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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Honduras

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Honduras, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis 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). Liberal Party candidate Carlos Roberto Reina was elected President in November and took office on January 27, 1994. The November elections were marked by higher than usual absenteeism but little indication of fraud. Deputies continued to be elected indirectly from a slate, based on the vote totals for the presidential candidate.

The Honduran Armed Forces (HOAF) comprise not only the army, air force, and navy but also the national police (Public Security Force – FUSEP) as a fourth branch. Credible allegations of extrajudicial killings by members of the FUSEP, particularly its Directorate of National Investigations (DNI), led to establishment of an Ad Hoc Commission on Police and Judicial Reform. It recommended creation of a new Public Ministry to manage every aspect of the investigative phase of criminal cases and a new Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DIC) to replace the DNI. Congress passed enabling legislation for the Public Ministry in December.

The HOAF operates with considerable institutional and legal autonomy, particularly in the realm of internal security and military affairs. The military also plays a sizable role in the national economy, operating numerous enterprises usually associated with the private sector. 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 were in fact remanded to the civilian judicial system, although the congressional ruling has not been tested by an accusation against a senior military officer.

The Honduran economy is based upon agriculture, with a small light manufacturing sector. Despite a relatively low inflation rate in the past few years, estimates for 1993 were above 10 percent. In 1993 real economic growth was expected to be about 3.5 percent. Per capita income in 1992 was estimated to be $637, combined unemployment and underemployment as high as 58 percent, and literacy only 67 percent. The United Nations Development Program estimated that 74 percent of Hondurans lived in poverty.

The principal human rights problems were extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, and torture and abuse of detainees. However, reports of such abuses fell sharply following the establishment in March of a joint civilian- military supervisory board to oversee the activities of the DNI, the agency whose officers were most frequently criticized for abuses. The root cause of Honduras' human rights problems is the near-complete impunity before the law enjoyed by members of the civilian and military elite. The weak judicial system, intentionally underfunded and plagued by corruption, is unable to press cases against the wealthy and the powerful. 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 even fined in 1993. Some progress in eroding the traditional impunity of military officers was made with the arrest and incarceration of three colonels pending trial or sentencing.

National Human Rights Commissioner Leo Valladares at the end of December issued his preliminary report on politically motivated disappearances occurring between 1979 and 1989. The report states that 184 individuals of various nationalities "disappeared" in Honduras during that period and that the HOAF and the former Nicaraguan Resistance were apparently responsible for the majority of the crimes. Valladares called on the judiciary to use his report as a basis for investigation of these matters. He included in his report unsubstantiated material from news articles dating from the 1980's which claimed that U.S. advisers were working with the HOAF and Nicaraguan Resistance in Honduras and may have known of and tolerated the disappearances.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

As in previous years, some members of the police and security forces were involved in extrajudicial killings; those prosecuted tended to be only from the ranks of enlisted men. Officers continued to enjoy impunity, despite the notable exception of the military officers tried and convicted in 1993 in the Riccy Mabel Martinez case (see below).

In November five DNI agents were arrested and turned over to civilian judicial authorities for the torture and murder of narcotics suspect Jorge Alcides Medina Hernandez. He had been arrested earlier and then released; when his body was found, investigation revealed that he had been picked up a second time by the DNI agents. Authorities concluded he had been killed during interrogation; the fact that the DNI surrendered the perpetrators reflected compliance with the congressional decree requiring all but strictly military crimes be handled by civilian courts (see Section 1.e.). After the end of the year, seven FUSEP agents were arrested for robbing and killing a Nicaraguan in mid-December.

