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HONDURAS - Criminal Code Stokes Concerns

The international community is flagging up concerns about a new criminal code which has been approved in Honduras and is due to take effect in November. In particular, organisations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

In a joint statement published on 12 July signalling fears about the new criminal code, the IACHR and OHCHR question the inclusion of crimes of “unlawful assembly and demonstration”, “disturbance of order”, and “terrorist association”, warning that these would affect the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Both organisations consider the definition of “terrorist association” too broad, warning it could lead to the criminalisation of a wide range of conduct that does not merit the definition of terrorism in accordance with human rights standards.

The concerns come a week after international human rights NGO Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement accusing the Hernández administration of “excessive use of force” against demonstrators. According to AI at least six people have died in the long-running protests and dozens have been injured, “many of them by firearms fired by security forces since the beginning of this wave of demonstrations”.

The IACHR and OHCHR also flagged up concerns about press freedom which were shared by IAPA. In a statement dated 18 July the press freedom watchdog complains that the new legislation maintains criminalisation of offences against honour and “imposes imprisonment for dissemination of reserved official information”. IAPA also points out that the new criminal code only reduces but does not eliminate punishment by imprisonment for libel offences – from three years to between six months and one year. These concerns come as Honduras already suffers the ignominy of ranking worst in Central America in press freedom indices. The most recent (April 2019) World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Honduras 146th out of 180 countries, down from 141st in 2018. The 2019 ranking for Honduras compares with Costa Rica (10th), El Salvador (81st), Guatemala (116th), Nicaragua (114th), and Panama (79th).

A further cause for concern regarding the new criminal code is the fact that it reduces prison sentences for drug trafficking from 15-20 years to between four and 10 years. Cynics point to the fact that President Hernández’s brother Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández, a former PN deputy (2013-2017), was charged in November 2018 in the US with drug trafficking, among other offences and President Hernández was recently on the defensive over revelations that in 2015 he was targeted in an investigation of large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) since “at least in or about 2013”

It also comes as the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Maccih), sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS), presented an injunction in May against 12 citizens accused of being part of a scheme that allowed the laundering of money from international drug trafficking through contracts awarded by the state, with former president Porfirio Lobo (PN, 2010-2014) among those implicated.

  • Lobo accused

The investigation regarding Porfirio Lobo, whose son, Fabio, received a 24-year prison sentence in the US for drug trafficking in September 2017, arose from declarations involving plea-bargain testimony provided by a former leader of the Honduran drug-trafficking organisation (DTO) Los Cachiros, Devís Leonel Rivera Maradiaga. Maccih cites Rivera as stating that he encountered Lobo in 2009 and gave him money for his election campaign, suggesting that “in return they would form companies…which [once the election was won] could be given contracts by the state”. Accordingly, Rivera set up a company, INRIMAR, which was awarded state contracts, with the purpose of the assignment of these contracts “basically to prestige and legitimize the company INRIMAR, to be able to launder money from international drug trafficking through that company”.