Honduras: The witness protection program, including the various types of protection offered, the requirements and procedures to access the program, and the program's effectiveness (2007-2011)
|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Publication Date||24 January 2012|
|Citation / Document Symbol||HND103939.E|
|Related Document||Honduras : information sur le programme de protection des témoins, y compris les divers types de protection offerts, ainsi que sur les exigences et la marche à suivre pour participer au programme et sur son efficacité (2007-2011)|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Honduras: The witness protection program, including the various types of protection offered, the requirements and procedures to access the program, and the program's effectiveness (2007-2011), 24 January 2012, HND103939.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f4359fa2.html [accessed 20 September 2014]|
In May 2007, the Honduran congress passed the Witness Protection Law (Ley de Protección de Testigos) after debating for nearly four years due to a [translation] "lack of consensus" (AFP 24 May 2007). Article 2 of the Law states that its purpose is
to provide protection to witnesses in the criminal process who are admitted into the program as a result of their effective and efficient participation in that process.
The program's protection extends to the spouse, common-law partner, family members or other persons connected with the witness who, due to the witness' testimony, are in a situation of risk according to the present law and the regulations pursuant thereto. (Honduras 2007)
Articles 11 and 12 describe the protective measures that the law contemplates for persons enrolled in the program:
Article 11.- Protective Measures. The program's director may take any of the following measures:
- Departure from the place of the risk;
- Temporary or permanent relocation of the protected witness outside the country;
- Change of identity;
- Modification of physical features; and,
- Such other measures as are necessary to preserve individuals' lives; physical, psychological and labour security; and personal integrity.
Article 12.- Additional Measures. In addition to the measures contained in the preceding article, the program's director may recommend to the public prosecutor hearing the case, following a technical study, that the following additional measures be promoted before other authorities: police, prison or jurisdictional procedural measures, as described below:
- Immediate departure of the witness and his/her family group from the place of risk;
- Surveillance, monitoring and police patrols;
- Means and methods of emergency police communication; and,
- Accompaniment of the witness by a police officer (escort).
- Prison protection measures.
Jurisdictional Procedural Measures
- Methods to distort voice or physical appearance and any other technical tool for protecting the identity and/or physical integrity of the witness;
- Anonymity or protection of identity and confidentiality of same;
- Video-conference; and,
- Guarantee of preference in dealing with the case in the jurisdictional process, ensuring its confidentiality. (ibid.)
Article 13 outlines the following stages in the procedures for determining access to the program:
- Entry into the Program. Admission to the program will require an application addressed to its director by the prosecutor hearing the case.
- Evaluation of the Application. Once the application has been filed, the program's director, with the support of his/her multidisciplinary team, shall verify the connections between participation in the proceedings, threat and situation of risk and shall proceed to evaluate the eligibility of the candidate and his/her adaptability to the program;
- Eligibility for the Protection Program.
Once the connections between participation in the proceedings, threat and situation of risk have been verified, the competent authority shall take the following aspects into account for admission of a witness into the protection program.
- The candidate must meet the following eligibility requirements contained in the regulations governing the Protection Program; and,
- The candidate must be in agreement with the conditions of the program and formalize his/her consent by signing the respective entry agreement.
- Decision on Entry into the Program.
Once the relevant evaluation has been conducted, the program's director must rule in a timely and informed manner on the eligibility of the candidate for the program.
Where a witness is denied entry into the program, the request for entry may be re-evaluated by express ruling of the public prosecutor, provided that there were conditions not taken into account or new or persisting facts. No administrative appeal whatsoever may be filed against this decision; and,
- Implementation and Monitoring of Measures. Protective measures must be viable and proportional to: the situation of risk, the importance of the case, the significance and relevance of the testimony; the vulnerability of the subject being protected; the candidate's capacity to adapt to the conditions of the program; and the capacity of the agent generating the risk situation to actually inflict harm.
The competent authority must follow up on the protective measures implemented and those adopted in coordination with the competent national or international public or private entities where circumstances so warrant. (ibid.)
The Research Directorate was unable to find additional information on the eligibility requirements for accessing the witness protection program within the time constraints of this Response.
Several sources note that the witness protection program is not working (La Tribuna 1 Mar. 2011; US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 1e; AI 28 Jan. 2010) and that it has not been given the financial resources needed to operate effectively (Human Rights Watch Jan. 2011; La Tribuna 1 Mar. 2011; El Heraldo 15 Nov. 2010). According to a 2010 report by the Honduran Ministry of Finance, the Inter-American Development Bank is financing the implementation of the witness protection program through the Organization of the Witness Protection System Project (Proyecto de Organización del Sistema de Protección a Testigos) with a budget for 2010 of 1,889,500 lempiras (Honduras Dec. 2010, Sec. 3.1-3.2) or C$101,354 (XE 5 Jan. 2012). The first instalment of US$30,000 is to be used to buy equipment, provide training to personnel in the Witness Protection Unit (Unidad de Protección de Testigos) and others associated with the justice sector, and find office space for the Unit (Honduras Dec. 2010, Sec. 3.2).