In late January, San Pedro Sula businessman Eduardo Pina Van Tuyl was killed in a drive-by shooting. A television reporter, Eduardo Coto, witnessed the killers fleeing the scene. Later he claimed to have been threatened that day by a military officer who warned him not to implicate the armed forces in the crime. Fearing for his life, Coto sought refuge in the offices of Tiempo newspaper and later fled to Spain under Spanish government sponsorship. Following Coto's flight to Spain, the Commission for Human Rights (CODEH) alleged that he had identified several serving members of the armed forces as the perpetrators. The home of Yani Rosenthal, editor of Tiempo, was bombed in what was alleged to be retaliation for having sheltered Coto. Upon Coto's return from Spain in June, he recanted his earlier statements made through CODEH implicating the military personnel, and identified two common criminals, already in prison on unrelated charges, as having been responsible for the assassination. The two persons identified by Coto remained in jail awaiting trial at year's end.

In February Eli Josue Zuniga, a former member of the San Pedro Sula office of the DNI, alleged that the office's antinarcotics unit had killed Pina and committed a number of other murders related to the unit's involvement in drug trafficking. Despite Zuniga's low personal credibility (he had been dismissed from the DNI for misconduct) and the fact that his information consisted almost entirely of hearsay, many Hondurans found credible his allegations that the DNI was involved in criminal activities, including murder and drug trafficking.

Zuniga and others alleged that the January killings of San Pedro businessman Guillermo Agurcia Lefebvre and his companion, Lourdes Enamorado, were also perpetrated by the supposed clique of drug traffickers within the DNI. Although the medical examiner ruled the deaths a murder-suicide, Agurcia Lefebvre – who supposedly killed Enamorado before committing suicide – died of two gunshots to the chest. Agurcia Lefebvre's mother claimed that four police agents committed the crime and that a Captain Mendieta, then allegedly a member of the San Pedro Sula DNI, ordered the killing to cover up the unit's involvement in drug trafficking. No investigation of the victim's mother's allegations of DNI involvement was conducted, and none of the five police personnel she named was indicted. The FUSEP investigation resulted in detention of a common criminal and initiation of court proceedings against him; he remains in prison awaiting trial. Mrs. Lefevbre claimed in November that she was removed from the list of candidates for election as deputy to the Central American Parliament under pressure from HOAF Commander in Chief Discua, owing to his annoyance with her continued allegations of wrongdoing by military personnel. General Discua denied the charge.

Also in January, Liberal Party Congressional Deputy Carlos Montoya was accused of killing a laborer, Juan Jose Menendez, who was reportedly illegally fishing on his land. First reports by eyewitnesses claimed that Montoya arrived in a vehicle with 2 bodyguards and ordered 30 people fishing off his land, waving a submachine gun and firing shots in the air, one of which hit Menendez in the back, killing him instantly. Seven eyewitnesses, including Menendez' nephew, reported the crime to both the press and a justice of the peace. Montoya's claim of self-defense does not appear credible, based on his own initial remarks and the eyewitness testimony; Montoya at first admitted shooting Menendez but called it an accident. Montoya later denied that he had fired any shots, claiming that his bodyguard had fired the fatal shot when he feared for Montoya's safety, although the victim appeared to be fleeing the scene when he was struck.

Within days, the judge who had begun to investigate the case was removed from office by the Supreme Court. Although the judge was relieved for corruption unrelated to the Menendez killing (in fact, the process to remove him had begun weeks before), the timing of his firing caused the perception that the Supreme Court took the action to protect Montoya. As a congressman, Montoya had enjoyed immunity from prosecution, but in November he failed to win reelection. Subsequently, his immunity was restored in December via special legislation granting "Honorary Deputy" status to all former congressional presidents (Montoya served as president of the Congress in the 1980's). Montoya will thereby have immunity from judicial action, including with respect to the killing of Menendez, at least while Congress is in session. Menendez' family protested the extension of immunity to Montoya.

Rural leader Cleofes Colindres Canales, a member of a cooperative granted land in 1980 by the National Agrarian Institute (INA), was murdered in November. In July a combined force of FUSEP agents and military troops, acting on orders from INA, had forcibly removed the cooperative from the site and destroyed members' homes. Colindres was organizing a move back to the land when he was killed, apparently with FUSEP involvement and perhaps in collaboration with the wealthy original owner of the land. No action was taken against the guards or landowner, nor did it appear that the crime was being investigated.

Soldiers from the 15th infantry battalion shot and killed Glenda Patricia Solorzano Medina and injured three others in May in Olancho when troops fired wildly at a youth seeking to avoid being forcibly recruited into the military. Armed Forces Commander Discua publicly blamed the commander of the 15th battalion for the incident, whom he said had violated Discua's order to cease forced recruitment nationwide, pending the national elections. The military promised an immediate and full investigation and removed and detained the battalion commander. No legal action was taken against the commander or the soldier or soldiers involved in the incident, and the dead woman's mother claimed she was pressured to cease her efforts to bring those responsible to justice.

In December CODEH president Ramon Custodio criticized the failure to investigate two recent murders of former leftist political activists. Roger David Torres Vallejos, who had been a member of the "Cinchoneros" terrorist group, was killed in October; Rigoberto Quezada Figueres, a former member of the Honduran Communist Party, was murdered in November. Both had returned to Honduras under the 1991 amnesty issued by President Callejas for leftist opponents of the Government. In both cases, police authorities called the killings the work of common criminals.

In July both defendants in the July 13, 1991, rape and murder of 18-year-old student Riccy Mabel Martinez were convicted. Colonel Angel Castillo Maradiaga was sentenced to 16 years and 6 months in prison. Of this sentence, 10 years and 6 months were levied for the crime of simple homicide (equivalent to second degree murder), and 6 years for rape. Sergeant Santos Ilovares Funes was sentenced to 10 years for simple homicide. The family of the victim appealed the verdict and requested that the defendants be convicted of first degree murder.

In December Lt. Colonel Leonel Galindo Knutsen, accused in the May 1991 killing of five peasants at El Astillero, was released. Galindo had been detained since 1991 by judicial military authorities, but in May 1993 his case was transferred to the civilian courts. The private attorney prosecuting the case for the victims' families announced her intention to appeal Galindo's release.

There has been no investigation or judicial followup in the following cases from past years:

– The July 1992 killing of Juan Humberto Sanchez, allegedly by the HOAF;

– The July 15, 1992, assassination of Rigoberto Borjas, in which the deposed leftist leadership of the Electrical Worker's Union was a prime suspect;

– The 1992 killing of Ramon Castellon Baide, allegedly by the Morazanista Patriotic Front;

– The July 1992 killing of University professor Cayo Eng Lee;

– The December 1991 murder of Manuel de Jesus Guerra, a leader of the National Central of Farm Workers (CNTC), allegedly committed by members of the San Pedro Sula DNI unit;

– The 1990 killings of labor leader Francisco Javier

Bonilla Medina and student leader Ramon Antonio Briceno. A suspect in Briceno's murder was arrested but was later released for lack of evidence.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances in 1993.

During the election campaign, when local human rights groups and Amnesty International continued to press for an official accounting of the approximately 145 claimed disappearances (which mainly occurred during the early 1980's under the tenure of former armed forces Commander General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez), the presidential candidates discussed suggesting formation of a "Truth Commission" to investigate the disappearances. However, after consultation with the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, the candidates concluded that any investigation or report should be left in the hands of the judiciary and the Government's Human Rights Commission.

In November National Human Rights Commissioner Leo Valladares announced that he was undertaking a review of the 1979-89 disappearances and would report by the end of December. The nearly 1,000-page preliminary report, entitled "The Facts Speak for Themselves," is a comprehensive collection of news articles, eyewitness accounts, and other materials related to the disappearances. In announcing release of the report, Dr. Valladares called upon judicial authorities to use the report as a basis for initiating investigations.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, and police and military authorities issued assurances that the practice had been stopped. After release of the Ad Hoc Commission report and the creation of a civil-military board to help oversee the activities of the DNI, allegations of torture and abuse by that police agency dropped sharply. An earlier case of alleged torture occurred in February, when Jose Efrain Orellano Garcia claimed he had been beaten and submerged in a tank of water before being released from detention.

