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Honduras must transform political will into concrete action to tackle enforced disappearances: UN experts
30 March 2023
GENEVA/TEGUCIGALPA (30 March 2023) – The government’s political will to tackle the issue of enforced disappearances in Honduras must be transformed into concrete action, UN experts said today.
“Honduras must step up efforts to ensure the rights of victims of enforced disappearances in the areas of truth, justice, reparation and memory,” a delegation of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said in a statement at the end of an official visit to the country.
While acknowledging statements by authorities recognising existing gaps and challenges around human rights and measures to address them, the experts pointed to mistrust on the part of victims in a context of longstanding, systemic lack of accountability for human rights violations.
“Among relatives of the disappeared we met in many parts of the country, while there is some hope for change, the common sentiment was mistrust, hopelessness and fear,” the experts said.
The experts were particularly concerned at almost total impunity in cases of enforced disappearances, both for past events – notably enforced disappearances from the 1980s and 1990s committed within the context of national security doctrine – as well as current instances. They also added that the lack of progress appears to be a combination of inadequate legislative framework, institutional weakness and lack of adequate coordination, skills and resources, coupled with insecurity, collusion and corruption.
The Working Group urged the Honduran government to recognise enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime outside the context of crimes against humanity and establish specialised units for the search, investigation, prosecution and adjudication of this crime.
“To break the cycle of impunity, it is essential that these measures are rooted in a firm and coordinated commitment from all relevant State actors, notably executive, legislative, judiciary and prosecutorial authorities, and zero tolerance on corruption,” they said.
“Holding material and intellectual perpetrators of enforced disappearance accountable is not only essential to fulfil the right of victims to justice, but is also key to guarantee non-recurrence of this heinous crime,” the experts said.
The Working Group urged authorities to create a registry for all victims of enforced disappearance and a database with genetic data of their relatives, as part of establishing a plan for the search of disappeared persons, with necessary human, technical and financial resources.
“Each and every complaint related to enforced disappearance must be duly and effectively investigated from the outset and relatives need to be informed promptly of any progress thereon”, observed the experts, noting that the vast majority of victims met during the visit reported scant attention and response from competent authorities, which leaves them essentially on their own in their search efforts.
“We also met relatives of individuals who disappeared as victims of organized crime, in the context of land disputes or migration and witnessed their anguish and suffering in the absence of any response or investigation by State authorities,” the Working Group said. Recalling the emblematic 2020 disappearance of four Garifuna community members in Triunfo de la Cruz, unresolved to date, the experts said it was essential to independently investigate all elements of these crimes, including the possible involvement of public officials.
The disappearance of migrants is a global plight that heavily affects Honduras and the Central American region the experts said, urging the government to intensify cooperation with other States in the region and beyond to, among others, ensure victim families receive information on the search for their loved ones.
On 21 March, during the visit of the Working Group, an Executive Decree was adopted creating a Memory and Reparation programme. “We look forward to the effective implementation of this programme and hope it will address reparation in a comprehensive, inclusive and holistic way,” the experts said. They urged authorities to fully recognise the legal status of disappeared persons and respect the rights of their next-of-kin, by issuing declarations of absence by reason of disappearance.
The Working Group will present its concluding observations on the visit to the Human Rights Council in September 2023.
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Ms. Aua Baldé (Guinea- Bissau) and the Vice-Chair is Ms. Gabriella Citroni (Italy); other members are Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit (Thailand), Mr. Luciano Hazan (Argentina) and Ms. Grażyna Baranowska (Poland).
The Working Group was established by the then UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The Working Groups 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 system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
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UN Human Rights, Country Page - Honduras
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