About 90% of the population of Honduras is mestizo. There also are small minorities of European, African, Asian, Arab, and indigenous Indian descent. Most Hondurans are Roman Catholic, but Protestant churches are growing in number. Spanish is the predominant language, although some English is spoken along the northern coast and is prevalent on the Caribbean Bay Islands. Several indigenous Indian languages and Garifuna (a black Caribe/African language) also are spoken. The restored Mayan ruins near the Guatemalan border in Copan reflect the great Mayan culture that flourished there for hundreds of years until the early 9th century. Columbus landed at mainland Honduras (Trujillo) in 1502. He named the area "Honduras" (meaning "depths") for the deep water off the coast. Spaniard Hernan Cortes arrived in 1524. The Spanish founded several settlements along the coast, and Honduras formed part of the Colonial era Captaincy General of Guatemala. The cities of Comayagua and Tegucigalpa developed as early mining centers.
Honduras, along with the other Central American provinces, gained independence from Spain in 1821; the country then briefly was annexed to the Mexican Empire. In 1823, Honduras joined the newly formed United Provinces of Central America. Social and economic differences between Honduras and its regional neighbors exacerbated harsh partisan strife among Central American leaders and brought on the federation's collapse in 1838. Gen. Francisco Morazan--a Honduran national hero--led unsuccessful efforts to maintain the federation, and restoring Central American unity remained the chief aim of Honduran foreign policy until after World War I. Since independence, Honduras has been plagued with nearly 300 internal rebellions, civil wars, and changes of government--more than half occurring during the 20th century. The country traditionally lacked both an economic infrastructure and social and political integration. Its agriculturally based economy came to be dominated in the 1900s by U.S. companies that established vast banana plantations along the north coast. Foreign capital, plantation life, and conservative politics held sway in Honduras from the late 19th until the mid-20th century. During the relatively stable years of the Great Depression, authoritarian Gen. Tiburcio Carias Andino controlled Honduras. His ties to dictators in neighboring countries and to U.S. banana companies helped him maintain power until 1948. By then, provincial military leaders had begun to gain control of the two major parties, the Nationalists and the Liberals.
In October 1955--after two authoritarian administrations and a general strike by banana workers on the north coast in 1954--young military reformists staged a palace coup that installed a provisional junta and paved the way for constituent assembly elections in 1957. This assembly appointed Dr. Ramon Villeda Morales as president and transformed itself into a national legislature with a 6-year term. The Liberal Party ruled during 1957-63. At the same time, the military took its first steps to become a professional institution independent of leadership from any one political party, and the newly created military academy graduated its first class in 1960. In October 1963, conservative military officers preempted constitutional elections and deposed Villeda in a bloody coup. These officers exiled Liberal Party members and took control of the national police. The armed forces, led by Gen. Lopez Arellano, governed until 1970. Popular discontent continued to rise after a 1969 border war with El Salvador. A civilian president--Ramon Cruz of the National Party--took power briefly in 1970 but proved unable to manage the government. In December 1972, Gen. Lopez staged another coup. Lopez adopted more progressive policies, including land reform, but his regime was brought down in the mid-1970s by corruption scandals. Gen. Lopez' successors continued armed forces modernization programs, building army and security forces, and concentrating on Honduran air force superiority over its neighbors. The regimes of Gen. Melgar Castro (1975-78) and Gen. Paz Garcia (1978-83) largely built the current physical infrastructure and telecommunications system of Honduras. The country also enjoyed its most rapid economic growth during this period, due to greater international demand for its products and the availability of foreign commercial lending.
Following the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua in 1979 and general instability in El Salvador at the time, the Honduran military accelerated plans to return the country to civilian rule. A constituent assembly was popularly elected in April 1980 and general elections were held in November 1981. A new constitution was approved in 1982, and the Liberal Party government of President Roberto Suazo Cordoba took office following free and fair elections power. Suazo relied on U.S. support to help with a severe economic recession and with the threat posed by the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua amid a brutal civil war in El Salvador. Close cooperation on political and military issues with the United States was complemented by ambitious social and economic development projects sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Honduras became host to the largest Peace Corps mission in the world, and nongovernmental and international voluntary agencies proliferated.
As the November 1985 election approached, the Liberal Party had difficulty settling on a candidate, and interpreted election law as permitting multiple presidential candidates from one party. The Liberal Party claimed victory when its presidential candidates, who received 42% of the vote, collectively outpolled the National Party candidate, Rafael Leonardo Callejas. Jose Azcona Hoyo, the candidate receiving the most votes among the Liberals, assumed the presidency in January 1986. With the endorsement of the Honduran military, the Azcona administration ushered in the first peaceful transfer of power between civilian presidents in more than 30 years. Four years later, Rafael Callejas won the presidential election, taking office in January 1990. Callejas concentrated on economic reform, reducing the deficit, and taking steps to deal with an overvalued exchange rate and major structural barriers to investment. He began the movement to place the military under civilian control and laid the groundwork for the creation of the public ministry (Attorney General's office).
Despite his administration's economic reforms, the nation's fiscal deficit ballooned during Callejas' last year in office. Growing public dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living and with widespread government corruption led voters in 1993 to elect Liberal Party candidate Carlos Roberto Reina over National Party contender Oswaldo Ramos Soto, with Reina winning 56% of the vote. President Reina, elected on a platform calling for a "moral revolution," actively prosecuted corruption and pursued those responsible for human rights abuses in the 1980s. He created a modern attorney general's office and an investigative police force and was successful in increasing civilian control over the armed forces and transferring the police from military to civilian authority. Reina also restored national fiscal health by substantially increasing Central Bank net international reserves, reducing inflation, restoring economic growth, and, perhaps most importantly, holding down spending.
Carlos Roberto Flores Facusse took office on January 27, 1998, as Honduras' fifth democratically elected president since democratic institutions were restored in 1981. Like three of his four predecessors, Flores was a member of the Liberal Party. He was elected by a 10% margin over his main opponent, National Party nominee Nora de Melgar. Upon taking office on January 27, 1998, Flores inaugurated programs of reform and modernization of the Honduran Government and economy, with emphasis on helping Honduras' poorest citizens while maintaining the country's fiscal health and improving international competitiveness. In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, leaving more than 5,000 people dead and 1.5 million displaced. Damages totaled nearly $3 billion. The Honduran Government agreed to a new transparent process to manage relief funds, which included significant donor oversight. This open process greatly facilitated the relief and reconstruction effort. President Flores and his administration have successfully managed more than $600 million in international assistance. Civil society's role in the government-coordinated reconstruction process has been lauded internationally. President Flores also forwarded judicial and penal reforms. He established an anticorruption commission, supported passage of a new penal code based on the oral accusatorial system, and saw passage of a law that creates an independent Supreme Court. Flores cemented the transition from military to civilian rule by eliminating the commander in chief position, and by signing a law that establishes civilian control formally over the military. Ricardo Maduro Joest of the National Party was elected to the Honduran presidency on November 25, 2001, outpolling the Liberal candidate, Rafael Pineda Ponce, by 8%. He will be inaugurated on January 27, 2002. The elections, characterized by international observer teams as free, fair, and peaceful, reflected the maturing of Honduras' democratic institutions. During his campaign, President-elect Maduro promised to reduce crime, reinvigorate the economy, and fight corruption.
Honduras is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America. The country has a population of slightly more than 6 million. Annual per capita income is approximately $920; about two-thirds of the country's households live in poverty, and 40 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. The economy is based mostly on agriculture, which accounted for 15% of GDP in 1999. Coffee accounted for 26% ($340 million) of total Honduran export revenues in 2000. However, plummeting world coffee prices in 2001 caused coffee export revenues to fall by 50% during the year. Bananas, formerly the country's second-largest export until being virtually wiped out by 1998's Hurricane Mitch, recovered in 2000 to 57% of pre-Mitch levels. The banana sector continued to recover in 2001 and is estimated to generate some $210 million in export revenues, equal to pre-Mitch levels. Cultivated shrimp are another important export generating $125 million in 2001. Honduras has extensive forest, marine, and mineral resources, although widespread slash-and-burn agricultural methods continue to destroy Honduran forests. Remittances from Hondurans living abroad (mostly in the United States--rose 28% to $410 million in 2000 and were expected to rise in 2001 to $450-$500 million. The currency (lempira) has only moderately devalued in nominal terms over the past year.
Unemployment is estimated at around 4.0%, though underemployment is much higher. The Honduran economy grew 4.7% in 2000, recovering from the Mitch-induced recession (-1.9%) of 1999. The Honduran maquiladora sector, the second-largest in the world, continued its strong performance in 2000, providing employment to more than 125,000 workers and generating over $528 million in foreign exchange for the country. The economic slowdown in the U.S. caused Honduras' maquila sector growth to stagnate in 2001 and employment in the sector to drop to about 115,000.
Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, was 10.1% in 2000, down slightly from the 10.9% recorded in 1999. The country's international reserve position continued to be strong in 2000, at slightly over $1 billion.
The country signed an Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF)--later converted to a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in March 1999. While Honduras continues to maintain stable macroeconomic policies, it has lagged in implementing structural reforms, such as privatization of the publicly owned telephone and energy distribution companies. Honduras received significant debt relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, including the suspension of bilateral debt-service payments and bilateral debt reduction by the Paris Club--including the U.S.--worth more than $400 million. In July 2000, Honduras reached its decision point under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), qualifying the country for interim multilateral debt relief. In 2001, the IMF approved Honduras' third year PRGF, and together with the World Bank, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, which makes Honduras eligible for interim debt relief and qualify for $556 million in debt relief in present value terms at its completion point in December 2002.
The constitution guarantees religious freedom and the separation of church and state; however, the Roman Catholic Church has been a powerful institution in Honduras since colonial times. As a result of various tensions between the church and the state throughout the centuries, in the 1880s the Roman Catholic Church was stripped of some of its economic and political power. Nevertheless, in the twentieth century the church has remained an important social actor, and the vast majority of Hondurans have remained Roman Catholic. Church schools receive government subsidies, and religious instruction is part of the public school curriculum.
The Roman Catholic Church in Honduras launched an ambitious evangelical campaign in the 1950s. The program's aim was to invigorate church membership and encourage more active participation in church activities. By the 1960s and 1970s, this activism had grown among certain sectors of the church into denunciations of the military's repression and the government's exploitation of the poor. This social activist phase in the Roman Catholic Church ended after large landowners in Olancho brutally murdered ten peasants, two students, and two priests in 1975. After this incident, the government took measures to dissuade the more activist factions in the church from continuing their actions. Expulsions and arrests of foreign priests took place, and some peasant centers with ties to the church were forced to close. The Roman Catholic Church retreated from its emphasis on social activism during the last half of the 1970s but resumed its criticism of government policies during the 1980s.
Protestant, especially evangelical, churches have undergone a tremendous growth in membership during the 1980s. The largest numbers are found in Methodist, Church of God, Seventh Day Adventist, and Assemblies of God denominations. These churches sponsor social service programs in many communities, making them attractive to the lower classes. The evangelical leadership generally exerts a conservative influence on the political process.
Although Protestant membership was estimated at only 100,000 in 1990, growth of Protestant churches is apparently seen as a threat by Roman Catholic leaders. Instances of criticism leveled at evangelicals by Roman Catholic leaders have increased; however, such criticisms have generally been ineffective in stemming the rise of converts to Protestant denominations.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
The crime rate in Honduras is low compared to industrialized countries, with the important exception of murder. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Honduras. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Honduras will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 154.02 per 100,000 population for Honduras, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.3 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was 1.17 for Honduras, compared with 1.48 for Japan and 34.4 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1998 was 5.12 for Honduras, 2.71 for Japan, and 165.2 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 44.4 for Honduras, 15.40 for Japan, and 360.5 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1998 was 4.28 for Honduras, 187.93 for Japan, and 862.0 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1998 was 3.23 for Honduras, 1198.13 for Japan, and 2728.1 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was 25.83 for Honduras, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 459.0 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 238.05 for Honduras, compared with 1435.12 for Japan and 4615.5 for USA. (Note: data were not reported to INTERPOL by the USA for 1998, but were derived from the Uniform Crime Report for 1998) While these data indicate a low crime rate for Honduras, it should be noted that the majority of index crimes are accounted for by one crime - murder. The rate of murder in 1998 for Hunduras was extraordinary, more than 24 times that of the USA, which is considered to have a high murder rate.
