Population: 8.075.000 (World Bank, 2015)
Languages: Spanish (official), Amerindian dialects
Major Ethnic Groups: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European) 90%, Amerindian 7%, black 2%, white 1%
GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 2,474 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2017)
GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 5,409 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2017)
Security Sector Stats
Active Armed Forces: 12,000 (Military Balance, 2017)
Small Arms: the estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Honduras is 850,000; the defence forces of Honduras are reported to have 92,000 firearms; and Police in Honduras are reported to have 23,000 firearms (Gun Policy, 2017)
Military Expenditure: 1.5% of GDP (World Bank, 2015)
Table of Contents
3. SSR Overview
Located in Central America, the Republic of Honduras shares its borders with Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Culturally and historically, these countries have much in common including the same year of independence, 1821. However, border disputes with all its neighbours have continued to stress Honduras’ bilateral relationships. In 1969, such a disputeswe should organisationedme agenda items by COB today. led to an armed confrontation with neighbouring El Salvador also known as the “Football War”, costing the lives of several thousand people with a peace treaty concluded only in 1980.
Since the Cold War, Honduras has changed gradually from a rural to an urban society actively seeking to modernise and democratise. However, high social inequalities still prevail. Honduras ranks 130 out of 188 countries and territories surveyed in the UN Human Development Index (HDI) for 2015 .
In 2015, the World Bank country profile for Honduras estimated the population of Honduras to be just over 8 million, with over a million living in its capital Tegucigalpa. The vast majority of the population (90%) are considered mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European) with the rest considered Amerindian 7%, black 2%, and white 1%. Spanish is the official language, however, Amerindian dialects are still spoken.
In 2016, the World Bank registered Honduras as a low middle-income country with a GDP of US$ 20.42 billion. More than 66% of the population are living in poverty and a fifth of those living in rural areas are considered to be in extreme poverty, or on less than US$1.90 per day.
Honduras is undergoing a significant security sector reform process to address the violent crime impacting the country. It is considered to be one of the unsafest countries in the region, possessing one the highest homicide rates in the world according to a 2013 UNODC study. In 2017, an InSight Crime report indicated that 80% of the homicides in Honduras for 2016 were attributed to gun violence, which is double the global average. Along with El Salvador and Guatemala, Honduras is considered part of the “Northern Triangle” meaning that they are strategically important transit nations for the transnational drug trade. This has contributed to violence and to rampant corruption. In recent years, transnational criminal groups, particularly Mexican cartels, have expanded their presence in Honduras. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 140 tons and 300 tons of cocaine pass through the country each year.
Honduras has also been singled out internationally for its failure to prevent statistics on feminicide. Reports indicate that one woman is killed every 16 hours in Honduras and that the rate of feminicide increased by over 260% between 2005 and 2013.
The 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya and caused international outrage also exacerbated instability in Honduras. Colombian drug trafficking gangs changed their routes to Honduras just days after the coup and turned it into the principal handover point for cocaine to Mexican cartels. Security forces have accused of using excessive force and of repressing the opposition to serve the government’s interests. Human rights and environmental activists, political opposition leaders, undocumented migrants and journalists have faced threats and even violence. One recent emblematic case surrounding the murder of a high-profile human rights and environmental activist in 2016, Berta Caceres, sparked international condemnation.
Honduras is confronted by institutional fragility and corruption. The National Police is reportedly plagued by institutional corruption and has been labelled the most mistrusted police force in Latin America. Citizens and businesses face the threat of extortion and kidnapping, whilst Honduras' investigative capacity remains weak. The Honduran government has increasingly turned to the military to enforce the rule of law, causing concern amongst many human rights groups. The judicial system is afflicted by political interference, corruption, and a lack of capacity and transparency.
In spite of these challenges, Honduras is starting to see progress from the reform process. The Secretary of Security has reported an 8.02% decrease in homicide rates from the 2016 first quarter reporting cycle. As of June 2016, the Police Technological Institution (ITP) has produced nearly 1500 new police cadets under a new programme that offers basic training for 11 months, nearly four times longer than the previous programme. Moreover, the Special Commission for Police Reform Restructuring, formed as a result of a partnership between the Secretary of Security and civil society in April 2016, has removed several hundred police of all ranks for reasons of corruption and/or unsuitability for the institution, including 25% of the officer corps.
Honduras is vulnerable to natural disasters evident from the 1998 Hurricane Mitch which devastated the country. Recent droughts in the past couple of years have affected over two million people and nearly half a million are in need of food assistance.
