The recently elected President Xiomara Castro takes office in Honduras today, following two consecutive terms of Juan Orlando Hernández’s government that were characterized by a serious regression of human rights, and more than 12 years after the coup d'état that has deeply marked the country.
Honduras’s first female president and the only woman to currently hold that position in Latin America, Xiomara Castro has acknowledged on multiple occasions the country’s grave human rights crisis fueled by inequality, violence, and impunity, and exacerbated over the last two years by the pandemic and the devastating impact of hurricanes Eta and Iota. The crisis has driven thousands of people to flee the country every year, while many others are internally displaced without adequate mechanisms of protection.
The new government will have to show great boldness and determination to address the causes and effects of the disastrous legacy left by the governments of the last decade, and the accumulated state abandonment of historically marginalized and oppressed communities, including the Indigenous and Garifuna Peoples, rural communities, women and girls, LGBTI+ people, and human rights and environmental defenders.
Ahead of the elections in November, Amnesty International sent the presidential candidates an open letter with seven recommendations fundamental for building a more just country based on the protection of human rights.
There is much to do and all of it urgent. In the previous elections of 2017 we witnessed the violent repression of mass demonstrations in which thousands of people denounced electoral fraud. The Military Police and the Army used excessive and even lethal force to disperse the demonstrations. However, four years on, the Public Prosecutor's Office has yet to convict anyone over the 22 related deaths under investigation.
Meanwhile, innocent people like Jhony Salgado, who was not even participating in the protest in which he was arrested in December 2017, continue to be criminalized. Jhony is still awaiting trial after four months of wrongful imprisonment and remains at risk of another severe punishment.
The use of strategies to deter and repress protests has become a common practice to silence those who bravely take to the streets. The new government must guarantee the right to demonstrate peacefully, stop criminalizing those who do so, and ensure that the perpetrators of human rights violations do not go unpunished. Honduras must also withdraw its militarized forces from the streets once and for all, as recommended by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations.
The violence and criminalization facing human rights defenders, particularly those defending the right to land, territory, and the environment, is another urgent matter. In a context where the lucrative exploitation of natural resources collides with the demand and guarantee of human rights — such as the prior, free, and informed consent of the Indigenous Peoples or the right to a healthy environment — Honduras has become one of the most dangerous countries for defenders. The Hernández administration’s disinterest and negligent inaction on these issues was evident in Honduras’s failure to sign the Escazú Agreement.
The trial of eight defenders of the Guapinol River, who have been unjustly imprisoned for more than two years and declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, is currently underway. The case file reveals multiple shortcomings in the investigation, showing they are detained solely for their activities in defense of the right to clean water and a healthy environment.
The rights of women, girls, and LGBTI+ people must be another priority for the new government. In 2012, Honduras became one of the world’s most restrictive countries in terms of access to sexual and reproductive rights, when the Supreme Court ruled that the ban of the emergency pill was constitutional. Ignoring several United Nations recommendations, subsequent governments have continued to deny women and girls the right to make decisions about their own bodies, including by passing a constitutional reform last year that effectively blocked the legalization of access to safe and legal abortion.
No woman should have to spend another day going through the ordeal of a clandestine abortion or be criminalized for using emergency contraception. The government’s commitment to the rights of half the population is fundamental in a country where a woman is murdered every 21 hours, among other high levels of gender-based violence, including discrimination and violence against LGBTI+ people.
Honduras urgently needs change based on the guarantee of human rights. The participation of civil society in decision-making and full cooperation with regional and international human rights bodies and mechanisms will be key to reversing one of the country's darkest periods and complying with its international obligations. We hope that Xiomara Castro's government takes this historic opportunity to build the fair and equitable country that the Honduran people long for.