Republic of Honduras

Head of state and government: Carlos Flores Facussé
Capital: Tegucigalpa
Population: 5.7 million
Official language: Spanish
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

Members of indigenous groups continued their efforts to persuade the authorities to investigate killings of members of their communities and to bring those responsible to justice. Police employed excessive use of force against people demonstrating peacefully to promote long-standing demands for land and justice. Children were killed by law enforcement officers in circumstances suggesting that at least one had been extrajudicially executed. Human rights defenders and journalists were threatened and attacked as a result of their work.


The possible existence of "death squads" concerned human rights organizations. They feared that such groups could be behind the deaths of people suspected of involvement in criminal activity and youth gangs. More than 50 youths were reported to have been killed during 1999, but the authorities apparently took no action to investigate the deaths. In August the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted the measures taken by the Honduran authorities to investigate cases of police brutality against street children and provide compensation, but concluded that judicial measures needed reinforcement. It recommended that Honduras reinforce its judicial mechanisms to deal with complaints of police brutality, ill-treatment and abuse of children, and that cases of abuse of children be duly investigated in order to avoid impunity for perpetrators.

There were reports of government corruption in the use of international aid donations received following Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

In January the post of Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces was abolished and replaced by a civilian Minister of Defence. Edgardo Dumas Rodríguez was appointed as minister. In July there were widespread fears of a threatened military coup. During the absence of the Minister of Defence, his deputy, Vice-Minister General Roberto Lázarus Lozano, made a number of personnel changes. The Minister overturned these changes when he returned, but his deputy and commanders of military units refused to obey the order. After several hours of escalating tension, President Carlos Flores Facussé dismissed four high-ranking military officers, including the Vice-Minister. Others resigned later. In June, President Flores had warned top military personnel from conspiring against the Minister of Defence and to give up any hopes of seizing power.

In April the National Congress unexpectedly presented and hurriedly approved amendments to the Law of the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights. These amendments limited the Human Rights Commissioner's scope for action and reduced the Commissioner's period of office by two years. They were reportedly put forward in response to a report by the Commissioner containing allegations of government corruption with regard to the management of foreign aid sent to help survivors of Hurricane Mitch. After a wave of national and international protest and condemnation, the amendments were withdrawn.

Indigenous groups

There were further abuses against indigenous people and no investigations into past human rights violations.

Indigenous groups organized demonstrations during 1999, calling for an end to impunity for the deaths of leaders and members of their communities and seeking solutions to their land problems. In October police used teargas, firearms and rubber bullets against peaceful demonstrators, leaving at least 22 people injured. Three policemen were also injured. Twenty-three people were charged with criminal offences. However, in November the government promised to instruct the Minister of Security to drop the charges and to compensate people who had been injured by the police. The demonstration was also against the ratification of an amendment to Article 107 of the Constitution, which would have allowed non-Hondurans to buy coastal lands if they were used for tourism projects, threatening indigenous communities. The Acting President of the National Congress announced at the end of the day of demonstrations that the amendment would not be submitted to Congress for discussion, thereby suspending its ratification.

By the end of 1999 there were no indications that investigations had been initiated into the killings of members of indigenous groups in previous years, including Cándido Amador Recinos, Jesús Álvarez Rochez and 17-year-old Manvil Pinace, all of whom were killed in 1997.


Law enforcement officers were responsible for the deaths of children, which in one case may have amounted to extrajudicial execution. More than 50 minors, including street children and alleged gang members, were killed during 1999 by unidentified people, in circumstances suggesting they were victims of a "social cleansing" campaign. In one case, three children aged 17, 16 and 13 were found dead in an abandoned house. They had been in police custody and were killed shortly after they were released. All three had been shot in the head. Officials frequently asserted that these killings were the result of fights between gangs, but there was little evidence to support such claims.

  • Alexander Obando Reyes was shot by a police officer in April. He and a friend were in a park in Tegucigalpa at about 10pm when a police officer came to the park and started an argument with the two youths. He threatened them and shot in the air with his service weapon. The two youngsters ran away but the policeman shot at Alexander, hitting him in the stomach and chest. The policeman then fled. Alexander was taken to hospital but died the following day as a result of damage to his lungs. He was not armed and did not pose a threat to the officer or anyone else. There had been no investigation and the officer had not been arrested or brought to trial by the end of 1999. AI wrote to the Attorney General calling for the suspension of the officer while an investigation and trial were in progress, but received no reply.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders were again threatened and harassed. In July Dora Oliva Guifarro, a staff member of the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH), Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, was forced into her car at gunpoint by two unidentified young men who abducted her for about two hours and threatened to kill her and harm her children. Members of the Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras (CODEH) Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Honduras, were also targets of death threats in their offices in different parts of the country.


Critical coverage of police and military actions brought intimidation and harassment to at least two journalists. Renato Álvarez, a news editor, and Cesar Silva Rosales, a reporter, covered the unrest among the military in mid-1999 and issues related to the police, for a television company. They were harassed and followed around by unidentified men in cars without number plates.


Human rights organizations and the Special Human Rights Prosecutor in the Attorney General's Office continued their efforts to put an end to impunity. Several sites were located allegedly containing the bodies of some of those who "disappeared" in the 1980s. However, the courts issued controversial decisions in favour of some military officers charged in connection with those "disappearances", allowing them to go free or reducing the charges or applying amnesty laws incompatible with Honduras' international obligations to investigate and punish those responsible for human rights violations. Human rights organizations and victims' families deplored those decisions.

AI country reports

  • Honduras: Justice fails indigenous people (AI Index: AMR 37/010/99)
  • Honduras: Human rights violations against children (AI Index: AMR 37/011/99)

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