The combination of violence, crime and environmental vulnerability with low socio-economic mobility has turned Honduras into both a transit and origin country for migrants with displaced persons and unaccompanied children facing high levels of vulnerability. UNICEF reported that at least 8,700 children have left Honduras in the first half of 2015 alone.
Prior to January 1982, Honduras was ruled by military regimes. Since then, regular national elections have been institutionalised with two traditional parties, the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras--PLH) and the National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras--PNH) dominating. However, the role and influence of the military in politics prevails and is reinforced the longer they are perceived more trustful than the police. In 2009, Honduras was faced with an interruption of civilian democratic rule when then-president Manuel Zelaya (2006-2009) was ousted by a coup favouring his right-wing opponents. The coup was silently favoured by the US, its closest ally, but strongly condemned by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union.
On 5 July 2009, all member states of the OAS voted by acclamation to suspend Honduras from the organisation. By 2011, the OAS voted to re-admit Honduras after Venezuela and Colombia helped broker an agreement with the current president, Porfirio Lobo. During this process a truth commission (2010-2011) began investigating Mr Zelaya's removal from office in 2009, and concluded it was a coup.
The resulting political turmoil from the 2009 coup gave rise to other less mainstream political parties effectively ending the bipartisan system comprising of the Liberal and National parties. This included the emergence of the Broad Popular Resistance Front (FARP) which later evolved into the Liberty and Refoundation Party, or Libre. Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, was Libre’s 2013 presidential candidate. Also assuming political weight was the Anti-Corruption Party, or PAC, which won 13.4% of the 2013 vote.
General elections are planned for November 2017, with Honduras' governing party, the PNH, proposing the current president, Juan Hernandez, for re-election. The re-election of a sitting president is a very contentious issue as it was at the heart of the coup in 2009 when then-President Zelaya attempted to reform the law banning presidents from seeking a second term. However in 2015, the country's Supreme Court struck down a law that banned presidents from seeking a second term.
The top priorities for Honduras' security sector are to develop a security policy that will include a resource management model and tools to manage information more effectively. This policy will seek to reduce violence through prevention strategies, establish resilient community policy programmes, combat police corruption, increase the investigative capacity of law enforcement, modernise infrastructure and equipment, fight drug trafficking and strengthen national border protection. These priorities are reflected in the following policy documents:
- Republic of Honduras Country Vision 2010 - 2038
- Nation Plan 2010-2022
- National Policy for the Justice and Safety sector 2011 - 2022
- Plan for a Better Life 2014 - 2018
To implement these policies, Honduras has accepted assistance in the area of security sector reform from bilateral and multilateral partners, including the UN, the United States, and the European Union (EU). The United States has provided a high level of support to strengthen the Honduran justice and security sectors, providing funds, equipment, and training for police, prosecutors, and judges.
However, considerable political fragility and endemic corruption means SSR engagement is difficult. Continuing the sweeping reform of the country’s security institutions is key to addressing Honduras’ most pressing concern: citizen security.
In recent years, Honduras has passed a number of legislative reforms and created many new bodies such as the Special Commission for Police Reform Restructuring aimed at strengthening the rule of law and increasing the capacity and professionalism of security forces. Congress also undertook several efforts aimed at combating extortion, such as increasing the prison term for the crime and improving security for transport drivers who are often targets of extortion rings.
The killing of two university students in November 2011 by police prompted then-President Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014) to commit to purging the police of corrupt elements and submitting officers to vetting tests. In the same month as the killings, Congress voted to remove the police's internal affairs department and created an independent, external oversight agency, the Directorate for the Investigation and Evaluation of the Police (Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial – DICEP). In addition to the DICEP, a Commission on Public Security Reform (Comisión de Reforma a la Seguridad Pública – CRSP) was created. It was a government-backed initiative that began on 1st June 2012 and aimed to oversee reform of security and justice institutions. However, in January 2014, the congress voted to eliminate it citing it as an ineffective process.
President Lobo was also supportive of the creation of a United Nations-backed international commission against impunity in Honduras, similar to the one operating in Guatemala. By January 2016, the Government of Honduras, led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez (2015-present), signed an agreement with the Organisation of American States (OAS) to establish the the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) through a convention of cooperation.
The mandate of the MACCIH aims at improving the quality of services delivered by the justice system of Honduras in the prevention and fight against corruption and impunity in the country through active cooperation, technical advice, supervision and oversight of the State institutions responsible for preventing, investigating, and punishing acts of corruption. The general public has high expectations of this OAS-supported mechanism hoping it will have a similar impact as the UN-sponsored CICIG is having in neighbouring Guatemala.