The FUSEP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is supposed to investigate cases of alleged torture and to recommend sanctions for police agents found guilty of such abuse. However, neither the FUSEP General Command nor the OPR is empowered to mete out punishment for wrongdoers; only the commander of the accused wrongdoer has the authority to do so. There are no known instances of members of the Armed Forces ever being convicted of torture in a court of law.

After a number of killings reportedly committed by DNI agents, an Ad Hoc Commission on Police and Judicial Reform was formed in February. It recommended creating a new Public Ministry to manage every aspect of the investigative phase of criminal cases; Congress passed the enabling legislation for the Ministry on December 10. The new Ministry is to be responsible for a Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DIC), which would replace the DNI; the head of the DIC must be a civilian. A supervisory board consisting of two civilians and one police officer was created to investigate allegations of misconduct, dismiss wrongdoers or poorly trained agents, and generally oversee DNI activities during the transition to the DIC. Alfredo Landaverde, one of the civilian members of the new board, told the press in December that 150 DNI agents (42 percent of the DNI work force) had been dismissed as a result of the board's work. The police and military also began in-house training programs to prevent the practice of torture and other forms of abuse.

In contrast to these signs of progress, however, in December the nongovernmental Committee of the Families of the Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) alleged that two DNI agents had illegally detained and tortured three minors arrested on suspicion of robbery in November. They were released a week later after COFADEH requested assistance from board member Landaverde. COFADEH asked the criminal court to order the arrest of the two DNI agents involved and an investigation of the allegations.

Prison conditions in Honduras are consistently deplorable. Prisoners suffer from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, and a lack of adequate sanitation. In December the Government inaugurated a larger detention facility in Tamara to replace the antiquated central penitentiary in Tegucigalpa. Prisoners with money routinely buy private cells, decent food, and conjugal visitation rights, while prisoners without money often lack the most basic necessities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law states that a person may be arrested only with a court order, unless the arrest is made during the commission of a crime, and that the person must be clearly informed of the grounds of the arrest. A detainee must be brought within 24 hours before a judge who 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. While bail is legally available and used, poor defendants, even when represented by a public defender, are often unable to take advantage of it.

Under the 1984 Code of Criminal Procedures, criminal proceedings may be initiated by a judge, the police, public officials, or any citizen. 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 (the latter are separate from the regular judicial court system).

There continued to be allegations that the FUSEP, in particular the DNI, 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 since the issuance of the Ad Hoc Commission report. They reported that the police were more aware of the need to comply with holding order limits and to respond to writs of habeas corpus, and that the courts were more aware of the need to process cases in a timely manner.

"Land invasions" were both less common and much smaller in extent than in the past, although they still sometimes resulted in armed conflicts among groups of peasants or squatters and landowners and military forces. The Government abrogated an unpopular antiterrorist law previously used to arrest squatters, although on occasion the military was employed to carry out forcibly court orders.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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. Defendants in military tribunals have the same due process rights as those being tried in the civilian system with the exception of bail. The military court system does not have its own courts of appeal; appeals and confirmations of military court verdicts are referred to the civilian judicial system.

The judicial system applies justice inequitably. The poor are punished in accordance with the law, but the rich or politically influential are almost never held in jail, much less brought to trial or convicted. Those few who are incarcerated usually buy their way out or "escape."

In March Congress took action to resolve a longstanding dispute over jurisdictions by civilian versus military courts, which arose when a member of the military was alleged to have committed a crime against a civilian in circumstances unrelated to official duties. The Congress decreed that civilian courts will have jurisdiction in such cases; the military will maintain jurisdiction only in cases of a crime committed on duty. The decree also stated that in the event of a conflict of jurisdiction between civilian and military courts, the civilian court shall have precedence. Since the passage of the decree, all cases of enlisted men accused of "civilian" crimes were in fact turned over expeditiously to the civilian legal system. Nonetheless, since no officers were involved, and since the armed forces determine when an officer or soldier is on duty, it was clear that this controversy had not been definitively resolved.

