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Right to life: UN expert encourages Honduras to follow the long road back to “a culture of life”

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GENEVA / TEGUCIGALPA (30 May 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, urged the Honduran authorities to strengthen efforts to protect the right to life and to reduce violence, in order to bring back the country to “a culture of life.”

“A few years ago, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world,” Mr. Heyns noted at the end of his first official visit* to the country to assess the level of protection of the right to life. “Since then, a number of significant steps have been taken to reduce the levels of violence, which remain alarmingly high but it has started to move in the right direction.”

“We have lost our culture of life,” the human rights expert said quoting a victim’s relative he met during his visit. “The most difficult but important part of the road back to that culture now lies ahead – to consolidate the gains and to bring the violence down further.”

Honduras had the highest crime rate in the world in 2012, with an annual homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Global Study on Homicide 2013 published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Murder rates remained at the top of world ranking from 2011 to 2013 and started to drop since then.

Additionally, the homicide rate in the country dropped from 79 per 100,000 in 2013 to 71.4 in November 2015, and to 60 by early 2016, according to the Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras.

The UN Special Rapporteur pointed out that the problem has two parallel dimensions: “First the high number of people who are killed, and then the low number of perpetrators who are held accountable.”

“Regional patterns of drug smuggling as well as grinding poverty and inequality make it hard to break out of the cycle of violence, but the gains that have been made show this is not insurmountable,” he said.

“Impunity is the hallmark and to a large extent the cause of the ongoing violence. Impunity is the result of engrained corruption, extortion, and weak institutions, and much can be done about this,” Mr. Heyns stated.

The human rights expert acknowledged a series of positive steps that have been taken: Law enforcement agencies have increased their capacity and gang leaders have been jailed or extradited from the country. The police are undergoing a far-reaching restructuring and strengthening process, which is much-needed to reverse the current militarization of law enforcement.

He also noted that an important law has been passed and a mechanism implemented to better protect human rights defenders, journalists, social communicators and justice operators, and consideration is being given to change the law to ensure better gun control. 

“I have met many government and other officials who are looking at the problem squarely in the eye, and who are committed to change the situation around. Likewise, many parts of civil society are vibrant and engaged,” he said.

“Some additional legal changes are required, but no one should wait for that. The challenge is the consistent implementation of the current laws. Without fear or favour,” the UN Special Rapporteur stressed.

During his visit to Honduras, from 23 to 27 May, the human rights expert met with Government officials, judges, members of civil society and victims in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Mr. Heyns commended the authorities for having invited him to look into these issues and to present his findings and recommendations to the Government on the best way to address Honduras’s challenges for the protection of the right to life.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20030&LangID=E

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns (South Africa), is the director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. Learn more, log on to:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Honduras: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/LACRegion/Pages/HNIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact:
In Tegucigalpa (during the visit): Felix Gómez, 94-553031 / fgomez@ohchr.org); Brenda Vukovic (+41 79 618 3429 / bvukovic@ohchr.org)  
In Geneva (before and after the visit): Brenda Vukovic (+41 22 917 9635 / bvukovic@ohchr.org), Jon Izagirre (+41 22 91 79715 / jizagirre@ohchr.org) or write to eje@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Mr. Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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