In terms of police reform, the Honduran government has undertaken efforts to implement a vetting and reform process for the National Police, but it has faced many difficulties along the way, such as lack of resources and political opposition. The general public also lost confidence in past attempts at institutional reforms as only lower-level police officers were removed or purged.
In January 2017, President Juan Orlando Hernandez announced that the Special Commission for Police Reform Restructuring will extend its mandate until 2018, allowing it to continue to purge unsuitable elements from the police force in an unprecedented manner. The move is considered politically strategic as the general elections are planned for the end of 2017.
Progress on purging the police was initially very slow with only a small fraction of the hundreds of police officers who failed the tests being dismissed. Some police officials also tried to derail the process by declaring that the law was politically motivated. In recent times the process has gained traction as a result of the productive collaboration between the Secretary for Security and the Special Commission for Police Reform Restructuring in removing unsuitable police officers of all ranks. The mandate for the creation of the Special Commission for Police Reform Restructuring is set out in the Emergency Police Restructuring Law of 2016.
The reform process is also supported by the Police Restructuring Law of 2012 (ratified in 2014) which requires every police officer to reveal their financial records and submit to polygraph, toxicological, and psychological tests. If an officer fails these tests, he or she is to be automatically dismissed. After the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber blocked the law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, Congress voted to submit the law to a popular vote and remove the judges who rejected the law, prompting debate over whether this congressional approach was illegal.
Moreover, the current Police Organic Law (2008) is set to be reformed. The replacement is currently in final deliberation, with the next step being ratification. The proposed law prescribes replacing the Directorate-General for Investigating and Evaluating the Police Carreer (Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial - DIECP) by another entity which will fall under the auspices of the Secretary of Security and thus becoming an internal control mechanism. This new entity is expected to be called the Direction for Disciplinary Issues of the National Police. In parallel with this process, a new Law on the Police Career System is also close to ratification. Both laws will impact the future course of the security sector reform process.
In terms of international cooperation, the US State Department has been a key actor in supporting the Honduran government’s efforts to build efficient justice institutions and actors, as well as improving citizen security whilst building Honduran institutional capacity. In particular, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has been providing training and assistance to justice actors, including: police; prosecutors; defence attorney; judges; and, civil society to promote legal rights awareness, the rule of law, professionalization, respect for human rights and accountability.
Honduras has also been the recipient of US aid in the form of the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), an aid program that has sent US$ 496 million to the region since 2008 to assist law enforcement, justice institutions and promote community policing programs, among other measures. CARSI has focused less on taking on sweeping reform measures, though, and more on increasing the capacity of forces to bolster citizen security.
In 2011, the Security Sector Support Program (PASS) in Honduras was the European Union's largest security support program in the world. The program supports the Security Secretariat, the Attorney General, and the National Police. Mixed police and military units patrol in urban areas and in border zones, although the police are in charge of arresting suspects. The final PASS report for Honduras is yet to be publicly available.
The partnership between the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is also playing an important role in supporting the justice and security reform process, which includes the implementation of the Government Policy on Comprehensive Civic Coexistence and Public safety. Since 2013, the partnership has aimed at increasing the strategic and investigative capacity of the Secretary of Security to implement their nation security policy. Now in its second phase (2016-2017), the SDC-IDB partnership seeks to step up support for the national community policing programme.
The Directorate for Police Investigations (DPI) has been one of the main beneficiaries of this partnership and has now developed a modern internal manual standardising the criminal and forensic investigations processes for integration into training programmes. DPI also has a plan for specialised training in criminal and forensic investigation techniques, which extends to the ITP. Moreover, several DPI officers travel to Colombia and Chile to receive further specialised training with the goal of being able to multiply their new skills set in their national environment. It is important to note that the majority of the police assigned to the DPI (made operational in 2015) are ITP graduates, making up at least 80% of the DPI staff. This has given the institution a sense of internal and external credibility.
The top priority for Honduras’ judicial sector is fighting the climate of impunity. Toward that end, reducing corruption, improving institutional transparency, and upgrading the technical capacity of judges and prosecutors is critical. The issue of judicial independence, while essential, cannot be solved through judicial reform alone; political polarisation and the politicisation of institutions are endemic problems that have plagued the Honduran government for many years. Engaging in this issue would be extremely difficult.
However, there has been notable progress on improving judicial oversight. In 2010 Congress voted to make permanent the Inter-institutional Commission of Penal Justice (Comisión Interinstitucional de Justicia Penal). This consists of the Supreme Court, the Public Ministry, Interior Ministry and the Office of the Attorney General, among other bodies, and is designed to increase efficiency within the justice sector. Similar inter-institutional commissions are now being formed in key municipalities such as San Pedro Sula as a means to ensure greater collaboration.
In January 2011, the government created a special task force to address violence against vulnerable sectors of society, such as journalists and LGBT individuals. In the following month, the Congress passed constitutional reforms that created the Council of the Judiciary and Judicial Career. This new body, whose five members are elected by Congress, is tasked with appointing and dismissing judges.
In June 2011, despite strong private sector opposition, the Honduran government passed a security tax in an attempt to increase the revenue available for the security sector. Like other countries in Central America, Honduras’ tax collection rate is very low, making it difficult to raise sufficient government revenue to build institutions and provide services.
In 2011, Honduras set up a Financial Crimes Task Force to fight money laundering and submit cases to the National Asset Forfeiture Judge. In its first year the Task Force had sent 22 cases to the National Asset Forfeiture Judge for consideration. Currently, Honduras relies on a range of laws aimed at tackling financial crimes and money laundering, including laws to combat the financing of terrorism (Ley contra el financiamiento del terrorismo categoría especial) and the deprivation of dominion law related to illicit goods (la Ley de privación del dominio para bienes de origen ilícito).
Also in 2011, Honduras created an inter-institutional Transparency Anti-Corruption Plan for 2011-2014. This initiative involved a cooperative effort on the part of the National Anti-Corruption Council (Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción - CNA), the Institute for Access to Public Information (Instituto de Acceso a la Información Pública - IAIP), the Office of Norms for Procurement and Contracts, and the National Office for Internal Development and Control (Oficina Nacional de Desarrollo Integral de Control Interno - ONADICI). Building on this initiative, the government of Honduras signed an agreement with Transparency International in 2014 to produce reports on the status on the fight against corruption in Honduras, in collaboration with the civil society group Association for a more Just Society (ASJ).
In January 2012, Congress passed a constitutional amendment to allow extradition of citizens for serious crimes such as drug trafficking and organised crime.
More recently in 2017, congress approved of a law to modify the National Penitentiary System Law (2014) to give it more autonomous and decentralised powers. The original 2014 law mandated the creation of the National Penitentiary Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario - INP) and established a professional civil service career for prison guards and staff, and required job training. Congress also passed laws related to terrorism which prescribe for penalties for acts of vandalism during social protests and increased sentences for acts of extortion.
Also of significance in 2017 is the proposed law on Strengthening and Effectiveness of the Security Policy (Ley de Fortalecimiento y Efectividad de la Política de Seguridad) which is in the final stage of debate in the National Congress. The proposed law, which will be a key document for security and justice provision, includes some proposed articles which are facing fierce opposition, including from the Supreme Court of Justice who has recently struck down an article which sought to lessen the sanctions for state security providers who cause bodily damage, including death, during operations.
Until 1997, the military and police forces were grouped under the same ministerial control. Both institutions continue to share similar working models reflective of this conjoined period. Not regarded as a dominant military force by regional standards, the Honduran defence sector is ranked 107 on a scale of 126 on the Global Firepower Index rating. Of its neighbours, only Guatemala ranks higher (placed at 102).
The US continues to be the main external partner for professionalisation of the Honduran armed forces. US influence on the Honduran military was particularly high during the Sandinista Revolution in neighbouring Nicaragua and when supplying arms during the armed conflict with El Salvador (1969) which was a result of an arms race between the two militaries. The US Armed Forces still maintain a small presence at a Honduran military base in the south of Comayagua.
The current uptick in military support from the US comes as a result of the US security policy relating to the Northern Triangle (Central America Regional Security Initiative or CARSI) which is primarily focused on combating organised crime. Since the coup in 2009 which brought the key players in Honduras’s right-wing government to power, the U.S. has provided Honduras US$ 200 million in police and military aid to assist Honduran officials to combat organised crime. However, there are grave concerns that the government has been channelling the resources to state security forces to repress dissent.
These concerns were voiced by senior congressional representative in the US after the death of Berta Caceres at the hands of serving and retired military officers. Currently, conditionality for the security of human rights defenders continues to be the main issue surrounding US aid to Honduran security forces. Other key international players supporting the Honduran Government’s efforts in security provision, such as the IDB, continue to implement a policy that prevents resources being distributed to any military elements.
There are many mechanisms for legislative oversight of the other branches of government outlined in Honduras' constitution. The National Congress has control over filling certain public posts, can call for a commission to investigate issues of national interest, and can bring complaints against the executive branch. In practice, however, corruption and intense political polarisation in the National Congress mean that it has sometimes failed to provide sufficient oversight and other times interfered into the other branches of government in a way that violates the separation of powers, such as the removal of four Supreme Court justices in December 2012.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been especially active in Honduras following the 2009 coup, documenting abuses by security forces and violence against journalists and represents a key partner when combating misconduct in the security sector.
The Committee of Family Members of Disappeared Prisoners in Honduras (COFADEH) was founded by the families of Hondurans who were disappeared during the 1980s. Today it focuses on fighting human rights abuses, particularly by state security forces.
Other important non-governmental organisations (NGOs), especially in the realm of anti-corruption and anti-impunity efforts, include the Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre).
A group of NGOs, labour unions, faith organisations, private businesses, and universities have formed the Alliance for Peace and Justice (Alianza Por la Paz y la Justicia) to monitor the public security reform process and to fight for better citizen security in Honduras. The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) is another key organisation involved in efforts to reform the police.
With the recent removal of several senior police managers the reorganisation of the police institutions is moving forward. The remaining management are committed to the current reform plans and strategies, and are optimistic about the future of the police institutions. Wider-reaching impacts of the removals of these senior managers might mean there is lesser capacity to drive the reforms forward. In most cases, the gap in command experience between the upper hierarchy or “Estado Mayor” and officers promoted into the Commissioner or Sub-Commissioner level can be as wide as 10 years.
The ITP programme continues to produce entry-level police officers with enhanced training than previous generations. However, the challenges still exist to ensure a high level of integrity amongst the ITP gradates once dispatched to their duty stations around the country. This includes ensuring all graduates perform operational tasks in accordance with their training and not delegated to administrative positions normally held by civilians in other contexts. The proposed law on the police career system should seek to address these deficiencies in human resources management by regulating for system based on vocation, merit and integrity. The provision of appropriate working conditions for female graduates is also of paramount concern. The ITP programme has contributed to an increase in female police officers at the lower ranks from 9% to 16%.
Community policing initiatives have begun to show some positive results. Created in September 2011 by the Council of Ministers and supported by the Brazilian Government, the Community Police are comprised of 250 police officers and 50,000 civilian volunteers, which, to date, have been effective at reducing crime in the neighbourhoods of the capital, Tegucigalpa. The program will need greater institutional support and resources in the near future. Fortunately, there is no shortage of donor support with Japan, SDC/IDB and the US continuing their interest in supporting Honduras’ community policing programme.
The most significant impact of the reform process is the decrease in homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. According to data from the National Violence Observatory (ONV-IUDPAS) for Honduras in 2011 the highest homicide rate in recent years peakedat 86.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. By 2015, the same indicator stood at 60 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This correlates with a drop of 9.4 points on the Citizen Insecurity and Victimization Index from 2014 to 2016, indicating a trend towards a more secure country.
Corruption is a major issue that threatens the integrity and efficiency of institutions of all levels. In the 2016 edition of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Honduras ranked 123 out of 176 countries, with a score of 30 out of 100 (on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the least corrupt). To address this it is critical that Honduras increases the capacity, effectiveness, and transparency of its judicial and law enforcement institutions.
Opportunities for aiding judicial reform include providing resources to reduce the backlog of pending cases, strengthening prosecutorial bodies, supporting the construction of judicial facilities in smaller municipalities, and supporting improved training for officials.
Another possible area for assistance is in prevention and rehabilitation programs aimed at youth gangs and prisoners. Traditionally, Honduras’ “iron fist” anti-gang policies have neglected rehabilitation, and so there is space for assistance from international actors in helping young people stay out of gangs and providing support for incarcerated or recently released gang members.
Also, further police reform could benefit from a sensitive and proportionate approach to the evolving police management structure. Supporting the capacity for newly promoted commanding officers to manage change and plan strategically, in line with the reform objectives countrywide, will be an important precursor to any sustainable progress.
Fostering the political commitment of institutional actors towards the reform process requires the strengthening and formalising of internal and external communication systems to ensure progress is broadcast nationally and having a positive influence on public perception.
The reform process is also an opportunity to strengthen the government’s commitment to gender equality and compliance with other human rights obligations in the security and justice sector. The Secretary of Security has acknowledged the importance of mainstreaming gender equality into the institutional strategic planning at the outcomes level. Coordination and synergising with other supporting donors on a human rights-based approach, targeting the security reform process should better include the National Direction for Public Policy of the Secretariat for Human Rights, Justice, Governance and Decentralisation when engaging in national security dialogue.
 The HDI ranks the world’s countries according to several social factors, such as equality.
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The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.