TRENDS IN CRIME
Between 1995 and 1998, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder increased from 28.8 per 100,000 population to 154.02, an increase of 434.8%. The rate for rape increased from .37 to 1.17, an increase of 333.3%. The rate of robbery decreased from 6.86 to 5.12, a decrease of 25.4%. The rate for aggravated assault decreased from 49.48 to 44.4, a decrease of 10.3%. The rate for burglary increased from 1.89 to 4.28, an increase of 126.5%. Hunduras did not report the rate of larceny to INTERPOL in 1995. The rate of motor vehicle theft increased from 20.47 to 25.83, an increase of 25.83. The rate of total index offenses increased from 107.77 to 238.05, an increase of 120.9% (an increase partly accounted for by the omission of larceny for 1995).
The legal system of Hunduras is rooted in Roman and Spanish civil law with increasing influence of English common law; recent judicial reforms include abandoning Napoleonic legal codes in favor of the oral adversarial system.
A 1999 constitutional amendment established direct civilian control over the armed forces through a civilian Minister of Defense. The amendment also replaced the position of the armed forces commander in chief with that of Chief of the Joint Staff. In April Congress passed the Organic Law of the Armed Forces to solidify civilian control over the military, a process that has taken a decade. The Organic Law came into effect in October. In January the Armed Forces made public its budget--$41.5 million (643 million lempiras)--for the first time. The National Preventive Police (formerly a paramilitary force known as the FUSEP) were placed under civilian control in 1997. The police handle public security, counternarcotics, and border patrol duties. The Ministry of Security oversees police operations. The military are authorized to support law enforcement activities with police upon presidential authority. The military continued to participate in joint patrols with police to prevent and combat high levels of criminal and gang activity. While civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, members of the security forces sometimes act independently of government authority regarding human rights abuses. Members of the police have continued to commit human rights abuses.
The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, serious problems remain. Members of the security forces have committed some extrajudicial killings. Well-organized private and vigilante security forces are alleged to have committed a number of arbitrary and summary executions. Human rights groups have accused former security force officials and the business community of colluding to organize "death squads" to commit extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, particularly of youth. Security force personnel beat and otherwise abuse detainees and other persons. Although the civilian courts consider allegations of human rights violations or common crimes against armed forces personnel, and some cases go to trial, there are few, if any, convictions. While no senior Government official, politician, or bureaucrat, or member of the business elite was convicted of crimes, a number were under investigation during the year 2001. The Government removed or demoted more than 200 military officials, police officers, police agents and investigators, and judges from office on corruption and other charges.
There have been no reports of political killings by government agents; however, members of the security forces are suspected of involvement in approximately 24 of the estimated 603 extrajudicial, arbitrary, and summary killings of youth and minors from 1998 to August 2001. The Public Ministry (Attorney General's office) or the police were unable to identify suspects due to a lack of evidence in more than 50 percent of these killings. Through October 2001, an estimated 300 youths, age 21 and under, were killed, of whom 60 victims were reported to have been shot by masked men in vehicles. Human rights groups have alleged that individual members of the security forces have worked with civilian (including vigilante) groups and have used unwarranted lethal force against supposed habitual criminals or suspected gang members, as well as other youth not known to be involved in criminal activity. Several groups have pushed for investigations into specific incidents, while others have claimed to have provided public prosecutors with evidence of collusion between police elements and business leaders with regard to these murders. The Inter-Agency Commission on Extrajudicial Killings created in August 2000, which consists of the district attorneys for human rights and children, the National Institute of the Family and the Child, the Supreme Court, and the investigative police unit, opened investigations in approximately 300 of the 600 cases.
In August, 2001, at the invitation of the Government, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions visited the country to investigate these allegations and prepare a report. During her 2-week visit, she met freely with government officials and children's and human rights groups, and interviewed witnesses and family members of youth who had been murdered in a summary or arbitrary fashion. She was provided with evidence of 66 minors killed by police and private security forces from January to June. During her visit, she noted the Government's negligence in investigating or preventing extrajudicial and summary executions. Her report is expected to be published in 2002. The Ministry of Security, which has been the focus of criticism of the killings, publicly denied accusations that the police force as a whole has been involved in extrajudicial killings, although it admitted that individual police have been accused of extrajudicial killings. During the year, 2001, the authorities sought or detained 18 police officials for their involvement in the killings of various individuals, some of whom were minors. At year's end, a total of 16 officers were in prison either awaiting trial or serving a sentence, and there were arrest warrants for 2 others.
Violent crime has continued to fuel the growth of private--often unlicensed--guard services, and of volunteer groups that patrolled their neighborhoods or municipalities to deter crime. Vigilante justice led to the killing of known and suspected criminals, as well as youth in gangs, street children, and youth not known to be involved in criminal activity. Neighborhood watch groups called Citizen Security Councils (CSC's) originally were authorized by a previous Minister of Security, and some of them have been accused of taking the law into their own hands. Human rights groups have criticized the CSC's, which they viewed as active participants in the increasing number of extrajudicial and summary killings. For example, in May, 2001, Villanueva resident Jose Villeda Fernandez was found dead after a number of neighbors reported seeing the city's vigilante committee detain him on April 30. The vigilante committee was armed with weapons provided by the mayor's office. In October the Minister of Security and the Catholic Church stated publicly that youth murders, although a serious problem, were not organized by death squads. However, many human rights activists have continued to state publicly their belief that some of the CSC's, as well as private security companies with ties to former military or police officials, were acting as vigilantes or death squads, especially targeting youth. A high level government security official has acknowledged that individual police are likely to be involved. The continued proliferation of private security forces and CSC's made it more difficult to differentiate among homicides that may have been perpetrated by government security personnel, private vigilante groups, gangs, or common criminals. In order to impose some control over security services, in April the Ministry of Security registered approximately 1,000 employees of 18 private security firms.
Several "murders for hire" occurred during the year 2001, usually related to land disputes or criminal activities. In February the Peralta Torres family was shot and killed at their home in Colon by unknown assailants, supposedly for opposing a local narcotrafficker. In February the president of a farmers' cooperative, Felix Roque, was murdered in Selva Azul, Copan department, in the presence of his 12-year-old son. The land farmed by the cooperative is under dispute. Also in February, farmer activist and cooperative president Jose Antonio Santos Lopez drowned under suspicious circumstances in Jesus de Otoro, Intibuca department. In June Carlos Flores was murdered at his home, allegedly by security guards hired by Energisa, a private company developing a hydroelectric project in Gualaco, Olancho, due to his opposition to the project. No one was arrested in any of these cases. There have been no developments in the 2000 murder cases of social activist Jairo Amilcar Ayala Nunez; community leader Ruben Elvir; forestry cooperative officials Marciano Martinez Ramirez and Victor Manuel Almendares; or of the 2000 murders of Concepcion Alvarez and his family, Copan mayor Hugo Alvarado, or the 1999 murder of Cabanas mayor Juan Ramon Alvarado--all of whom were killed in land disputes.
