Upcoming UN review critical moment for Honduras to address civic freedom gaps

CIVICUS, the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD) and the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (ASONOG) call on UN member states to urge the Government of Honduras to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN on 5 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 30 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Honduras subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to guarantee the freedom of expression and the media, to ensure laws, policies and mechanisms that recognise and protect the work of civil society and to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment, in which human rights defenders can operate free from hindrance and insecurity. In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. Although some positive change occurred and a protection mechanism for HRDs and journalists was established, the mechanism remained ineffective, and not enough progress has been made to investigate and punish those responsible for attacks and crimes against HRDs.

The situation of indigenous, environmental and land rights HRDs remain critical, as evidenced by the brutal murder of Berta Cáceres in March 2016 and the several that others that followed; Honduras has remained one of the deadliest countries in the world for environmental activism. In addition to physical violence, HRDs have continued to face arrests on fabricated charges, travel bans and other restrictions of their freedom of movement, defamation lawsuits, smear campaigns, threats and acts of sabotage, illegal searches and illegal surveillance.

Freedom of expression remains restricted by legislation, including through the use of defamation statutes, and by threats and violence against journalists – particularly those who denounce corruption and the impacts of extractive megaprojects.

Although there have been some positive legal changes with regards to freedom of association, organisations and activists working on politically sensitive issues remain limited in practice due to stigmatisation, criminalisation and harassment. Workers continued to face severe obstacles when trying to exercise union freedom and collective bargaining rights.

Current legislation imposes time and place restrictions on demonstrations, criminalises common protest tactics and authorises the police to prohibit demonstrations obstructing free circulation and to dissolve any assembly incurring in a variety of broadly defined crimes against public order. Peaceful demonstrations, particularly by students, indigenous, peasant and environmental movements, are frequently dissolved with excessive force, typically leading to people being arrested or injured, and occasionally resulting in fatalities.

In light of these concerns, UN member states must use the UPR of Honduras to call on the government to protect HRDs and civil society activists and to undertake the necessary legal and policy reforms to guarantee civic freedoms. The UPR will be an opportunity to hold Honduras accountable for the persistently high levels of violence make Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world for HRDs and journalists.

The examination of Honduras will take place during the 36th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, that examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.

Civic space in Honduras is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor