Violence, Inequality, and Impunity
in Honduras

Situation of Human Rights in Honduras

The homicide rate in Honduras continues to be one of the highest in the region and the world, even though government figures indicate that it has declined since 2014.

These levels of violence are a result of several factors, including the increased presence of organized crime and drug trafficking, an inadequate judicial response that fuels impunity, corruption, and high levels of poverty and inequality.

IACHR Presents Report:
"Situation of Human Rights in Honduras"

This report addresses the violation of rights of the people of Honduras, a situation that results from high rates of violence, citizen insecurity, and high levels of impunity.

It also offers recommendations designed to help Honduras strengthen its efforts to protect and guarantee human rights, in accordance with the international human rights obligations assumed voluntarily by the State.

Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the IACHR

Honduran State’s Openness to International Scrutiny and Collaboration with International Organizations

The IACHR especially welcomes the State’s invitation to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to have an enhanced presence in the country, and the recent establishment of the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras.

The Commission also recognizes the Public Policy and National Plan of Action on Human Rights, which are in the process of being implemented, and the approval of the Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Media Workers, and Justice Operators.

The IACHR recognizes the openness and coordination efforts among institutions shown by the Secretariat of Human Rights, Justice, Interior, and Decentralization, and hopes that this agency is given sufficient funding and human resources to carry out its mandate effectively.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights enters the Centro Penal San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the IACHR

Photo credit: Gustavo Amador for the IACHR

Berta Zúñiga Cáceres (daughter of the murdered human rights defender Berta Cáceres)

Berta Zúñiga Cáceres (daughter of the murdered human rights defender Berta Cáceres). Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the IACHR

The Rates of Violence and Insecurity in Honduras are of the Highest in the world

Highest homicide rate in the world, 2013

In 2013, the murder rate in Honduras was the highest in the world, with 79 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to figures published by the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH).

Drop in Homicides

The State indicated that the homicide rate in Honduras fell to 66.4 in 2014, with the downward trend continuing in 2015. The IACHR welcomes the decrease.

State Agents and Insecurity

The atmosphere of insecurity is said to be partly caused by the police force, military police, and armed forces themselves, through their illegitimate use of force and sometimes in collusion with organized crime.

Militarization of Citizen Security

Military Police

The army actively participates in citizen security responsibilities through specialized forces such as “military police,” even though international standards indicate that citizen security should be the exclusive jurisdiction of a civilian police force, one that is respectful of human rights.

Influence on Investigations

The Honduran army is also said to have an influence on the investigation and punishment of crimes involving organized crime, through the National Defense and Security Council. This has led to the creation, in point of fact, of a proceeding with characteristics that resemble a special jurisdiction for members of the military police.

Civic and Educational Training

The armed forces are also involved in issues related to civic and educational training for children at “social risk,” through the “Guardians of the Nation” (Guardianes de la Patria) program. The Commission expressed its concern about the risks involved in the fact that children and young people between 5 and 23 years of age are being trained at military installations and are using militarized plazas, parks, and soccer fields.
The implementation of this program is not a natural function of the army. The role of the armed forces, which is the defense of the country against security threats from abroad, is incompatible with the coordination, supervision, and implementation of civic education programs for children.

Prison System

The army also plays a role in the prison system, and is sent to carry out security tasks in areas where there are agrarian and land conflicts, such as in Bajo Aguán.

Photo credit: dn

States must restrict to the maximum extent the use of armed forces to control domestic disturbances, since they are trained to fight against enemies and not to protect and control civilians, a task that is typical of police forces.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of Montero-Aranguren et al. (Detention Center of Catia) v. Venezuela. Judgement of July 5, 2006, Series C No. 150, para. 78.

Honduras is One of the Most Unequal Countries in Latin America

There are serious difficulties and challenges in terms of access to basic needs, employment opportunities, natural resources, including land, and means of subsistence. Women, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendants are more vulnerable to human rights violations as a result of inequality.

60% of the national income is earned by the wealthiest 20% of the nation. The poorest 20% of the people in Honduras earn just 2% of the income. With a population amounting to more than 8.5 million persons, 64.5% are living in conditions of poverty and 42.6% in extreme poverty.