Until improvements are made in the civilian justice system, however, military officers are no more likely to be convicted of human rights abuses or other crimes than they were under military justice. The civilian judiciary is weak, underfunded, politicized, inefficient, and corrupt. Honduran society continues to rely on influence, pressure, and accomodation rather than the rule of law to resolve disputes.

The nine magistrates of the Supreme Court are elected by the Congress by a majority vote for 4 years and confirmed by the President. The period of their terms coincides with those of the Congress and the President. The Supreme Court appoints all of the judges in the lower civilian courts. While some headway was made in using a career system to depoliticize the appointments process, both major political parties ignored the recommendation by the Ad Hoc Commission that they agree to a completely apolitical, independent judiciary. The judicial system also suffers from woefully inadequate funding.

Detention of criminal suspects pending trial averaged 14 months and constituted a serious human rights problem. 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. Approximately 85 percent of the prison population in 1993 had neither been sentenced nor exonerated. In midyear, the court allocated extra judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and funds to clear up the backlog.

These judicial weaknesses, along with the FUSEP's own problems of underfunding and poorly paid and ill-trained personnel, greatly undermine the right of Hondurans to a speedy, fair public trial. Judicial authorities were also subjected to threats when they attempted to perform their duties. The judge in the Riccy Mabel Martinez case received a number of death threats during the trial.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution specifies that a person's home is inviolable and that entry by persons authorized by the State may only be made with the owner's consent or with the authorization of a competent authority. Entry may only take place 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. Police authorities claimed that part of the problem was the unavailability of judges to issue orders at night and on weekends. As a result of a DNI request, the Supreme Court refined procedures to ensure that "duty judges" will be available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. It is too early to judge the effectiveness of the new system.

Government monitoring of mail or telephones may be authorized by judicial order for specific purposes, such as criminal investigation or national security. Carlos Kellner, former president of the Honduran Telecommunications Union and now living in self-imposed exile in the United States, made credible allegations in 1993 that the armed forces took advantage of its operation of the national telephone company to monitor illegally telephone lines of influential people in the Government, the military, and the private sector.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and these freedoms are largely respected in practice. The media, while often openly critical of the Government and frequently willing to expose corruption, are subject to high levels of corruption and politicization. There continued to be credible reports of intimidation by authorities, instances of self-censorship, and payoffs to journalists. In February FUSEP Chief Colonel Hung Pacheco told the press that the military maintained "dossiers" on journalists.

The Government respects academic freedom and has not attempted to curtail political expression on campus.

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, police did not interfere in the demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the murder of Riccy Mabel Martinez, nor during public protests over the perceived mildness of the sentences imposed.

However, the police used excessive force in April near Choluteca when members of the 6th regional police command and the 101st army brigade used tear gas, rifle butts, and gunshots to break up a demonstration of 600 fishermen. The fishermen were illegally blocking the Pan American Highway to protest Nicaraguan confiscation of Honduran fishing boats in contested waters of the Gulf of Fonseca. The police, who were attempting to clear the road to permit passage by the President, claimed that some of the fishermen carried firearms but reportedly did not attempt to negotiate with or give warning to the protesters. At least 14 of the protesters were injured, including several women.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution protects all forms of religious expression, and there is no state religion. While most Hondurans are nominally Roman Catholic, foreign missionaries of various Protestant sects work and proselytize throughout the country. There were no reported incidents of harassment or intimidation of the clergy by the military in 1993.

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. There were no reported human rights abuses committed against the refugees. In 1993 a total of 14 Cuban citizens requested and received political asylum.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Hondurans continued to exercise the right to change their government through democratic and peaceful means in the November elections. International observers found the election free and fair. A last-minute effort by the Liberal, Christian Democrat, and PINU parties to permit voters to cast ballots even if their names did not appear on the voting list was thwarted by the National Party-controlled Supreme Court. This controversy did not affect the results of the election or its essential fairness. National and municipal governments are chosen by free, secret, direct, and obligatory balloting every 4 years. Suffrage is universal, but 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 of the country's 18 departments.

