Covering events from January - December 2003

Children and young people, including people in custody, were killed by police officers, prison personnel or unidentified individuals; some may have been the victims of extrajudicial executions. Human rights defenders were threatened, harassed and killed. Members of indigenous groups faced torture, threats and harassment. Members of the National Police were involved in alleged human rights violations.


There were massive popular demonstrations to protest at poor living conditions, threats to basic public services, government policies and new laws. Various studies showed that over 60 per cent of the population lived in poverty and 36 per cent of children suffered from malnutrition.

The National Congress approved an amendment to the Penal Code which was intended to deal with crimes committed by gangs but which in fact imposed severe restrictions on the right to freedom of association, in contravention of the Constitution and of international instruments to which Honduras is a party.

Children and young people

The killing and possible extrajudicial execution of children and youths continued; over 500 new cases were reported during the year. Several well-publicized initiatives by the authorities to investigate the killings did not prove as effective as expected and only a few of those responsible for past killings were brought to justice. However, it appeared that the police were taking initial steps in at least some more recent cases. In a positive development, some steps were taken in the latter part of the year to create a national witness protection program.

In April, 69 people were killed in the El Porvenir prison in La Ceiba, Department of Atlántida. Among them were 29 young men and boys and three visitors to the prison; many others were injured. Initially, the authorities said the incident was the result of a riot and a fight between gang members and other inmates. However, 61 of the 69 dead reportedly belonged to the same gang. Some of the dead had been decapitated and a large number were found burned to death in a locked cell. Despite a flurry of promises and investigations by official bodies, no one had been detained or brought to trial in connection with the deaths by the end of the year.

Human rights defenders

One human rights defender was killed and many others were threatened and harassed. Among those targeted were members of the Centre for the Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and their Families investigating the deaths at the El Porvenir prison; and members of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared, which had opposed the Anti-Gang Law, as well as the nine-year-old daughter of the Committee's General Coordinator.

  • In July Carlos Arturo Reyes, aged 23, an environmental activist, was shot dead in the backyard of his home in the municipality of El Rosario. Three heavily armed men were seen fleeing the scene. Pastoral Social, the organization he worked for, had recently relocated him because of death threats against him. Other people involved in activities to protect the environment in Olancho Department were harassed and threatened, including Gilberto Flores, Orlando Nájera and Father Osmín Flores. Father José Andrés Tamayo was warned to leave the country, allegedly by a group of powerful individuals involved in the logging industry.
  • In November, journalist Germán Antonio Rivas was killed in Santa Rosa de Copán, Department of Copán, by an unidentified man who shot him in the head outside his office. He was the managing director of Channel 7 of the Maya Vision Corporation. He had investigated and publicly criticized a mining company for damaging the environment and water supplies to the population of Santa Rosa de Copán by leaking cyanide from their plant. The Ministry of Natural Resources then imposed a fine on the company. Germán Antonio Rivas had survived an earlier attempt on his life in February.

Violence against women

Several, mostly young, women were murdered, decapitated and dismembered, most of them in San Pedro Sula, northern Honduras. In some cases the victims were shot in the head, in others they were killed with knives or similar weapons. The police carried out some initial investigations but these did not progress and no one was brought to justice for these killings.

Domestic violence affected hundreds of women and it cost the lives of over a hundred. However, the authorities failed to investigate appropriately and bring those responsible to justice.

There were reports that women and children were trafficked both within the country and to other Central American countries, the USA and Canada for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Indigenous people

Indigenous people were subjected to human rights violations including torture.

  • In January, brothers Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda, indigenous leaders in the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations, were taken from the Lenca community in Montaña Verde, Lempira Department, by armed police officers and armed civilians who used tear gas and fired shots into the air and Marcelino Miranda's house. According to reports, their relatives, including a young girl, were threatened with firearms during the arrest. While being taken to Gracias Prison the brothers were reportedly beaten. Leonardo Miranda was stabbed in the head and cigarettes were stubbed out on their ears. The officers reportedly threatened to kill both men. Later, Leonardo Miranda's head was repeatedly submerged in water. In April the brothers were again tortured by three officers of the Cobra unit, an elite group in the National Police force. In June a police officer reportedly put a gun to Leonardo Miranda's head, threatening to kill him if he did not admit the charges against him, and put a blank piece of paper in front of him, which he refused to sign. In September charges of torture, abuse of authority and damages against 21 police officers were dismissed despite medical evidence of physical abuse. On 16 December the two brothers were sentenced to 25 years in prison. AI was concerned that they may not have had a fair trial. Between February and September the brothers' lawyer, Marcelino Martínez Espinal, was subjected to acts of intimidation.

Lesbians, gay men and bisexual and transgender people

Lesbians, gay men and bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people faced discrimination and human rights violations.

  • Elkyn Suárez Mejía (also known as China) – a transgender member of San Pedro Sula's Gay Community and an LGBT rights defender – was subjected to death threats by two police officers implicated in the killing in July of Erick David Yáñez (also known as Ericka). China's information about the killing led to the arrest in late July of two officers who were charged with homicide and complicity in the murder. China was provided with police protection. However, one of the accused officers escaped custody in mid-August, making China's safety more precarious. All protection was later withdrawn and China, fearing for her safety, left the country. The trial of the two police officers accused of involvement in the killing of Ericka had not started by the end of the year.

International Criminal Court

In May the government ratified an impunity agreement with the USA, providing that Honduras will not surrender US nationals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes to the International Criminal Court. Such agreements are in breach of states' obligations under international law.

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