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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers the report of Honduras

Committee on the Elimination
  of Racial Discrimination 

29 November 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Honduras on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Tulio Mariano Gonzáles, Director of the Department of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Hondurans at the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion of Honduras, said Honduras recognized that indigenous peoples, the Lenca, Miskito, Tolupan, Maya-Chorti, Nahua, the English-speaking black population, Pech, Tawahka and Garifuna, who comprised approximately 10 per cent of the total population, had historically been neglected and were disproportionately affected by poverty and exclusion.  Racial discrimination and incitement to hatred were prohibited under the law, and the revised Criminal Code contained a new offence of discrimination against indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans in employment.  A series of legislative and administrative measures had been adopted to combat racial discrimination in education, and a new model of health coverage for indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans was being developed.  There were 919 centres of bilingual intercultural education, attended by 90,974 boys and girls, or more than 33 per cent of indigenous and Afro-Honduran children of school age.  Progress was being made in the trial for the murder of human rights defender Berta Cáceres, and a special prosecutor for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists had been created in March 2018.  Honduras had granted the highest number of land titles to indigenous peoples (158 titles) in Latin America, and in 2015 had re-launched the process of adopting the bill on free, prior and informed consent.

Committee Experts commended the establishment of the Secretariat for Human Rights, greater protection of human rights defenders, and the granting of land titles to indigenous communities.  Violence was of a great concern in Honduras, where the murder rate was among the highest in the world, corruption was an endemic problem, and poverty and inequality represented significant challenges.  Taking note with concern of the poor condition of healthcare, education, housing and infrastructure for indigenous peoples, particularly in remote regions of the country, such as the Miskito region, Experts asked how Honduras ensured that public policy was flexible as to the specificities of each group of indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans and ensured that no one was left behind.  In that vein, they inquired about measures in place to ensure that there was no political bias in the implementation of the Living Better Platform (La Plataforma Vida Mejor) and that its projects translated into concrete benefits for indigenous peoples.  A concern was raised that “multiculturalism” and “inter-culturalism” were being used to assimilate indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans, to homogenize rather than to celebrate diversity.  Experts remarked that some of the challenges that indigenous peoples and people of African descent were confronted with were a legacy of colonialism, and encouraged Honduras to specifically address them through a dedicated plan of action for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent. 

Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez, Committee Rapporteur for Honduras, in conclusion stressed the critical importance of continuing to provide stability at the national level and urged Honduras to resume the leadership role that it had had in the celebration of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

Mr. Mariano Gonzáles in his concluding remarks stressed that the action plan for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent was in place and a series of events were already taking place throughout the country.

The delegation of Honduras consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Governance Coordination, National Women’s Institute, National Congress, and the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 29 November, to consider the combined twenty-second to twenty-fifth periodic report of Iraq (CERD/C/IRQ/22-25).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Honduras: CERD/C/HND/6-8.

Presentation of the Report

TULIO MARIANO GONZÁLES, Director of the Department of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Hondurans at the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion of Honduras, said that Honduras was a country recognized for its diligence in cooperation with the United Nations mechanisms.  It had received eight Special Rapporteurs, including those on the rights of indigenous peoples, human rights defenders, and violence against women.  For the Government, the ultimate aim was the promotion and protection of human rights.  The review in front of the Committee was an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the Government’s actions.  Honduras had ratified the Convention in 2002 and it had received two visits with respect to the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.  The indigenous peoples in Honduras (the Lenca, Miskito, Tolupan, Maya-Chorti, Nahua, the English-speaking black population, Pech, Tawahka and Garifuna) comprised approximately 10 per cent of the total population.  Honduras recognized that the indicators of poverty and exclusion disproportionately affected indigenous peoples, who had historically been neglected.  They had to be a priority for the Government in its promise to leave no one behind.

Racial discrimination and incitement to hatred were prohibited under the law in Honduras.  In light of the Committee’s recommendations from 2014, the authorities had revised the offence of racial discrimination through amendments to the Criminal Code.  The new Criminal Code also amended apology for discrimination and it included penalties for those who harmed the dignity of individuals.  It also introduced a new offence of discrimination against indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans in employment.  Turning to the fight against discrimination of indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans, Mr. Mariano Gonzáles noted that it was based on human rights, gender equality and interculturality.  He stressed that the political representation of indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans had increased; it currently stood at 8 per cent in Parliament. 