In a significant change, voters in the 1993 elections were able to split their ballot by voting for a mayor from a different party, instead of being required to cast a single ballot for a single-party slate of candidates for almost all elected offices, from the President on down. Neither the names nor the photos of the mayoral candidates appeared on the ballot, however, which hampered the democratic process, given the predominantly illiterate electorate. The vote for President continued to be a vote for the entire congressional slate of that candidate's party.

The inability to split tickets in contests for other offices not only adversely affected small parties, but also limited the institutional effectiveness and independence of the Congress and municipal government, since those elected officials have no independent mandate. In addition, the internal candidate selection process in both major parties limited direct, popular participation in the process, particularly at the regional or local levels. Both major parties have an extensive "precandidate campaign" period, following which the presidential candidates are selected through internal party elections, held approximately 1 year prior to the national elections. Once selected through the internal elections, the parties' presidential candidates choose their slate's congressional and mayoral candidates.

There are no legal impediments to women and minorities participating in government and politics. In practice, the proportion of women in political organizations and elected to office is far lower than their overall representation in society. Women tend to continue to be relegated to "traditional" roles. This may be changing, however; for the first time a woman, Guadalupe Jerezano, was elected as one of the three vice presidents in the November elections, and many women were elected mayors. Several women served in high appointed positions in the outgoing Callejas administration.

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 (CODEH) 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 Honduras, 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 April 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.

Government officials continued to meet and cooperate with representatives of local and international human rights organizations in 1993. In 1992 President Callejas appointed experienced and widely respected human rights activist Dr. Leo Valladares as the Human Rights Commissioner. Since then, his office has grown from a staff of 5 to 21 persons, and published a "preliminary" study of the politically motivated disappearances which took place during the 1979-1989 period (see Section 1.c.). 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.

There were no reported incidents of harassment against members of human rights organization in 1993.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Although discrimination on the basis of class is banned under the Constitution, 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 are forcibly recruited into the armed forces.


The Constitution also bans discrimination for reasons of race and sex. Women are represented in at least small numbers in most of the professions, but cultural attitudes act to limit their career opportunities. In theory, women have equal access to educational opportunities, but cultural attitudes within families often serve to brake the ambitions of women intent on obtaining higher education. Women are supposed 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.

Efforts to combat violence against women are severely impeded by serious weaknesses in the Penal Code. Visitacion Padilla, a women's human rights group, has called for legislation to make violence against women a serious crime. Violence against women remains widespread, according to the group. An example of the weakness of Honduran law in this regard is the case of rape. 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' detention.

There are no shelters specifically maintained for battered women. Although the law offers some redress, few women take advantage of the legal process. This reluctance stems from a lack of education and the perception that judges would be unwilling to apply the law vigorously. 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. 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, and succeeds in some measure in this task. Lack of resources is a limiting factor. The Constitution and the Labor Code prohibit the employment of minors under the age of 16, but the Ministry of Labor lacks resources to exercise its responsibility to ensure enforcement.

Indigenous People

There is no formal mechanism for the small community of indigenous people to present petitions to the Government or to participate in decisions regarding traditional lands. With the assistance of international organizations and local human rights groups, the principal indigenous groups have succeeded in establishing organizations to focus governmental and public attention on their wishes.

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 the disabled.

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 right to strike, along with a wide range of other basic labor rights, is provided for by the Constitution and honored in practice. The Civil Service Code, however, stipulates that public workers do not have the right to strike. In 1992, the International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts again noted that the Labor Code should be reformed to include workers of certain agricultural enterprises, and to eliminate provisions which prohibit more than one trade union per establishment and which impose restrictions on the right to strike.

A number of private firms 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 (ICFTU), 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 membership of such associations remained static during 1993.

The Government afforded official recognition to a parallel union in the Union of National Agrarian Institute Workers (SITRAINA) in April. It dismissed workers supporting the elected union and then replaced them with supporters of the government-backed union. The National Agrarian Institute also fired a number of workers in violation of the Labor Code, but 40 of these, who staged 2 lengthy hunger strikes to protest the dismissals, were later reinstated. Carlos Kellner, former leader of the Telecommunications Workers Union, SITRATELH, who had continued to challenge and appeal the imposition of a parallel union in 1992, left the country following severe and continued harrassment; he continued to live abroad at year's end.

There were no killings of trade unionists in 1993. However, the ICFTU cited the Government as being unable or unwilling to bring the perpetrators of worker rights abuses to justice, including those responsible for a number of extrajudicial killings of trade unionists in 1992.

The trade union movement maintains close ties with various international trade union organizations.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and to bargain collectively is protected by law and collective bargaining agreements are the norm for companies in which the workers are organized. However, retribution by employers for trade union activity was not uncommon, in spite of its prohibition in the Labor Code.

Employers threatened to close down unionized companies, harassed their workers, and in some cases fired them for trying to form a trade union. Relatively few workers are actually dismissed for union activity once the union is recognized; these cases, however, served 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. Depending on the decision of the labor or civil court, employers can be required to rehire employees fired for union activity. Such decisions are uncommon.

The same labor regulations apply in export processing zones (EPZ's) as in the rest of private industry. Working conditions and wages in the EPZ's are generally considered superior to those prevailing in the rest of the country. There was a strike and plant seizure in September in an EPZ in Choloma, which was declared illegal. However, since in this instance the strike occurred concurrently with the clearly illegal plant seizure, it remains unclear whether under other circumstances a strike in an EPZ might be declared legal.

Unions are active in the government-owned Puerto Cortes free trade zone, but factory owners have resisted efforts to organize the new privately owned industrial parks.

Blacklisting is clearly prohibited by the Labor Code. Nevertheless, there was credible evidence that informal blacklisting occurred in the privately owned industrial parks. When unions are formed, a list of initial members must be submitted to the Ministry of Labor as part of the process of obtaining official recognition. Before official recognition is granted, however, the Ministry informs the company of the impending union organization. Ministry inspectors have consistently been unable to provide effective protection to workers, including the provision to plant owners of Ministry of Labor documentation for union formation. The inadequacy of inspectors is particularly obvious in the EPZ sector. Some companies in the industrial parks have taken the information and dismissed union organizers before recognition was granted.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There is no forced or compulsory labor; such practices are prohibited by law and the Constitution.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution and the Labor Code prohibit the employment of children under the age of 16. Violations of the Labor Code occur frequently in rural areas or in small companies. High adult unemployment and underemployment has resulted in many children working in small family farms, as street vendors, or in small workshops to supplement the family income. The Ministry of Labor has the responsibility for enforcing child employment laws, but it lacks the resources necessary to carry out the task.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In May organized labor and the private sector umbrella organization agreed on a 14.35 percent increase in the minimum wage, which became effective June 1. Daily pay rates vary by the sector of the economy affected and geographical zones: the lowest minimum wage is $1.70 (12 lempiras) per day in the agriculture sector. The highest minimum wage rate paid is in the mining sector, at $3.20 (22.60 lempiras) daily. Urban zone workers earn slightly more than in the countryside. The Constitution and the Labor Code require that all labor be fairly paid. Minimum wages, working hours, vacations, and occupational safety are all regulated, 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, particularly in light of inflation. In addition, many workers receive even less than the minimum wage.

The law prescribes an 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. The regulations are frequently ignored in practice as a result of the high level of unemployment and underemployment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing national health and safety laws. Due to a lack of resources, the laws are not well enforced. 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 of Honduras. Some complaints have also arisen about the failure of foreign factory managers to comply with the Labor Code in factories located in free zones and industrial parks.

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