In August Casa Alianza reported that 800 children and youth, only some of whom lived on the street, were killed in "social cleansing" killings between January 1998 and May. Casa Alianza's information was collected from press reports. The majority of the killings occurred in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, and during the year, an increased share of killings were reportedly committed by masked armed men in drive-by shootings targeting unarmed youth. In August the Public Ministry narrowed down the Casa Alianza list to 603 victims of extrajudicial or summary killings between 1998 and 2001, of which 60 percent were minors. As of August, the Public Ministry had identified extrajudicial executions committed over the 3-year period by 18 uniformed police, 16 of whom are in prison and 2 are at large. The Public Ministry is investigating 36 other cases with the characteristics of extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. In August 2000, the Government established a joint special commission of the Public Ministry (Attorney General's Office) and the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DGIC), to investigate extrajudicial killings of minors. During the year 2001, the Ministry of Security, through its investigative police and forensic investigators, and the Public Ministry continued active investigation into 300 of the 603 cases of unsolved murders of youth since 1998. None of the agencies reported uncovering any information suggesting that these deaths were caused by organized groups.
The law does not prohibit forced disappearance. According to national human rights groups, on June 9, 2001, 39-year-old Rigoberto Martinez Lagos disappeared. He last was seen leaving his house in Tegucigalpa to meet a police investigative agent regarding a stolen car. Martinez Lagos was a member of a guerrilla group in the 1980's. The Public Ministry was unable to pursue the case further due to lack of evidence.
The Constitution prohibits torture; however, there have been isolated instances in which officials employed such practices. In addition, police beatings and other alleged abuses of detainees remained problems.
The police force, which includes the Preventive Police and the DGIC, is subject to investigation by the Internal Affairs office regarding public complaints of police behavior. The Internal Affairs office reports to the Minister of Security. The Preventive Police and the DGIC each have an Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which conduct internal reviews of police misconduct such as off-duty criminal conduct and ethics violations. An OPR ruling is reported to the Minister of Security, who can take disciplinary action or direct a supervisor to decide upon disciplinary action for minor infractions. Some human rights groups reported that the reorganization that took place in 2000 has increased impartial judgments of police behavior.
The Ministry of Security suspended or dismissed numerous agents and officers in both the DGIC and the Preventive Police for corruption and abuse of authority during the year 2001. In May the Ministry of Security received congressional authority to fire security officials and agents without needing to provide proof of incompetent, corrupt, or abusive behavior. The Security authorities dismissed more than 100 police officers and DGIC agents during the year 2001, similar to the number of officers and agents dismissed in 2000. As of November, the Public Ministry had received 330 complaints of police abuse.
The police forces are underfunded, undertrained, and understaffed, and corruption is a problem. There is widespread frustration at the inability of the security forces to prevent and control crime. Gang violence and intimidation in poor neighborhoods, kidnappings of the wealthy and well-known, and the well-founded perception that corrupt security personnel have been complicit in the high crime rate led to growing support among a large segment of the general public for vigilante justice.
The Constitution specifies that a person's home is inviolable, that persons employed by the State may enter only with the owner's consent or with the prior authorization of a competent legal authority, and that entry may take place only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. There is an exception that allows entry at any time in the event of an emergency or to prevent the commission of a crime. However, as in previous years, there have been credible charges that police personnel failed at times to obtain the needed authorization before entering a private home. Coordination among the police, the courts, and the Public Ministry remained weak.
In a number of instances, the security forces have actively dislodged farmers and indigenous groups who claimed ownership of lands based on land reform laws or ancestral titles to property. Since January 2001, private security guards, with support from regional police, have blocked access to farmland for villages surrounding Gualaco, Olancho department in a local conflict over development of an energy project, which led to the murder of one farmer activist. In June an estimated 400 farmer families occupied national land that had been sold illegally to others in the Trujillo, Colon area. The families received threats from security forces allied with the illegal landowners until central government authorities interceded. In August the preventive police dislodged 1,000 Afro-Caribbean, also called Garifuna, residents near Sambo Creek, Colon, with tear gas during a land dispute with a local landowner. A number of farm cooperatives experience constant threats of dislocation from local police and military authorities who support local landowners. Some individuals who lose disputed lands to farmer cooperatives as a result of government adjudication at times act with impunity and kill cooperative leaders.
The law provides for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the authorities occasionally fail to observe these legal requirements. The law states that the police may arrest a person only with a court order, unless the arrest is made during the commission of a crime, and that they must clearly inform the person of the grounds for the arrest. The Preventive Police detain suspects and can investigate only petty crimes. The police must bring a detainee before a competent authority within 24 hours; the judge or district attorney then must issue an initial, temporary holding order within 24 hours, make an initial decision within 6 days, and conduct a preliminary investigation to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation. Less stringent rules of detention apply when the police catch a suspect in a criminal act; in that case, the authorities may hold a suspect for up to 6 days before a temporary holding order is issued.
While bail is legally available, it is granted primarily for medical reasons; however, procedures in such cases are confused and unclear. Poor defendants, even when represented by a public defender, seldom are able to take advantage of bail. Lengthy pretrial detention is a serious problem; a March 2000 study estimated that 92 percent of detainees were awaiting trial, some for over 5 years. The average length of detention was approximately 22 months, and over 90 percent of all prisoners neither had been tried nor sentenced.
The 1996 Unsentenced Prisoner Law mandates the release from prison of any detainee whose case has not come to trial and whose time in detention exceeds the maximum prison sentence for the crime of which he is accused. However, the antiquated criminal justice system, judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lack of resources clog the criminal system with pretrial detainees, many of whom already have served time in prison equivalent to the maximum allowable for the crime of which they were accused. In April 2000, the Government estimated that as many as 3,017 prisoners qualified for release under the Unsentenced Prisoner Law, that 3 officers were required to monitor each person, and that the annual cost of enforcing this law was approximately $6.7 million (100 million lempiras). The Government already has implemented one regulation under the new Criminal Procedures Code that allows house arrest until trial of persons over the age of 60 accused of nonfelony crimes, women who are pregnant or lactating, and the terminally ill.
Many prisoners remain in jail after being acquitted or completing their sentences, due to the failure of responsible officials to process their releases. A significant number of defendants have served the maximum possible sentence for the crime of which they were accused before their trials were concluded, or even begun. For example, in March 2001, the authorities released without trial a man who originally was arrested in 1990 for marijuana possession because his file was lost in an office fire, and there is no record of his charges or proceedings.
The judicial branch of government consists of a Supreme Court of Justice, courts of appeal, courts of first instance (Juzgados de Letras), and justices of the peace. The Supreme Court, which is the court of last resort, has nine principal justices and seven alternates. The Supreme Court has fourteen constitutional powers and duties. These include the appointment of judges and justices of the lower courts and public prosecutors; the power to declare laws to be unconstitutional; the power to try high-ranking government officials when the National Congress has declared that there are grounds for impeachment; and publication of the court's official record, the Gaceta Judicial. The court has three chambers-- civil, criminal, and labor--with three justices assigned to each chamber.
Organizationally below the Supreme Court are the courts of appeal. These courts are three-judge panels that hear all appeals from the lower courts, including civil, commercial, criminal and habeas corpus cases. To be eligible to sit on these courts, the judges must be attorneys and at least twenty-five years old. In the early 1990s, there were nine courts of appeal, four in Tegucigalpa, two in San Pedro Sula, and one each in La Ceiba, Comayagua, and Santa Bárbara. Two of these courts of appeal, one in the capital and one in San Pedro Sula, specialized in labor cases. In addition, a contentious-administrative court, which dealt with public administration, was located in Tegucigalpa, but had jurisdiction throughout the country.
The next level of courts are first instance courts, which serve as trial courts in serious civil and criminal cases. In the early 1990s, there were sixty-four such courts. Although half of the first instance courts were in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, each departmental capital had at least one. Half of the sixty-four courts covered both civil and criminal cases, eight just covered criminal cases, and seven covered civil cases. There were also six labor courts, six family courts, two juvenile courts, two tenant courts, and one contentious-administrative court. Most of the judges, who must be at least twenty-one years old, held degrees in juridical science. Although judges are required to be licensed attorneys, many in fact are not.
The lowest level of the court system consists of justices of the peace distributed throughout the country. Each department capital and municipalities with populations of more than 4,000 are supposed to have two justices, and municipalities with populations less than 4,000 are supposed to have one justice of the peace. Justices of the peace handling criminal cases act as investigating magistrates and are involved only in minor cases. More serious criminal cases are handled by the first instance courts. Justices of the peace must be more than twenty-one years of age, live in the municipality where they have jurisdiction, and have the ability to read and write. In 1990 there were an estimated 320 justices of the peace, with thirty responsible for civil cases, thirty for criminal cases, and the remaining 260 justices covering both civil and criminal cases. Political patronage has traditionally been the most important factor in appointing justices of the peace, and this practice has often led to less than qualified judicial personnel, some of whom have not completed primary education.
The constitution requires that the judicial branch of government is to receive not less than 3 percent of the annual national budget, but in practice this requirement has never been met. For example, in 1989 the judiciary received 1.63 percent of the national budget, just slightly more than one-half of the amount constitutionally required.
As in previous years, in the early 1990s the Honduran judicial system has been the subject of numerous criticisms, including widespread corruption and continuing ineffectiveness with regard to holding military members or civilian elites accountable for their crimes. According to the United States Department of State's human rights report for 1992, the civilian judiciary in Honduras "is weak, underfunded, politicized, inefficient, and corrupt." The report further charged that the judiciary remains vulnerable to outside influence and suffers from woefully inadequate funding, and that the Callejas government is unable to ensure that many human rights violations are fully investigated, or that most of the perpetrators, either military or civilian, are brought to justice. Justice is reported to be applied inequitably, with the poor punished according to the law, but the rich or politically influential almost never brought to trial, much less convicted or jailed.
One frequent criticism has focused on the executive branch's dominance over the judiciary. Because a new Supreme Court is appointed every four years with the change in the presidency and because the executive essentially controls the selection of the justices, the judiciary is largely beholden to the president. This loyalty to the executive permeates the judicial branch because the Supreme Court appoints all lower court justices. To eliminate this partisanship in the courts, the Modernization of the State Commission, established by President Callejas, proposed that the constitution be amended to change the way Supreme Court justices are appointed. According to the proposal, justices would hold seven-year appointments and would be selected from a list of candidates developed by a special committee composed of those who work in the justice sector.
Another criticism notes that judicial personnel are often unqualified for their positions. Although a Judicial Career Law (which requires that all hiring and promotions be based on merit and that all firings based on cause) was approved in 1980, the government did not begin implementing the law until 1991 because of the overall lack of political will. The United States Department of State's human rights report for 1992 maintained that results have been few, but AID states that the law could be fully implemented by 1995. AID has lent support to the Honduran court since 1985 and in 1989 began an experimental program designed to improve the selection process for justices of the peace so that the appointed justices would hold law degrees. By 1991 the AID program accounted for the qualifications of eighty-one justices of the peace, and AID estimated that by 1995 about half of all justices of the peace would have law degrees.
Closely associated with the judicial system and the administration of justice in Honduras is the Office of the Attorney General, which, as provided in the constitution, is the legal representative of the state, representing the state's interests. Both the attorney general and the deputy attorney general are elected by the National Congress for a period of four years, coinciding with the presidential and legislative terms of office. The attorney general is expected to initiate civil and criminal actions based on the results of the audits of the Office of the Comptroller General. The law creating the Office of the Attorney General was first enacted in 1961.
Although some public prosecutors operate out of the Office of the Attorney General, most operate out of the Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court. The public prosecutor of the Supreme Court also serves as chief of the Prosecutor General's Office (Ministerio Público) as provided under the 1906 Law of the Organization and Attributions of the Courts. In April 1993, the Ad Hoc Commission for Institutional Reform created by President Callejas recommended the creation of a Prosecutor General's Office as an independent, autonomous, and apolitical organization, not under either the Supreme Court or the Office of the Attorney General. The prosecutor general would be appointed by the National Congress by a two-thirds vote for a seven-year appointment. The ad hoc commission also recommended that this new Prosecutor General's Office have under it a newly created Department of Criminal Investigation (Departamento de Investigación Criminal--DIC), a police and investigatory corps that would replace the current DIN, a department of the Public Security Force (Fuerza de Seguridad Pública--Fusep) that has often been associated with human rights abuses.
Today, the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary is poorly staffed and equipped, often ineffective, and subject to outside influence. While the Government respects constitutional provisions in principle, implementation has been weak and uneven in practice. A number of factors limit the effectiveness of the system. Both the judiciary and the Public Ministry suffer from inadequate funding; low wages and lack of internal controls make law enforcement officials susceptible to bribery; the civil law inquisitorial system is both inefficient and opaque; and powerful special interests still exercise influence and often prevail in the courts. Approximately 35 percent of the complaints received by the National Human Rights Commission concern the judicial system. Many elected politicians enjoy constitutional immunity due to the privilege of their office.
The existing court system is composed of a 9-member Supreme Court, 10 appeals courts, 67 courts of first instance with general jurisdiction, and 325 justice of the peace courts with limited jurisdiction. Previously Congress elected the nine Supreme Court justices and named the president of the court; the Supreme Court, in turn, names all lower court judges. The 4-year term for justices of the Supreme Court coincided with those of the Congress and the President. In April 2001, Congress ratified a constitutional amendment to restructure the Supreme Court and create an independent judiciary. In September Congress passed the Supreme Court Nomination Law, which codifies the amendment. The new law provides for a participatory process in which 5 representatives of civil society (one representative each from labor unions, employer associations, civil society, the bar association, and the human rights ombudsman) are to choose nominees for the Supreme Court, from which Congress selects 15 Supreme Court justices and names the president of the court for 7-year terms. The Supreme Court, in turn, names all lower court judges. The new legislation removes the responsibility for the selection of the Supreme Court from the President. Human rights groups noted that the law may help to depoliticize Supreme Court appointments. In October the nominating committee was convened to choose 45 candidates for the Supreme Court. At year's end, the nominating committee had received more than 200 nominations and was reviewing applicants' qualifications.
The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial; however, the written, inquisitorial trial system is labor-intensive, slow, opaque, and does not protect the rights of defendants adequately.
In May 2000, a new Criminal Procedures Code became law; implementation of the new Code continued during the year 2001. The Criminal Procedures Code is scheduled to take full effect in February 2002, at which time an oral, accusatorial system of criminal prosecution is to replace the written, inquisitorial system. Trials are to be oral rather than written, decided on by three judges, one at each stage of the trial, rather than one, and proceedings are to be open to the public. The new system allows for plea bargaining, and for all indigent suspects to be appointed legal counsel. The government authorities involved in the criminal justice system trained throughout the year to prepare for the transition. The new law is designed to change the code into one based upon the presumption of innocence, the right to a public trial, and respect for the dignity and liberty of the accused. It also expressly prohibits incarceration without first receiving an order or a sentence from a judge or tribunal.
Judges legally are in charge of investigations, as well as of trials and sentencing. Under the 1984 Code of Criminal Procedures, judges, the police, public officials, and individual citizens can initiate criminal proceedings. As many as 80 percent of the cases reported to the police never are referred to the criminal justice system but instead are settled administratively by the police or by municipal courts. A judge may detain an accused person for 6 days before a determination is made of probable cause to accept charges. If a judge sustains the criminal accusation, the accused remains in jail, or may be released on bail while awaiting trial. The role of the Public Attorney's office is not well defined under the present law; however, under the February 2002 revisions, the Public Attorney's office, along with the investigative police, has authority over investigations.
An accused person has the right to an initial hearing by a judge, to bail, to an attorney provided by the State if necessary, and to appeal. Although the Constitution recognizes the presumption of innocence, the existing criminal code in practice often is administered by poorly trained judges operating on a presumption of guilt; consequently, the rights of defendants often are not observed. All stages of the trial process are conducted in writing and, at the judge's discretion, may be declared secret and, thus, even less "public" than normal. All trials are to be public under the new Criminal Procedures Code.
Defendants and their attorneys are not always genuine participants in the process, despite rights accorded under law. Defendants may confront witnesses against them and present evidence on their own behalf, but only through the judge. By law defendants and their attorneys are entitled to review government-held evidence relevant to their cases, but this right is not always respected in practice. The new Criminal Procedures Code provides defendants with additional rights that reduce their likelihood of being detained, which some critics warn may reduce the conviction rate of hardened criminals.
A public defender program provides assistance to those unable to afford an adequate defense. There are 164 public defenders providing free legal services nationally to 37 percent of the prison population; however, it is difficult for public defenders to meet the heavy demands of an unautomated, inadequately funded, and labor-intensive criminal justice system. With the planned revisions to the Criminal Procedures Code in 2002, there is expected to be far greater demand for public defenders, since the new law allows cases to be dismissed if a suspect does not have legal representation.
A 1998 Supreme Court instruction holds judges personally accountable for reducing the number of backlogged cases. The order separates judges into pretrial investigative judges and trial and sentencing judges. The Court also created a program to monitor and enforce compliance with these measures. The Court's instruction was intended to ensure more effective protection for the rights of the accused to a timely and effective defense, but it has had little effect. Under the new Criminal Procedures Code the purpose of plea-bargaining is expected to reduce the caseload and to prioritize serious crimes for prosecution.
Modest progress was made in previous years toward implementing a judicial career system to enhance the qualifications of sitting judges; depoliticize the appointment process; and address problems of corruption, clientism, patronage, and influence-peddling within the judiciary. Nonetheless, many courts remain staffed by politically selected judges and by unqualified clerks who are inefficient and subject to influence from special interests. The reforms have not been implemented fully or effectively. Public accountability or official sanction for misconduct is minimal. However, the Supreme Court dismissed more than 12 judges on various charges, including corruption, during the year 2001.
Honduras has two penal systems--one for females and another for males. The female system is connected administratively to the National Board of Social Welfare (Junta Nacional de Bienestar Social), which has authority over the Female Center of Social Adaptation (Centro Femenino de Adaptación Social--Cefas), all of which forms part of the Ministry of Work (Ministerio de Trabajo). The National Directorate of Penal Establishments (Dirección Nacional de Establecimientos Penales), which is under the authority of the Ministry of Government and Justice (Ministerio de Governación y Justicia), is responsible for the national penitentiary and department and local jails that house male inmates. Both systems are regulated in accordance with the Law of Criminal Rehabilitation (Decree Law Number 173-84), in effect since March 1985; the constitution of 1982; and the penal code adopted in 1983, which replaced the outdated 1906 code.
Generally, inmates serving prison sentences of three years or more are assigned to the national penitentiary in Tegucigalpa, inmates with prison sentences of less than three years but more than ninety days are assigned to a department jail; sentences of ninety days or less are carried out in local jails. In 1986 the penal system housed a total of 3,635 inmates; of these, only 57 were female. Most female inmates--regardless of the length of their prison sentences--are incarcerated in the Cefas penitentiary near Tegucigalpa. One department jail is located in each of the eighteen departments, except for El Paraíso, which has two, and Francisco Morazán, which has none.
Prison facilities in Honduras are overcrowded, and services are inadequate to meet the needs of all inmates. Lighting, ventilation, and sanitary conditions in most cases are poor. Medical and psychiatric care is poor to nonexistent. Inmates can order medicine from outside the institution but must find their own means to pay for it. Inmates also must supply their own clothing, towels, soap, and other toiletries. Television, sport, and other recreation facilities are not provided, except at Cefas. Conjugal privileges are allowed, however, and some inmates receive basic literacy instruction. The daily diet for inmates is rice, beans, tortillas, and coffee. Individual inmates commonly bribe guards and prison administrators for better food and other amenities.
Today, the Law of the Rehabilitation of the Delinquent establishes regulations for prison conditions, including minimum conditions of sanitation and security for prisoners; however, prison conditions are harsh and prison security is poor. The Ministry of Security maintains prison facilities. Retired military officers work as guards in some areas, and some Preventive Police are used as guards. Prisoners suffer from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, and a lack of adequate sanitation, and allegedly are subjected to various other abuses, including rape. Pretrial detainees generally are not separated from convicted prisoners. The 27 penal centers held over 12,500 prisoners, more than twice their maximum capacity; more than 90 percent of all prisoners are awaiting trial for an average of 22 months, with some waiting over 5 years. During the year, the central penitentiary in the capital city was closed due to poor sanitary conditions and severe overcrowding. Prison escapes, through bribery or other means, remained a frequent occurrence. Prison guards shot and killed one escaping prisoner during the year 2001. On March 19, an attempted escape at the San Pedro Sula prison left one prisoner dead and five prisoners wounded.
Prison disturbances, caused primarily by harsh conditions and intergang violence, occurred throughout the year 2001 in the larger facilities of San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, and Choluteca. A number of gang members were killed in prison, reportedly by other gangs. In May prisoner and gang member Jesus Reyes Henriquez was found hanged in his cell; a criminal court was investigating the incident at year's end. In August gang members murdered one prisoner in the Tegucigalpa prison and two in the Choluteca prison. In August prison authorities began moving prisoners of opposing gangs into different facilities to reduce intergang tensions and violence. In December another prisoner was found hanged in his cell in San Pedro Sula. An investigation was initiated at year's end.
The Interinstitutional Committee for the Prevention and Rescue of Minors at Risk followed up on complaints made by a number of prisoners of poor treatment both before and after the attempted March escape at the San Pedro Sula prison. In June the CODEH, which works with prison populations, stated publicly that prisoners' conditions and basic liberties allowed under the law are not respected and have deteriorated during the year 2001.
More often than not, for lack of alternative facilities, wardens have housed the mentally ill and those with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases among the general prison population. In July the National University's Medical College published a study that reported a 7 percent HIV/AIDS infection rate among prisoners. Prisoners with money routinely bought private cells, decent food, and permission for conjugal visits, while prisoners without money often lacked basic necessities, as well as legal assistance. The prison system budgets about $0.40 (6 lempiras) per day for food and medicine for each prisoner. Prisoners are allowed visits and in many cases relied on outside help to survive, as the prison system could not provide adequate or sufficient food.
In April 2001, Tela prison authorities detained a woman for suspected drug possession. According to her testimony, the woman was taken to and held naked at the prison where prison authorities performed a vaginal inspection despite the woman's assertions that she was pregnant. Medical records confirmed that she subsequently suffered a miscarriage. There was no further investigation into the incident at the end of the year.
During the year 2001, prison authorities in Tela transferred without explanation various members of the Prisoner Defense Committees, a prisoner rights group organized with the agreement of prison authorities and CODEH. During the year, the warden of the Tela prison forbade Garifuna prisoners from speaking their native language. In July CODEH presented a complaint against the Security Ministry to the Public Ministry. The complaint alleged that these incidents represented torture and abuse of authority by the Tela prison authorities. No action had been taken by year's end.
CODEH and the Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives has continued government-funded programs to train police and prison personnel to avoid committing acts of torture, to train and rehabilitate prisoners, and to arrange for periodic inspections of prisons.
The Government has continued to plan a model prison farm in the Sula Valley at a cost of $15 million (225 million lempiras). The 1,500-bed penitentiary is scheduled to open in 2002.
Women generally are incarcerated in separate facilities under conditions similar to those of male prisoners; however, female prisoners do not have conjugal visit privileges.
The Government operates juvenile detention centers in Tamara, El Carmen, and El Hatillo; all are located in or near Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. Although there is a lack of juvenile detention facilities, minors are detained infrequently in adult prisons. Casa Alianza processed some complaints during the year 2001 regarding minors held in adult prisons, but reported that the Government responded quickly to complaints and no longer routinely housed juvenile offenders in adult prisons. The Government and Casa Alianza have continued negotiations under an IACHR agreement on compensatory payments to 300 juvenile offenders who served time in adult prisons from 1995 to 1999. As of October, government authorities had located 25 of the 300 juveniles. At year's end, 2001, payments were being processed for those few individuals who had been identified.
In June, 2001, the Government and Casa Alianza came to a settlement in the case of Carlos Enrique Jaco, a minor who was killed by a prisoner in March 1996 while illegally imprisoned in an adult jail in San Pedro Sula. The Government agreed to pay $19,240 (298,320 lempiras) to Jaco's mother.
During the year, 2001, the Casa Alianza case of four minors tortured in a Choluteca prison in 1990 was advanced to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, because the Government and Casa Alianza could not reach an amicable settlement.
The Government generally permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors. However, in June the General Director of Prisons barred all district attorneys from access to prisons. In September the criminal courts prepared a warrant for the arrest of prison directors who upheld the order, which violates the Public Ministry Law allowing lawyers access to prisons. No prison directors upheld the order.
Violence against women is widespread. The Penal Code classifies domestic violence and sexual harassment as crimes, with penalties of 2 to 4 years' and 1 to 3 years' imprisonment, respectively. In February 2000, the Pan-American Health Organization reported that 60 percent of women have been victims of domestic violence. In September 2000, the U.N. Population Fund estimated that 8 of every 10 women suffer from domestic violence.
The Public Ministry reported that in Tegucigalpa, which has a population of 297,000 women, 12 women were killed as a result of domestic violence during the year 2001. Over the year, the Public Ministry reported that it receives an average of 341 allegations of domestic violence each month only in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
The 1997 Law Against Domestic Violence strengthened the rights of women and increased the penalties for crimes of domestic violence. This law allows the Government to protect battered women through emergency measures, such as detaining an aggressor or separating him temporarily from the victim's home. It also imposes such penalties as a fine of $322 (5,000 lempiras) and 4 years' imprisonment per incident. During the year, 2001, many cases were resolved because the Government began to fund special courts to hear only cases of domestic violence.
The Government works with women's groups to provide specialized training to police officials on enforcing the Law Against Domestic Violence. There are few shelters specifically for battered women. The Government operates 1 shelter that can accommodate 10 women and their families. Six private centers for battered women offer legal, medical, and psychological assistance, but not physical shelter.
The penalties for rape are relatively light, ranging from 3 to 9 years' imprisonment. All rapes are considered public crimes, so a rapist can be prosecuted even if he marries his victim.
The law does not prohibit prostitution; however, it prohibits promoting or facilitating the prostitution of adults.
Women are trafficked for sexual exploitation and debt bondage.
The Government was unable to improve the living conditions or reduce the numbers of street children and youth. The Government and children's rights organizations estimate the number of street children at 10,000, only half of whom have shelter on any given day. The number of street children has increased substantially since 1998, due to Hurricane Mitch. Many street children have been sexually molested or exploited, and about 40 percent regularly engaged in prostitution. Approximately 30 percent of the street children and youth in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the two largest population centers, were reported to be HIV-positive. Over 75 percent of street children live on the streets because of severe family problems; 30 percent simply were abandoned. The Tegucigalpa city administration runs 12 temporary shelters with a total capacity of 240 children. The 2000 Government plan to open a 24-hour Street Child Attention Center in Tegucigalpa had not been implemented at year's end.
Abuse of youth and children in poor neighborhoods and in gangs is a serious problem. Both the police and members of the general population engaged in violence against poor youth and children; some of these children were involved in criminal activities, but many were not. At least 603 homicide cases of children and youth, only some of whom lived on the street, were killed in "social cleansing" killings between January 1998 and May; police were found to be responsible for some of the killings. Security authorities' abuse of street children decreased significantly in the late 1990's after Casa Alianza trained the Preventive Police on treatment of children and youth for 2 years; it is still a problem, although the situation has improved significantly. Casa Alianza continues to train police recruits at the National Police Academy in La Paz department.
International and national human rights groups have implicated out-of-uniform security force personnel, vigilantes, and business leaders in many juvenile deaths.
TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The Legal Code includes provisions that prohibit trafficking in persons; however, it is a problem. Honduras is primarily a source country for trafficked children to neighboring countries. According Casa Alianza, Honduran children, especially young girls, are trafficked by criminal groups to other Central American countries for purposes of sexual exploitation. Boys reportedly are trafficked to Canada for the purpose of drug trafficking. There are reports that trafficking in children also occurs within the country's borders. There have been reports in the past that girls have been trafficked to Guatemala and Mexico for purposes of prostitution. There also are reports that women who emigrate through Guatemala and Mexico have been found subject to sexual exploitation and debt bondage.
During the year, 2001, there were no reports of aliens smuggled to the United States involving the use of force or sequestration (holding persons incommunicado against their will). There were two cases of debt bondage reported in 2000, involving a total of seven persons.
Reports from Casa Alianza in 2000 asserted that approximately 250 Honduran children in Canada were coerced into prostitution or the sale of illicit narcotics. Honduran authorities did not repatriate any of the minors involved despite 2000 press reports that indicated the Government was taking action.
In February 2000, a judge in San Pedro Sula was charged for allegedly kidnaping six minors with intent to sell them to unknown persons; no action has been taken in this case. In July the Government announced that it was working with the Government of Mexico to repatriate over 200 Honduran minors working as prostitutes in southern Mexico. In 2000 a local children's rights group charged that 498 children had been reported missing from 1986 to 2000, including 22 children during the year 2001. The group asserted that local kidnapers receive an average of $133 (2,000 lempiras) per child, each of whom subsequently is sold abroad for $10,000 to $15,000. No more information was available on this case at year's end. No cases of kidnaping were reported during the year 2001.
The law prohibits trafficking in persons and provides for sentences of between 6 and 9 years imprisonment; the penalty is increased if the traffickers are government or public employees, or if the victim suffers "loss of liberty" or is killed. The Government and Justice Ministry, through its General Directorate for Population and Migration, is responsible for enforcing the country's immigration laws. However, corruption, a lack of resources, and weak police and court systems hinder law enforcement efforts. While traffickers have been arrested, the Government has not prosecuted any cases.
The Government does not provide economic aid to victims or potential victims of such crimes. However, in 2000 the Government inaugurated two centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula to assist citizens deported from other countries to relocate in Honduras. The centers' activities continued during the year 2001, with the assistance of several international organizations.
Honduras is a transit country for drugs moving into the U.S. In his message to congress on major drug producing and transit countries for 1998, President Clinton declared Honduras a "country of concern" due to increased drug flows through the Central America transit zone and increased vulnerability to drug trafficking due to redirection of law enforcement resources caused by Hurricane Mitch. In 1997, the Government of Honduras (GOH) created a task force to combat illegal transits through the Bay Islands that has made significant arrests and seizures over the past two years. However, Hurricane Mitch, which devastated much of the country in late October and early November 1998, set back GOH interdiction efforts of domestic marijuana cultivation and narcotics transshipments alike. The canine program at international airports and border crossings continues to be the most successful local deterrent to narcotrafficking, and is scheduled for augmentation in 1999. Honduras is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
Although not a significant drug-producing country, Honduras serves as transit zone for illicit drug trafficking. Honduras has limited customs controls, underpaid border officials, and a high volume of legitimate commercial vehicular traffic, so it is particularly vulnerable to the overland movement of illegal drugs. Maritime trafficking is also relatively unmonitored due to the Navy's lack of counternarcotics training, poorly maintained ships, and limited funds. As in much of Central America, money laundering in Honduras is on the rise.