of disappearances motivated by politics or conducted by the security forces. Local human rights groups and Amnesty International continued to press, unsuccessfully, for an official accounting of the 184 claimed disappearances which occurred mainly during the early 1980's under the tenure of former armed forces Commander General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez. In December 1993, Human Rights Commissioner Leo Valladares presented a preliminary report on political disappearances during the 1979-89 period. On November 9, a CSJ Commission announced that all but 9 of the 184 missing persons cases lacked the evidence required for proper legal proceedings. (The nine cases referred to are those or persons who were missing for some time but were later found alive.) The report also noted that the survivors accused the current Minister of Defense of involvement in the detention, torture, and disappearance of four suspected leftists in 1988 (when he commanded an infantry brigade), but offered no proof. The Commission sent the nine cases warranting further action to the Attorney General's office. All nine were reopened and at year's end, preliminary investigations were under way. A full investigation will be possible only when the DIC is trained and in place. On December 9, three forensic anthropologists who excavated a grave site believed to contain a death squad victim from the 1980's were able to confirm the identity of the body buried at that site since 1982 as that of Nelson Mackay Chavarria, a Honduran citizen. Because of serious decomposition of the body, the anthropologists could not determine the cause of death or whether the victim had been tortured. Human Rights Commissioner Valladares called for an immediate investigation by the Attorney General's Office and an end to impunity for those involved in the 184 disappearances during the 1980's. The Attorney General began an investigation which will include testimony by members of the security forces.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution prohibits torture, and police and military authorities issued assurances throughout 1994 that the practice had been stopped, credible charges of torture and other abuse of detainees continue. 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. One case of alleged torture involved 27-year-old narcotics suspect Fernando Flores Salgado. The Public Ministry reported that a FUSEP agent arrested Salgado on August 11 in the airport at Puerto Lempira and took him to a police station where, during a search of his luggage, police found an AK-47 automatic assault rifle. Salgado claimed he was beaten and a sack laced with lime was placed over his head, causing burns. The Ministry's report said the beatings continued on August 12 and, when the officers and their commander failed to extract information from Salgado about the seller of the AK-47, they took him to a lake and repeatedly submerged him in the water. On August 13, an assistant prosecutor from the Public Ministry obtained Salgado's release. Attorney General Edmundo Orellana presented charges against all three FUSEP agents for human rights violations, torture, battery, and attempted homicide. The courts in Puerto Lempira issued warrants, but none of the three were arrested. Prosecutors at the Public Ministry stated that FUSEP officials attempted to halt any investigation of the three agents by filing charges of drug trafficking against the assistant prosecutor who secured Salgado's release. Local human rights groups say this is an attempt by the FUSEP to discredit the charges and intimidate the investigators. The FUSEP rearrested Salgado on October 15 and charged him with terrorism because of the AK-47 found in his possession. In late October, the FUSEP dropped all charges against Salgado and the prosecutor; charges were also dropped against the FUSEP agents. On October 7, police arrested two juveniles in Tegucigalpa. The juveniles charged that police held them in a cell with adults and that both police and the other prisoners beat and tortured them. Officials of Casa Alianza (an affiliate of Covenant House in New York), which operates a refuge for street children, obtained the release of both of them on October 10. Following medical confirmation of the injuries to one of the youths, Casa Alianza filed charges against the FUSEP for violating the youth's rights, illegal detention, and torture. It also requested a full investigation by the Attorney General's office. Market vendors and a FUSEP regional commander protested Casa Alianza's actions, asserting that the organization provides refuge for juveniles who commit crimes. Casa Alianza, in response, called on the national Human Rights Commissioner to fulfill his obligation to protect children's rights. Amnesty International and Casa Alianza both received reports of minors whom members of the police and the army subjected to illegal arrest, ill-treatment, and sexual abuse. A street girl in San Pedro Sula, 11-year-old Martha Maria Saire, charged that two uniformed members of the military battalion based in Tamara grabbed and raped her. Medical examinations confirmed she had been sexually abused. On April 22, the authorities presented the case to the first criminal district court. The Attorney General's office issued arrest warrants for the soldiers, but they are reportedly absent without leave. Another case involved 16-year-old Mario Rene Enamorado Lara who lives in Casa Alianza's transition home in Tegucigalpa. On July 10, while on his way to the home in the company of other children, eight uniformed members of the FUSEP's first squadron stopped the group and accused Mario of having stolen a watch. They arrested him without a warrant, took him to the squadron headquarters, and placed him in detention in a cell with adult detainees. He charged that three policemen severely punched and kicked him during detention; adult male prisoners also beat him while he was in the cell. The same afternoon, legal counsel from Casa Alianza obtained his freedom, and an independent doctor confirmed injuries to his body, face, and head. Casa Alianza presented a formal complaint to the FUSEP and to the Public Ministry. Lacking an investigative arm, the Public Ministry had made no arrests by year's end. In February police officers severely beat U.S. citizen Terry George Clymire, whom they were in the process of arresting on civil charges. The Prosecutor's office and the FUSEP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigated the case, but made no charges or arrests in the case. Charges against Clymire were dropped. The Office of Professional Responsibility 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. During the past 12 months, OPR investigated eight FUSEP agents for abusing and beating street children in the Tegucigalpa area. The FUSEP dismissed all of them, and the courts convicted three agents and gave them 30-day jail terms. Prison conditions in Honduras are consistently deplorable. Prisoners suffer from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, and a lack of adequate sanitation. In the Central Penitentiary in Tegucigalpa, there are 1,954 internees, of whom only 512 have been convicted and are serving sentences. More often than not, the mentally ill and those with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases are thrown together in the same cells. A new, larger detention facility in Tamara lacks water and power and probably will not open until 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.
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 those suspected of committing a crime.) 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 what are 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 the President confirms them. Their 4-year terms coincide with those of the Congress and the President. The Supreme Court appoints all the judges in the lower civilian courts. Some headway was made in using a career system to depoliticize the appointments process and to break the subcultures of corruption, clientism, patronage, and influence peddling within the judiciary. In midyear the Supreme Court ordered strict adherence to the judicial career law, i.e., a merit-oriented selection and retention process for judges and court officials, commencing with second-instance judges. However, both major political parties continue to resist the recommendation by the Ad Hoc Commission that they agree to a completely apolitical, independent judiciary. Members of Congress representing powerful economic and political interests continued to pressure the President and magistrates of the Supreme Court to permit politicians to appoint judges and court functionaries purely on political criteria and without regard to professional and ethical qualifications. The judicial system also still suffers from woefully inadequate funding. Traditionally, the Honduran Armed Forces insisted that only its courts-martial could try its members. However, in 1993 Congress passed a resolution restricting the jurisdiction of the military court system to military crimes committed by active duty personnel. Since then enlisted military personnel accused of crimes against civilians have in fact been remanded to the civilian judicial system. The military continued to accept civilian court jurisdiction over its members, and the Public Ministry assigned civilian prosecutors to each of the 11 military courts. It also began much publicized investigations of human rights violations (past and present) by military personnel and followed up on anonymous published accusations of financial fraud by senior military officers. 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 was doubled from 51 to 104, providing greater legal assistance to the poor. Detention of criminal suspects pending trial averaged 18 months and constituted a serious human rights problem. In an extreme case, a mentally deficient, illiterate peasant spent 17 years in jail after being acquitted, due to the failure by responsible officials to process his release papers. A significant number of defendants serve the maximum possible sentence for the crime of which they are accused before their trials are ever concluded or even begun. Of the 6,042 detainees making up the country's prison population in early 1994, 5,103, or 84 percent, had been neither sentenced nor exonerated. These judicial weaknesses, along with the almost total lack of thorough investigation of crimes and collection of evidence, greatly undermine the right of citizens to a speedy, fair public trial. In addition, some judicial authorities in rural areas received anonymous threats. The passage of the 1994 Public Ministry Law and subsequent creation of the new ministry, with 76 public prosecutors assigned nationally and twice that many planned for 1995, 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 the Government also is intended to reduce somewhat the opportunities for the politically and economically powerful to distort the judicial process with impunity. The widely respected new Attorney General stressed the importance of personnel selection for the Public Ministry, and indicated he would refuse to employ former members of the DNI. In the short time it has existed, even before becoming fully organized, the Public Ministry began investigations of a number of court officials on various corruption and malfeasance charges. As a result, the authorities dismissed 38 court officials, including 10 Superior Court judges and 11 justices of the peace. Despite the creation of 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 made strides in both organization and investigation of corrupt court officials, the underfunded judiciary remained very vulnerable to influence and corruption.
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 a 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 a new system of "duty judges" and "duty prosecutors" to issue search orders, they appeared to 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 is improving. 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 illegally telephone lines of influential people in the 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 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. Journalists are known to have requested 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 the right to peaceful assembly for political, religious, or other purposes. The Government does not generally require prior authorization or permits but may ask for a permit to "guarantee public order." In most cases, neither the Government nor the armed forces interfere in the right of citizens to assemble. For example, when several thousand Indians staged a protest march to the capital in July, they were allowed to occupy the center of the city for several days, withdrawing peacefully after meeting with the President and other officials and winning concessions on their demands.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution protects all forms of religious expression, and the Government respects this right in practice. Numerous foreign missionaries work and proselytize throughout the country.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens enter and exit Honduras without arbitrary impediment, and travel within the country's borders is freely permitted. There were no known instances in which citizenship was revoked for political reasons. Of the 250 Haitian refugees who arrived in Honduras in November 1991, 45 remain.
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 and minorities participating in government and politics, but in practice, the proportion of women in political organizations and elected to office is far lower than their overall representation in society. However, for the first time voters elected a woman, Guadalupe Jerezano, as one of the three vice presidents in the 1993 elections, and the losing opposition slate also had a female vice presidential candidate. Women hold a Cabinet ministry and 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
The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras and the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) are the best known and most active local nongovernmental human rights organizations. Prior to the Government's establishment of the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, CODEH, with its network of offices throughout the country, was often the only recourse available to victims of abuses, particularly those living in rural areas. The nongovernmental Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH), established in 1991, offers basic human rights courses, holds monthly seminars, carries out research on issues affecting Hondurans, and serves as a source of information on human rights. CIPRODEH continued its human rights training of police officers and added training programs for the military. Two COFADEH staff members reported instances of harassment. On March 4, Berta Oliva de Nativi, COFADEH coordinator, had a telephone call interrupted by a male voice claiming to be a colonel who threatened to kill her and her family. Ms. Nativi believed the caller to be an ex-member of the notorious military intelligence Battalion 3-16, created in the early 1980's but now dissolved. Such threats, made by telephone at both her home and office, continued through March and the beginning of April. Another member of COFADEH, Dina Meethabel Meza Elvir, also received numerous threats and was harassed. On March 15, Ms. Elvir reported that a man in a car followed her for several miles and attempted to bump her vehicle. She obtained the license plate number. On March 16, as she was leaving her son's hospital in Comayaguela (a section of Tegucigalpa), she was again followed by the same car. Ms. Elvir presented her information to the criminal court and also went to the Public Ministry, which initiated an investigation. The owner of the car was apprehended but was released when Ms. Elvir could not identify him. Both cases remain under investigation; the Attorney General's office offered protection to both women. The Governmental Inter-institutional Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), established in 1987 to respond to domestic and international inquiries and to investigate human rights violations, is largely ineffective, as it does not receive full cooperation from military and civilian judicial authorities. The Government provides the Human Rights Commissioner with insufficient funds, leaving him dependent upon contributions from international organizations such as the United Nations Children's Fund. He has proposed that the Human Rights Commissioner be elected by Congress, with its power derived from the Constitution. Government officials continued to meet and cooperate with representatives of local and international human rights organizations.
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 the socioeconomic upper class are rarely arrested or jailed. The Constitution provides for 2 years of compulsory military service for male citizens between the ages of 18 and 30, although only Hondurans from the middle and lower classes have been forcibly recruited into the armed forces. In May, at President Reina's initiative, and over the opposition of the armed forces, Congress unanimously voted to abolish involuntary military service. Although the measure, as a constitutional amendment, will have to be approved again in 1995 in order to become effective, the President ordered an immediate suspension of forced recruitment. However, in late September, in the face of strongly diminished armed forces levels, President Reina ordered the resumption of compulsory military service. A draft lottery was held on November 19 to fill 6,500 open positions in the armed forces. Most upper-class youths continued to avoid conscription, either as students or through their names being left off the lottery eligibility lists.
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 serve to brake the ambitions of women intent on obtaining higher education. The law requires women, who make up 51 percent of the work force, to be paid equal wages for equal work, but their jobs are often classified as less demanding than those of men, as a justification for paying them lower salaries. Violence against women remains widespread, and serious weaknesses in the Penal Code severely impede efforts to combat it. Visitacion Padilla, a women's human rights group, has called for legislation to make violence against women a serious crime. 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 battered 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, as graphically described in testimony to the U.S. Senate in September by a 15-year-old female garment worker. 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 began an education program to make women aware of their rights under the law.
The Government is committed to providing basic education and health care to children, but is unable to prevent abuse of street children (see Section 1.c.) and child workers (see Section 6.d.). In Tegucigalpa, there are about 1,300 street children, many of whom 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. Many of these children, when arrested, are housed with adults and abused. Both the police and members of the general population employ violence against street children. Casa Alianza worked with the police to end abuse of children who are arrested. However, vigilante violence and allegations of police abuse continue to be a problem.
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. Usurpation of indigenous lands by nonindigenous farmers and cattle ranchers is common. 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 provoked indigenous groups to attempt to regain land through invasions and other tactics, which usually provoked the authorities to retaliate forcefully. To focus governmental and public attention on their needs, several thousand Indians from all over the country marched to the capital city of Tegucigalpa on July 12 to support complaints of Indians from the Intibuca region about illegal logging. President Reina and his Cabinet met with Indian representatives and agreed to address the problem and to consider long-term recommendations regarding the Indian situation. A congressional committee drafted legislation to create a new county composed exclusively of Indian communities, and the Government promised to build schools and roads and to ensure greater protection of the forests in which the Indians live. However, on October 3, several thousand Indians of various tribes made a followup march to Tegucigalpa to remind the Government of its promises and to complain of increasing problems with the armed forces in their areas.
People with Disabilities
There are no formal barriers to participation by disabled persons in terms of employment, education, and health care, but neither is there specific statutory protection for them. There is no legislation that requires accessibility for disabled persons to government buildings or services.
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 20 percent of the work force is organized, trade unions exert considerable economic and political influence. They 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 public and private schoolteachers, mail workers, banana workers from Chiquita Brands, and workers in a dozen or more foreign-owned maquiladora (in-bond processing) plants exporting textiles 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. Membership in these associations increased slightly during the year. 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 (all seven maquiladora companies there are unionized), but factory owners have resisted efforts to organize the new privately owned industrial parks. To date, none of the EPZ plants has been organized. 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 an EPZ firm fired 4 female workers involved in union organizing activities; in response, 5,000 workers took over the Continental Industrial Park near El Progreso on February 10, closing 8 factories. Five days later, workers occupied five factories at the Galaxy Industrial Park for the same reason. In June 6,000 workers took over the highway leading to the Puerto Cortes industrial area, closing 6 factories that had fired several pregnant women in violation of the Labor Code. Labor leaders blame the Government for permitting management to take such actions, and say 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. In the month-long strike between Chiquita Brands and its union, for example, the Ministry of Labor and four separate commissions named by the President were unable to end the conflict. 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.
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, allegations of forced overtime in EPZ plants, particularly for women, are credible.
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. Employers legally hiring children under the age of 16 must certify that the young person has finished or is finishing his or her compulsory schooling. The legal age for working without parental consent is 16. The Ministry of Labor grants a number of these 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 in 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. A 15-year-old girl also testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in September that children below the legal employment age work in the garment assembly sector.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In December 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.