Human Rights Watch: Xiomara Castro’s government has failed to fulfill its promise to strengthen human rights.

On Thursday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented its world report on human rights, encompassing over 100 countries. Regarding Honduras, the report states that Xiomara Castro’s government has failed to fulfill one of its campaign promises: “to strengthen human rights”. The report includes data on the murder of human rights defenders, femicides, migration and human rights violations. It underscores that the country, for many years, has suffered from “systemic corruption, political interference in the judicial system, insecurity”, among others.

Texto: Leonardo Aguilar Fotografía: Jorge Cabrera

“President Xiomara Castro’s government has failed to fulfill its promise to strengthen human rights and democratic institutions in the country,” wrote Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its annual report on human rights 2024, released Thursday.

The HRW report highlighted that between January and August 2023, 236 human rights defenders suffered “harassment, threats or attacks”, while at least 13 were killed in the same year. It also noted that 11 defenders were killed in 2022.

HRW highlighted in its report how dangerous it is to be an environmental and land defender in Honduras. Citing data from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras, HRW indicated that “more than 90% of the defenders killed were environmental and land defenders”.

READ: Deaths of social activists reopen wounds in the Aguán Valley

Another criticism raised by HRW is the “serious shortcomings” of the Protection Mechanism created by Honduras in 2015 to protect journalists, human rights defenders and justice operators.

“The mechanism lacks financial autonomy, qualified staff with human rights expertise and the trust of defenders, who fear giving out personal information that could end up in the hands of those who attack them,” HRW stressed.

In response to the report, the head of the Secretariat for Human Rights in Honduras, Natalie Roque -who has been accused by human rights defenders of “derailing” the Protection Mechanism- published on her Twitter account on January 9th that the Honduran Government was committed to “the defense of human rights, the strengthening of the rule of law and the fight against corruption”.

The Minister of Human Rights added that “if some do not want to recognize this, it is because nothing our government does will be recognized by those who have never sought the common good and only look after their own interests”.

The Minister of Human Rights invoked a resolution adopted by the General Assembly at its seventy-eighth session on the “Fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras” which, she said, praised “the constant efforts of the Government”, and added that the evaluation of the Millennium Development Account in 2023 revealed “substantial progress in key areas such as fiscal policy, inflation, gender in the economy, political rights and civil liberties”.

Within the realm of civil liberties, HRW brought to light the precarious situation faced by lawyer Gabriela Castellanos, who serves as the director of the National Anti-Corruption Council. It was revealed that she had to depart Honduras in June 2023 due to threats she received subsequent to publishing a report on nepotism within the government. 

“Castellanos returned after a month and continued to denounce corrupt practices,” said HRW.

READ: Threats to Gabriela Castellanos warn about politicization of civil society protection by the government

HRW indicated that Honduras suffers from “systemic corruption, political interference in the judicial system, insecurity, a very high percentage of its population living in poverty and lethal attacks against environmental defenders”.

Regarding political interference in the judicial system, HRW criticized the the selection process of the Supreme Court of Justice in February 2023, where “the political parties divided the vacancies among themselves”; however, it highlighted a positive development that congressmen “this time selected from a merit-based list prepared by a nominating board, which was an advancement compared to previous processes”.

HRW echoed the discontent voiced by civil society regarding the proposing board’s role in selecting the attorney general in Honduras. The board sent a list of five candidates to the National Congress, a process that was influenced by “political interests.”

Minister Ricardo Salgado, current head of the Secretariat of Strategic Planning, was included on the Engel List late last year, accused by the US State Department of undermining democratic processes or institutions by leading coordinated efforts by groups loyal to the Free Party “to suppress dissent by violently intimidating opposition legislators calling for a legislative session on October 31, 2023”. In addition to Salgado, Honduran businessman of Pakistani origin Mohammad Yusuf Amdani, and businessman Cristian Adolfo Sánchez were also included.

READ: Interim Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General sworn in by permanent commission amid political conflict

According to HRW,  based on official data from 2021, nearly 80% of Hondurans in rural areas lived in poverty, with incomes below $7 per day. Additionally, almost all of them live in extreme poverty, earning below $4 per day. As of March 2023, official data indicated that 14% of Hondurans could not read or write. 

HRW explained that remittances represented almost 8% of the total source of income of Hondurans, representing 27% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. The NGO noted that this constitutes “the highest rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to 2022 data from the World Bank.

Regarding public safety, HRW stated that Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world, with 3,661 homicides reported by the police in 2022, a rate of 38 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

On January 1, President Xiomara Castro expressed her approval of the decision to transfer control of the 25 penitentiaries to the Armed Forces and the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP). She stated that this move was  “right.” Additionally, she asserted that the enforcement of the state of exception, coupled with the operation against crime and the Plan Fe y Esperanza, led to a significant reduction in crime previously orchestrated from prisons. This reduction extended to the confiscation of weapons, control over municipalities, and communication equipment.

The HRW report contains information on femicides and the infringement of sexual and reproductive rights, positioning Honduras among the countries with one of the highest rates of femicides in Latin America. The report references studies conducted by the Women’s Rights Center, revealing a recorded count of 317 femicides from January to September 2023.

READ: The State vs. Ellas: Chronicles of Injustice to Women

“Abortion is illegal in Honduras in all circumstances, with penalties of up to six years in prison for those who undergo abortions and for those who perform them. In March, newly appointed Supreme Court justices upheld an earlier ruling rejecting the argument that the ban was unconstitutional,” HRW said.

The statement also criticizes violations of the rights of persons with disabilities, emphasizing deficiencies in public infrastructure, difficulties in accessing jobs, mistreatment in public transportation services, and poor access to information. It also highlights that according to a 2022 report by the Ombudsman’s Office, “14% of Hondurans have some type of physical, sensory, intellectual or psychosocial disability”.

On migration, HRW indicated that between January and September 2023, the Mexican government reported that 31,055 Hondurans requested asylum in Mexico, second to Haitians. In addition, it highlighted that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Honduras “continue to suffer a high degree of violence and discrimination in all aspects of their lives, which pushes some to leave the country”.

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News editor and reporter at Contracorriente. Lawyer and journalist, having graduated from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, Valle de Sula (UNAM-VS). He has worked in radio, for print media, and as a web and investigative journalist. He has worked with environmental organizations and on investigations into forced displacement as a result of violence linked to drug smuggling.
Total Posts: 37
Nicaraguan and Honduran nationality. Photojournalist with 20 years of experience covering international content. "Photojournalism has been present in my life for more than two decades and continues to be so day after day. "

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