But the same report says that the project has been affected by [translation] "difficulties with inter-institutional coordination and a lack of staff in the Office of the Public Prosecutor [Ministerio Público] to implement the project" (ibid., Sec. 3.3). In a January 2011 interview published in La Prensa, a San Pedro Sula-based newspaper, the Director of the Witness Protection Unit indicated that the Unit has a [translation] "'minimal'" budget with which to operate and instead relies on the Directorate for the Fight Against Drugs (Dirección de Lucha contra el Narcotráfico) to protect witnesses since it does not have its own staff (31 Jan. 2011). In a February 2011 article published in El Heraldo, a Tegucigalpa-based newspaper, the Unit Director is quoted as saying that since the Unit [translation] "'does not have its own budget'," it relies on the Attorney General's budget and that, as a result, it has to "'prioritize'" cases by severity to be more "'efficient'" with the funds it does have (5 Feb. 2011). He explains that some persons in need of protection are left out of the program (5 Feb. 2011).
According to the Unit Director, in January 2011, the Unit was providing protection to about 100 people (La Prensa 31 Jan. 2011). He indicated that the form of protection included relocating witnesses and, in some cases, providing them with financial assistance to leave their homes, including to eight witnesses who were reportedly sent abroad (ibid.). The Director explained that even though his Unit [translation] "cannot give a 100 percent guarantee" that the lives of witnesses will be protected, it has not had "any type of problems" nor has it had to resort to changing the identity of any witnesses (ibid.). However, according to the president of the Association of Judges of Honduras (Asociación de Jueces de Honduras), [translation] "several" criminals are set free since potential witnesses do not testify because they are not guaranteed that they will not be killed (La Tribuna 1 Mar. 2011).
La Tribuna, a Tegucigalpa-based newspaper, reports that an amendment to Article 78 of the Law Respecting the Definitive Deprivation of Ownership of Goods of Illegal Origin (Ley sobre Privación Definitiva del Dominio de Bienes de Origen Ilícito) assigns two percent of all goods confiscated by the Administrative Office for Seized Assets (Oficina Administradora de Bienes Incautados) to the witness protection program (16 Dec. 2011). The Research Directorate was unable to find further information about the law and its impact on the witness protection program within the time constraints of this Response.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Agence France-Presse (AFP). 24 May 2007. "Honduras fortalece la lucha contra la delincuencia al proteger testigos." (Factiva)
Amnesty International (AI). 28 January 2010. "Amnistía Internacional publica un plan de derechos humanos para Honduras." (AMR 37/003/2010)
El Heraldo [Tegucigalpa]. 5 February 2011. "Unidad de protección de testigos urge recursos."
_____. 15 November 2010. "Índice de femicidios a la baja en Honduras."
Honduras. December 2010. Secretaría de Finanzas. Informe de Avance Físico y Financiero, Ministerio Público (MP), al Cuarto Trimestre, 2010.
_____. 2007. Decreto No. 63-2007, Ley de Protección a Testigos en el Proceso Penal. Translated by the Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Human Right Watch. January 2011. "Honduras." World Report 2011: Events of 2010.
La Prensa [San Pedro Sula]. 31 January 2011. "Cien ciudadanos están protegidos bajo la ley."
La Tribuna [Tegucigalpa]. 16 December 2011. "Conapid, FHIS y Desarrollo Social recibirán recursos de la OABI."
_____. 1 March 2011. "Operadores de justicia y Seguridad definen plan contra la impunidad."
United States (US). 8 April 2011. Department of State. "Honduras." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010.
XE. 5 January 2012. "Currency Converter Widget."
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives from the Colegio de Abogados de Honduras, the Universidad Católica de Honduras, the Universidad de San Pedro Sula and the Honduran Secretaría de Seguridad were unsuccessful.
Internet sites, including: Americas Quarterly; Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos; Country Studies; The Economist; European Country of Origin Information Network; Freedom House; Honduras — Dirección de Lucha contra el Narcotráfico, Ministerio Público, Secretaría de Seguridad; The Jamestown Foundation; Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor; Los Angeles Times; Organization of American States; Radio la Primerísima; Tiempo; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, ReliefWeb; Washington Office on Latin America.