Miskito Indigenous People

Lobster catching is the main source of work for the inhabitants of La Mosquitia, especially for Miskito men, who start this activity around age 14. The divers’ work is informal, without contracts, and is characterized by unsafe conditions, deficient equipment, and exploitation.
The divers descend to great depths for long periods of time to catch the amount of lobster they need, and they go back to the surface at a faster rate than that established by diving standards. All this happens without proper supervision by the State. Consequently, Miskito deep-sea divers die in preventable accidents or end up permanently paralyzed from decompression sickness.
Once the Miskito divers are physically disabled for life, they receive no training, rehabilitation, medical care, or employment alternatives.

Maquila Workers

In Honduras, women who work in maquilas (manufacturing or assembly plants for the export market) confront work shifts of up to 12 hours per day, unsafe working conditions, and salaries below minimum wage.
The long shifts, in forced postures and doing repetitive tasks, expose the workers to risk factors that in many cases lead to occupational illnesses and job accidents.
The dangerous and demanding environment in which these women work cause them to have serious health problems, both physical and psychological, with high rates of depression and anxiety. Women who work in garment factories have high rates of symptoms indicative of Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders, 62% among employees who work 9-hour days and 66% among those who work up to 12-hour shifts.
Under the maquila system for transnational companies, wages tend to be below the minimum established by law. During the IACHR’s visit in 2014, maquila workers indicated that the Labor Secretariat carries out few or no inspections and that the workers have limited access to justice.

Photo credit: Gustavo Amador for the IACHR

“I have come to depend on my sister and family. I cannot travel in a bus standing up, I always have to be seated. I can’t even carry five oranges. I can’t get dressed alone.”

The maquila worker who offered this testimony to the IACHR has been waiting since 2010 for a review of her working conditions, in response to a ruling issued by the Technical Commission on Disabilities of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS).

Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders in Honduras are targets of attacks by those who have been identified as responsible for rights violations or by sectors and groups with interests opposed to their causes.

In particular, human rights defenders who advocate for the protection of natural resources are reportedly being subject to acts of violence, harassment, and death threats because of their work as environmental defenders.

Indigenous Peoples and Land Activism

Violence against indigenous peoples arises largely because of the struggle for land and territory, which is exacerbated by the conditions of inequality and discrimination faced by these groups and the attendant barriers to their access to justice.

Development Projects and Mining Concessions

There are 837 potential mining projects in Honduras, extending across nearly 35% of the nation’s territory. Because of their opposition to these projects, some indigenous leaders have been killed, others persecuted, forced to leave their communities to escape the violence, or prosecuted.
Issue of concern include:
(i) The high levels of insecurity and violence stemming from the imposition of development and investment plans and projects, and concessions to extract natural resources in their ancestral territories;
(ii) Forced evictions through the excessive use of force; and
(iii) The persecution and prosecution of indigenous leaders for reasons related to the defense of their ancestral territories.

3,064 Prosecutions

The Commission received information about the use of criminal law by private and/or State actors to intimidate and threaten people with criminal proceedings for offenses such as “incitement to violence.”
The Commission noted with concern the figures submitted by the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) indicating that since 2010 there have been 3,064 prosecutions as a result of the misuse of criminal law to intimidate human rights defenders.
During the visit, civil society organizations presented the Commission with information concerning what they describe as repression and political persecution of human rights defenders throughout the country, particularly of indigenous communities and peoples in connection with the defense of their territory.

Union Leaders

Union leaders have reportedly been prosecuted or subjected to surveillance and monitoring of both themselves and their immediate families, in order to intimidate them and keep them from doing their work and consequently to bring about the dismantling of trade unions, within a context of poorer working conditions.
Berta Caceres rally, Honduran Mission, NYC, March 17, 2016

Photo credit: Natalie Jeffers, Matters of the Earth

Agrarian Conflict and the Militarization of Bajo Aguán

In the region of Bajo Aguán, Tocoa, there is a longstanding land dispute between peasants and businessmen. In this context, this situation has reportedly worsened with the militarization of the area.

The IACHR found that the situation of violence and impunity continues to be alarming.

Photo credit: Gustavo Amador for the IACHR

Homicides, Torture…

During the visit, the IACHR received testimony concerning what people described as continued killings, disappearances, kidnappings, torture in detention centers, the discovery of a clandestine cemetery, the practice of conducting violent evictions, and threats to the leaders and human rights defenders who advocate for the rights of peasants in the area.

State Responsibility

Organizations and members of the Panamá community presented information on the close cooperation between the public authorities and the private farm owners in the area.


The conclusions of the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries were confirmed; in 2013, this group expressed its concern about the involvement of private security companies hired by landowners in human rights violations, including killings, disappearances, forced evictions, and sexual violence against representatives of campesino associations in the Bajo Aguán region.

Violence against Women: Murders, Domestic and Family Violence, and Sexual Violence

Violence against women occurs because other forms of discrimination are allowed to flourish. To address this violence it is necessary to also address the underlying discrimination factors that give rise to and exacerbate the violence.

It was reported that one woman dies violently on average every 17 hours According to the Observatory, 70.4% of the recorded deaths of women in 2014 were by firearms. In relation to the aggressors, 75.6% of cases presumably fall into the category of known offenders. There is a 95% impunity rate for crimes against women. Regarding reports of missing women and girls, in 2008, 91 women were reported missing and 347 in 2013.1

The Commission recognizes the National Plan to Combat Violence against Women 2014-2022 as a step forward.

Woman with a kid in Comunidad San Juan, Honduras

Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the IACHR

Violence against women is systematic and demands a much stronger response from the State.

Interventions that seek to only ameliorate the abuse, and which do not factor in women’s realities, are not challenging the fundamental gender inequalities and discrimination that contribute to the abuse in the first place.

United Nations, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, May 2, 2015.

"When a woman files a complaint about violence, they give her an appointment in three months. Either the victim reconciles with her assailant or he ends up killing her."

Testimony from a woman who defends women’s rights in Tegucigalpa

Violence Based on Prejudice: Trans Women and LGBT Persons

Based on laws that protect “morals and good customs,” trans women are particularly at risk of being subjected to abuse and arbitrary detention by the police, whether or not they do sex work.

The State should adopt a gender identity law or similar measures to ensure the full recognition of the identity of trans persons.

State recognition of the identity of trans persons helps to reduce violence and discrimination against them.

The State should adopt a differentiated approach to ensure the rights to life and integrity of LGBT people.

Besides investigating all acts of violence against LGBT people, thoroughly and with all due diligence, Honduras should address the underlying causes of violence based on prejudice toward sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Talking on the microphone, audience petitionary: Luz Marina Matute (Asociación LGBT Arcoiris from Honduras)

Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the IACHR

The Impact of Violence Causes People to Flee Honduras

The socioeconomic, political, environmental, and citizen security situation are “push” factors that lead Honduran citizens to migrate to the United States, Mexico, and other Central American countries.

Worldwide, the number of asylum seekers from Honduras increased by 1,153% from 2012 to 2014.

Children and Adolescents

Those who flee also include children and adolescents, who often travel thousands of miles to other countries, unaccompanied.

Migrant Services

During its visit, the IACHR noted the commitment that the staff at the Centro de Atención del Migrante Retornado (Center for Returned Migrants) in San Pedro Sula showed to the deportees who arrive back in Honduras every day.

Photo credit: Gustavo Amador for the IACHR

Testimony from the father of a 15-year-old boy who was shot to death after going through a military roadblock on his motorcycle in Honduras.

Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the IACHR

“The only thing I ask for is justice for my son, who died when he was gunned down at a military roadblock when he was 15. It hasn’t been easy to become one of the 3% of crimes that end up being tried in this country.”

Testimony from the father of a 15-year-old boy who was shot to death after going through a military roadblock on his motorcycle

Children and Adolescents

1,031 children, adolescents, and young adults (18-23 years old) have died violently in the country between January and December 2014.
81% of cases the person responsible for the deaths remains unknown.

Torture and Killings

According to a report by the Observatory of the Rights of Children and Adolescents in Honduras, there has been an increase in the number of cases in which bodies are found with signs of torture before execution, in sacks or plastic bags, tied with ropes or wrapped in sheets. Some of the victims are strangled to death.

Gangs and Organized Crime

Part of the general atmosphere of violence is attributed to the presence of gangs or maras and their control over certain neighborhoods and areas.

Threats and Pressure

People are harassed and threatened by maras, or are pressured to collaborate with the gangs or join them.

Security Forces

State security forces also tend to view as gang members those adolescents who live in areas under mara influence, or who match stereotypical gang characteristics associated with a certain physical appearance and social status. This leads to abusive and discriminatory treatment of these adolescents by State agents.

Photo credit: Gustavo Amador for the IACHR

“Nobody, absolutely nobody, is paying for these deaths.”

Human rights defender whose two brothers were killed.

Freedom of Expression: Journalists and Media Workers

Organized crime, with which public officials and agents of State security forces have been found to be involved, is the greatest threat to the life and physical integrity of journalists who cover local news about corruption.

Public Discourse

Honduras should adopt a public discourse that helps prevent violence against journalists, including the public condemnation of killings and all forms of violence against journalists.

Protection Law

The IACHR welcomes the approval of the Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Media Workers, and Justice Operators in Honduras.
Between 2003 and 2014, 50 journalists and media workers were killed in Honduras


The ownership and control of major news media outlets in Honduras is concentrated in a few hands.

Transnational Capital

Of special concern is the acquisition of media outlets by transnational capital.

Lack of Equal Access

In Honduras, there are still obstacles to equal access for the use and management of radio frequencies.

Photo credit: Gustavo Amador for the IACHR

Impunity, Access to Justice, and Judicial Independence

Civil society organizations interviewed believe that rates of ongoing impunity in Honduras range between 95 and 98% According to publicly available information, in 2014 at least 20 judges received death threats. From 2010 to October 2014, 86 lawyers were killed; and according to information provided by the AJD, at least 3 judges were killed between 2013 and 2014.

The high levels of violence have led to increased demands for justice, which have not been met with an effective response from the State, creating a situation of structural impunity.

The effective observance of the rule of law is achieved, to a large extent, by ensuring an administration of justice that does not tolerate impunity.

Society must perceive that the judicial branch applies the law equally and ensures all inhabitants the effective enjoyment of their rights.

Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty

As established during the visit, 54.35% of the prison population was unconvicted
												detainees, who therefore now constitute the majority of the population of persons deprived of liberty.

Mandatory Pretrial Detention

Honduras has mandatory pretrial detention, in violation of the right to personal liberty.

Prison Inmates: Internal Control

The most serious problems in the Honduran prison system include the dangerous delegation of internal control of prisons to the prisoners themselves, the corresponding lack of responsible management by authorities, overcrowding, and deplorable incarceration conditions.

Adolescents and Children

Incarcerated adolescents and children lack medical care, cleaning supplies, mattresses, recreational items, and bedclothes.

Armed Forces

The armed forces have been delegated tasks related to the prison system that should be done by other institutions and security forces.

Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the IACHR

Recommendations to Honduras by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Inequality and Social Exclusion

Honduras should adopt urgent public policies to address the high levels of inequality and social exclusion.

Structural Causes of Insecurity

Honduras should adopt comprehensive measures designed to ensure citizen security, attacking the structural causes of violence and combatting impunity.

Independence and Judicial Impartiality

Honduras should guarantee the independence and impartiality of justice operators and their freedom from all types of pressure, and increase the resources earmarked for investigating acts of violence, especially those carried out against vulnerable populations.

Prison Facilities

Honduras should reassert internal control over all prison facilities, adopt the necessary measures to reduce the growth in the prison population, and establish a strategy for removing the armed forces from prison duty.

Demilitarize Citizen Security

Honduras should gradually retire the armed forces from law enforcement activities, as the military lacks proper training to perform this function. These matters should be the exclusive jurisdiction of properly organized and trained civilian police forces.

Land Conflict in Bajo Aguán

Honduras should redouble its efforts to resolve the land conflict in Bajo Aguán. To that end, it must take steps to resolve the causes of the conflict and address the barriers to the exercise, respect, and upholding of the economic, social, and cultural rights of the campesino communities of Bajo Aguán.

Gender-Based Violence

Honduras should take the steps necessary to ensure that cases of gender-based violence are investigated with due diligence and in a timely, complete, and impartial fashion.

Protection of Children and Adolescents

Honduras should strengthen its capacity to protect and defend the rights of children and adolescents.

Labor Rights

Honduras should review its legislation to prevent occupational risks, and implement oversight and control measures that include control of working hours and accessible complaint mechanisms.

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Honduras should protect the effective enjoyment of the right to territory of indigenous peoples, bearing in mind the important role that ancestral territories play in respecting and upholding their rights.
Honduras should implement public policies that tackle the socioeconomic marginalization of indigenous peoples, through effective measures that combat poverty and improve education and employment. Any initiative, program, and policy must be in line with indigenous peoples’ needs and concerns and must be consulted with them.

Migration Policies

Honduras should adopt any policies and measures that may be necessary to deal with the factors that force people to emigrate. It should also work in coordination with the countries of the region to develop joint migration policies with a human rights approach.

Freedom of Expression

Honduras should ensure that there are transparent, public, and equitable criteria for assigning radio frequencies, facilitating access to the greatest number of groups or individuals and ensuring pluralism and diversity in broadcasting.