In the area of education, the State had adopted a series of legislative and administrative measures to combat racial discrimination in that field.  Honduras had 919 centres of bilingual intercultural education, attended by 90,974 boys and girls, or more than 33 per cent of indigenous and Afro-Honduran children of school age.  Honduras was also developing a new model of health coverage for indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans.  The Strategic Institutional Plan of 2018-2022 of the Ministry of Health focused on gender and interculturality, and provided for affirmative action with the creation of a school for nurses for indigenous peoples.

Turning to the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Mariano Gonzáles highlighted the progress in the trial for the murder of human rights defender Berta Cáceres.  In March 2018, the authorities had created a special prosecutor for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists.  Since 2016, Honduras had been promoting the Alliance for the Development of Miskito in Honduras with the participation of six municipalities in the Miskito region, which had been historically neglected.  It suffered from the lack of employment opportunities, high poverty, food insecurity, low access to markets, low level of social services and infrastructure.  In terms of ancestral lands and territories, the Government had granted 12 property titles, which could not be transferred to anyone who was not a descendant of traditional owners.  The granted titles comprised some 1.2 million hectares. 

Mr. Mariano Gonzáles stressed that Honduras was the country in Latin America that had granted the highest number of land titles to indigenous peoples (158 titles).  In 2015, the Government had re-launched the process of adopting the bill on free, prior and informed consent, in line with the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 169 and the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.  The authorities were hoping to continue the dialogue with relevant stakeholders in 2019.

The head of the delegation highlighted that the Government of Honduras had incorporated the Sustainable Development Goals at all levels.  With respect to indigenous women, the authorities had redoubled efforts to improve their conditions, given that they still suffered from discrimination and exclusion.  For example, the Government had opened the first school for the empowerment of rural women in the community of Cacao, Atlántida.  It had also drawn up a public policy for children and adolescents, including indigenous and Afro-Honduran children.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Honduras, commended the progress made in Honduras in a number of spheres, such as the establishment of the Secretariat for Human Rights and of a monitoring body to follow-up on recommendations of human rights bodies, and protection of human rights defenders. 

Mr. Murillo Martinez also commended the election of eight parliamentarians of African descent, and the granting of land titles to indigenous communities.  Notwithstanding that progress, Honduras still dealt with significant challenges, namely poverty, inequality, violence and corruption.

Honduras was considered one of the most violent countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 80 per 100,000 inhabitants.  Individuals could bear up to five fire arms.  The State had managed to reduce that to three arms per individual.  Additionally, there was a very high number of private security guards.

Corruption was an endemic problem to the extent that the Organization of American States and the Government of Honduras had decided to create a support mission against corruption and impunity.  In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had urged Honduras to bring its standards of judicial independence and impartiality in line with international ones.

Some 8,000 Hondurans had joined the so-called “caravan of migrants” moving towards the United States.  What was the number of Garifuna in that caravan? 

Turning to institutional measures to combat racial discrimination, Mr. Murillo Martinez reminded that the National Commission on Human Rights only held status B according to the Paris Principles.  The Committee had previously recommended to Honduras to ensure full functioning of the National Commission against Racial Discrimination.  What had the State party done to that end? 

Mr. Murillo Martinez pointed out the poor condition of healthcare, education, housing and infrastructure for indigenous peoples, particularly in remote regions of the country, such as the Miskito region.  The quality of education was extremely low, due to a lack of resources.  Often parents paid for materials and other expenses.  What was the status of implementation of bilingual teaching?  Could the delegation provide more information about the Living Better Platform (La Plataforma Vida Mejor)? 

Moving on to land titles, the Country Rapporteur reminded that indigenous peoples frequently encountered harassment, stigmatization and criminalization in their pursuit of their right to their ancestral lands.  The State should remove any sort of interference into the restitution of ancestral lands. 

As for the bill on free, prior and informed consent, how did the State party ensure that the comments of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples had been properly reflected in the bill?  How was the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 169 implemented?  What measures had been taken to protect indigenous peoples’ lands from the negative impact of big-scale development projects? 

Speaking of human rights defenders, Mr. Murillo Martinez underlined the lack of monitoring of protection measures.  As for the ongoing trial for the murder of Berta Cáceres, the Lenca human rights defender, how was the State party ensuring due process in that trial?

What had been the outcomes of setting up of a special prosecutor for indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans?  Could the delegation share information about the access of indigenous women to sexual and reproductive health services?

Questions by Other Committee Members

GUN KUT, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, informed that Honduras had not submitted an interim follow-up report on four issues: the Criminal Code, employment and economic development of indigenous peoples, the removal of judges, and the working conditions of Miskito divers.  Mr. Kut recommended that the State party submit information on those issues. 

Another Expert asked how the State party ensured that there was no political bias in the implementation of the Living Better Platform (La Plataforma Vida Mejor) programme?  Did the State party recognize the medical expertise of indigenous peoples? 

Referring to the agreement on the border region between El Salvador and Honduras, one Expert reminded that there had been no proper legalization of ancestral land titles for indigenous peoples.  In addition, there were 8,000 individuals without personal identification documents.  What was the State party’s position in that respect? 

What was the composition of the prison population in Honduras?  What was the State party’s position vis-à-vis the “caravan of migrants” that was moving towards the United States?  Had the State party been in contact with other regional Governments in order to protect its nationals in the caravan? 

Were all candidates for judges of the Supreme Court legally trained?  Who appointed members of the nomination committee?  How many cases was the Supreme Court hearing per year?  How was the security of tenure for judges ensured?

How did the authorities take into account the provisions of indigenous peoples’ customary law?  What consultation procedures had been implemented with respect to measures that could affect indigenous peoples?  Was there any programme of reparations for the lands that had been taken away from indigenous peoples? 

An Expert asked about the impact of legal punishment for acts of racial discrimination.  To what extent had the Government’s policies led to greater access to higher education for Afro-Hondurans?  What was their place in the national economy?  Did the State party have a plan of action for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent?  How was the contribution of people of African descent to the development of Honduras represented in the history curriculum in schools? 

Despite the public awareness and pedagogical campaigns against stereotyping of indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans, there were no statistics on their impact.  What were the plans to protect indigenous and Afro-Honduran human rights defenders?  One Expert reminded that about 100 Tolupan leaders had been killed in the past decade.

What was the number and type of complaints of racial discrimination?  What was the number of rulings and sentences?  What training on the Convention provisions was provided to civil servants?  How many court rulings had invoked the Convention?  Had the draft Criminal Code been adopted? 

An Expert inquired about discriminatory hiring practices against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS. 

What was the number of persons benefiting from programmes of social assistance?  What was the percentage of the budget devoted to those programmes?  Was there a minimum wage guaranteed by law?

Had funds and reparations been established for victims of trafficking in persons?  What kind of sanctions had been handed down?  What obstacles did the authorities face in combatting trafficking?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on poverty rates, the delegation recognized that poverty was structural and that 40 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty.  Great attention was being paid to understanding the dynamics of poverty and the poverty traps, notably child malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, climate change, and others.  The Secretariat for Social Development and Inclusion had been recently set up and it administered the Better Life Platform, the minimum threshold for social protection, which was based on four pillars: the guaranteed minimal income, housing, nutritional support, and opportunity and development.  The programmes implemented under the Platform included, inter alia, urban and rural transport programmes for persons with disabilities, social compensation for adults, human promotion and development, and the solidarity food programme.

The Better Life Platform had been set up in 2014 to better respond to the scourge of poverty, while the Better Families Platform had been set up to better reach families and provide targeted social support to vulnerable groups.  The Growing with Love Programme aimed to reduce teenage pregnancy rates.  In 2015, Honduras had undertaken poverty analysis using a multidimensional index to better understand poverty and vulnerability, which was based on dimensions of health, education, workforce and labour, and housing.  This enabled the authorities to develop channels of resilience and support poor families with routes out of poverty, primarily through access to jobs and housing.  The national poverty information centre had been set up as well, which contained disaggregated data about 2.2 million Hondurans living in poverty.

Turning to the positive impact of the Better Life Platform on the lives of poor indigenous peoples and people of African descent, the delegation said that 433,000 people had been reached through this programme, and that a considerable number had received educational support through the Presidential programme for subsidies and grants 2020, enabling them to participate in middle and higher education.

As for the draft legislation on free, prior and informed consultation, the delegation stressed the importance that Honduras accorded to social consultation as a basis for the development of the country and the people.  Taking the energy sector as an example, the delegate underlined that for the past 18 years, no project had been approved without consultation with indigenous peoples.  The draft law aimed to ensure human dignity and eradicate poverty among indigenous peoples, and would not be adopted without their agreement, said the delegate, reiterating the Government’s commitment to ensure that the nine ethnic groups and peoples of African descent enjoyed the same opportunities as Hondurans living in the cities.

Answering the questions concerning the large-scale population movement towards the United States, and the indigenous peoples that were taking part, another delegate said that the President of Honduras had held several meetings with the Presidents of Guatemala and Mexico during which he had demanded respect for the human rights of Hondurans.  It was not possible to identify the individuals who took part in such movements.

The National Commission against Racism, created in 2004, was being reactivated, the delegate said, explaining that its mandate needed to be reformed in light of the public policy for indigenous peoples.  Nine persons had been charged in connection to the assassination of environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres and their sentencing was awaited.  Under the law on the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and justice operators of 2018, a total of 317 protection requests had been received, of which over 200 had been processed by the authorities.

Minimum wages in the country were defined through the social dialogue between the Government, workers and employers, and oscillated between $ 400 and $ 450 per month. 

The territory of the Miskito people was fairly isolated, the delegation said, adding that a development programme for this group of indigenous peoples rested on five pillars, including the support for people working in diving, promoting education – including bilingual - of children and youth, and developing value chains of traditional crops such as cocoa, which was now being purchased directly by the Swiss chocolate industry.  Furthermore, 50 homes had been constructed for low income Miskito families, while the construction of the national agriculture university for the Miskito region would start in 2019.  Measures were being taken to provide electricity, which was a significant challenge, including through the installation of a generator, with the support of Swiss development aid.

The law against trafficking in human beings had been adopted in 2012, and an inter-institutional commission had been set up to ensure its implementation.  A study had been conducted into trends and patterns of trafficking in persons, risks and vulnerabilities, which did not find a correlation between trafficking in persons and ethnicity.  Miskito boys and girls were more vulnerable to child labour, especially in fishing, and more vulnerable to drug trafficking. 

The national committee had been set up to support the implementation of social policies, policies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the recommendations given to Honduras in the area of child rights and child protection.  Over 40 per cent of Hondurans were children, and the authorities were moving towards adopting public policies to provide comprehensive support to children, including by setting up an observatory for childhood to collect data on the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Honduras.

In 2011, Honduras had one of the highest homicide rates in the world, but due to the concerted action by the authorities, it was being reduced and currently stood at 42 per 100,000.  A new draft law on firearms had been proposed, which would limit the number of firearms owned by a person with a license to five, specify the allowed firearms, and limit the sale of ammunition to authorized and licensed shops only.  A bill on the use of force was currently being examined by Parliament.

Violence against women was still a challenge, another delegate said, noting that numerous measures were being taken to raise awareness about all forms of violence, including sexual and domestic violence and femicide.  A dedicated help line had been set up and women victims of violence could access comprehensive assistance provided through specialized shelters.  In 2018, there was a notable increase in reports of domestic violence in indigenous areas, which was being attributed to awareness raising efforts.

Questions by Committee Experts

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Honduras, asked the delegation to inform on any specific measures that had been adopted for the development of the Garífuna communities, and other indigenous peoples, in the wake of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights ruling.  The Rapporteur requested data on prior consultation processes undertaken by authorities, including information on with which indigenous peoples and which territories.  How were the so-called model cities being governed, especially in terms of guaranteeing territorial rights of indigenous peoples?  The progress in the fight against violence was particularly welcomed, the Rapporteur said, asking how the experience of a Garífuna municipality with zero crime and zero violence could be replicated.

Other Experts remarked on the specificities of each group of indigenous peoples and of Afro-Hondurans and asked how Honduras ensured that public policy took those specificities into account and was flexible as to the specific needs of each group so that none was left behind.  Some of the challenges that indigenous peoples and people of African descent were confronted with were a legacy of colonialism, which could be specifically addressed through a dedicated plan of action for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent. 

The Committee was concerned that “multiculturalism” and “inter-culturalism” were being used to assimilate indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans, to homogenize rather than to celebrate diversity.  How did those different groups self-identify?

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to the draft law on free, prior and informed consent, the delegation stressed that the authorities did not want to impose any solution on any community, and said that it was thanks to an intensive community-based work in indigenous communities that success was being achieved, such as zero crime, zero drugs, and zero violence municipalities.  The authorities were actively working on garnering the will of all in the country, and mobilizing the political will at the highest levels, to achieve the development of the country and improve the society.

Some of the measures of support to the indigenous peoples in the Miskito areas included the establishment of coast guard facilities, installation of labour rights of the Miskito divers, and the provision of decompression chambers in the hospital to support those divers with decompression sickness.

Concluding Remarks

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Honduras, in conclusion stressed the critical importance of continuing to provide stability at the national level and reverse the erosion of the institutional environment caused by the 2009 coup d’état.  The Rapporteur urged Honduras to resume the leadership role that it had had in the celebration of the International Decade for People of African Descent. 

TULIO MARIANO GONZÁLES, Director of the Department of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Hondurans at the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion of Honduras, in concluding remarks, stressed that the action plan for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent was in place and a series of events were already taking place throughout the country.  Honduras was making significant efforts to combat challenges that the Miskito people had to deal with, including trafficking in persons and loss of jobs.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and wished them a safe journey home.

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