Press briefing notesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Honduras: Militarization of public security
07 July 2023
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado
We are very concerned by the militarization of public security in Honduras.
On 5 July, the Government extended, for an additional 45 days, a state of emergency introduced in December 2022 as part of its efforts to tackle extortion and organised crime. The state of emergency, in force in 17 of the 18 departments in Honduras, enables the military police to support the national police in carrying out public security tasks. It also derogates the right of personal liberty, freedom of association, assembly and movement, and allows security and armed forces to carry out arrests and searches without a warrant.
On 21 June, the authorities announced that the command and control of the prison system was being transferred to the military police. This decision came in the wake of a violent incident at the national women’s prison in the town of Tamara, where 46 female inmates were killed when members of one gang attacked a part of the prison housing members of a rival gang.
Since then, military police operations have been carried out in all prisons across Honduras.
Initial monitoring by our Office, as well as information from civil society organisations and other sources with regard to military operations in prisons, indicates that inmates, in particular those allegedly associated with gangs, have been beaten and kicked by military police. Inmates had their food and water rationed and they have also been subjected to sleep deprivation, which may amount to ill-treatment.
We urge the authorities to ensure that there is internal and independent external oversight of military operations in prisons, as well as of the military’s command and control of the prisons system, to prevent human rights violations. Allegations of unnecessary or disproportionate use of force should be promptly investigated.
We recognize there is an urgent need to address the prevailing levels of violence in the country both inside and outside prisons, but we are extremely worried that some of the measures that have been adopted could lead to human rights violations.
We recall that the use of states of emergency must be exceptional, time-bound and restricted to what is strictly necessary under the circumstances of the particular case.
The prison system should be under civilian control, within the framework of a comprehensive security policy that addresses the root causes of violence and contributes to the dismantling of gangs and other organised crime groups. Efforts should immediately be redoubled to address long-standing criminal justice and prison challenges. These include the extensive use of incarceration, overcrowding, unsuitable living conditions, the lack of basic services, and inmates controlling some prisons.
We recall the State’s duty to protect the life of people in custody.
All efforts to address the prison challenge should be based on international human rights law and standards, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules). This will not only serve to ensure the human dignity of prisoners but will also benefit public safety and the social cohesion of societies at large.
The Human Rights Office in Honduras remains available to provide technical assistance.
For more information and media requests, please contact: