Honduras Must Demonstrate Genuine Commitment to Freedom of Expression at UN Review

07 May 2015

7 May 2015

The Honduran state must honour its promises to the international community to protect journalists, combat impunity for attacks and safeguard freedom of expression by giving an honest account of progress and shortcomings at the United Nations in Geneva on Friday, PEN International said today.

The second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Honduras’ human rights record will take place in the context of spiralling violence against journalists in the country and ever growing restrictions on their ability to work freely, despite pledges made to the contrary at the previous review in November 2010.

“The UPR of Honduras on 8 May should not just be about making speeches to massage the country’s international image,” said Dina Meza, President of PEN Honduras. “We demand action not words.”

“In addition to accepting recommendations, the Honduran state must present a timetable for planned actions that can be monitored by the international community with the aim of providing a swift response to victims, their family members and society as a whole.”

Tomorrow’s review is likely to include discussion of the Honduran Congress’ approval on 15 April 2015 of a law to protect journalists, social communicators, human rights defenders and legal practitioners, after almost two years in the pipeline. The passing of a law intended to protect journalists is a positive step that PEN has called for in the past.

However, the official protection mechanism established by this law can only be meaningfully implemented if it is allocated sufficient financial, human and technical resources and includes full participation by journalists and other representative civil society bodies.

Moreover, no protection mechanism can improve security if impunity for attacks on journalists is allowed to persist.

Despite commitments made by the Honduran state at the last UPR, the current and previous administrations have displayed a lack of political will to investigate violations of freedom of expression and to protect journalists, while numerous initiatives to combat impunity have borne scant concrete results.

At least 30 journalists have been killed in Honduras since the last UPR and at least 48 since 2003. Convictions have only been obtained for four of these murders, with the remaining 44 unresolved – an impunity rate of almost 92 per cent. Even in cases with convictions, justice is only partial and none of the masterminds have been prosecuted.

Meanwhile, new laws and practices introduced since the last UPR increasingly restrict journalists’ and researchers’ ability to work freely in Honduras.

The 2011 Special Law on Interception of Private Communications has been criticised as contravening the right to privacy and potentially enabling arbitrary surveillance by the state.

The 2014 Law on Official Secrets and Classification of Information effectively abrogates the 2006 access to information law, rendering such access arbitrary and dependent on the whim of individual officials.

Worryingly, the current government has also de-prioritized a pledge made by the previous administration to partially decriminalise defamation, which is still punishable by up to five years in prison. This has a chilling effect on journalists, against whom such suits are sometimes brought with the intention of silencing them – as illustrated by the case of Globo TV journalist, Julio Ernesto Alvarado, a founder member of PEN Honduras.

Alvarado was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment and work ban in December 2013 for reporting on allegations of corruption by a dean of a state university. The Honduran state has to date ignored a November 2014 ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to suspend the sentence while it investigates the case. The case was highlighted by the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for freedom of Expression for World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2015 underlining the importance of decriminalising defamation across the Americas.

Despite the Honduran state’s international commitments to respecting and promoting cultural rights, writers in the country have deplored the lack of investment in the cultural sector and of a long-term policy to promote training, production and research, particularly since the coup.

The state has also failed to deliver on its 2010 promise to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which would give Hondurans the right to make individual complaints to the UN about the violation of these rights.

PEN International calls on the Honduran authorities to:

  • Improve investigations into crimes against journalists by developing adequately resourced, specialised protocols within the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público) that prioritise any links with their profession, and by ensuring that all prosecutors and police involved in such investigations have a thorough understanding of journalistic work and human rights
  • Ensure that the new journalist protection law is effectively implemented via sufficient financial, human and technical resources and meaningful participation by journalists and other representative civil society bodies
  • Decriminalise defamation and make it a civil offence
  • Review the Law on Official Secrets and Classification of Information to ensure that it cannot be used to unlawfully restrict the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to receive information
  • Repeal the Special Law on Interception of Private Communications and ensure that that all current surveillance practices are reviewed to ensure that they meet international standards on the right to privacy and freedom of expression
  • Develop and implement a properly funded and non-discriminatory national policy to encourage training, production and research in culture and the arts in full consultation with all sectors of civil society
  • Sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

To read PEN’s full recommendations, click here.

To read PEN’s shadow report to the UN, click here.

To sign a petition to the Honduran state to suspend the sentence of Julio Ernesto Alvarado in line with the IACHR’s ruling, click here (Spanish only).

To read a statement by PEN Honduras, click here.