Honduras – Journalists under threat
A case study from the 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, for several years Honduras has been classified as one of the most violent countries in the world not in a state of war, with a rate of 90.4 murders per 100,000 people. Levels of impunity remain high, with perpetrators of violent crimes rarely brought to justice. These figures impact significantly on the ability of all Hondurans to exercise their basic human rights, and have led to Honduras being included for the past five years as a country of concern in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Annual Report.
One of the most serious concerns is around restrictions on freedom of expression. During 2014, both Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House categorised Honduras as “not free”. Both organisations said that journalists are subjected to direct and public threats of death and torture, criminalisation, bans on practising their profession, and indirect censorship through restrictions on access to media. Statistics show that, since 2009, more than 40 journalists have been killed.
The British Embassy in Guatemala City, which is also responsible for developing and maintaining relations between the UK and Honduras, maintains regular contact with freedom of expression organisations, journalists, and public officials in Honduras. We have also encouraged local authorities to continue investigating attacks on journalists. In October, a PEN Centre opened in Honduras to provide help for those journalists and media communicators who have been victims of violence. The British Embassy provided funding to PEN (a worldwide association of writers) in support of this initiative. The director of the centre, Dina Meza, has been subject to threats since 2006 and, despite obtaining special protection measures from the IACHR in 2013, these threats persisted in 2014. We have also closely followed the case of Julio Ernesto Alvarado who was banned from working as a journalist following his report into a corruption case. Such cases have led journalists to seek a change in the law to protect their rights to freedom of expression. The prevalence of violence and threats and the high levels of impunity have often led journalists to practise a form of selfcensorship. They work in an environment of fear, which makes it extremely difficult to conduct proper investigative reporting. January 2014 saw the start of a new government under President Juan Orlando Hernández. The new government has shown an interest in addressing human rights issues and tackling violence, and there has been a recent reduction in the murder rate to 66 deaths per 100,000 people, according to official figures. The government has also sought to maintain a close relationship with the international community as a way to help tackle some of these issues. One example of this was the first ever visit by a group of British parliamentarians in November under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The visit allowed an exchange of views on a wide range of human rights issues with government officials, NGOs and journalists themselves. In December, the Honduran government also welcomed and cooperated fully with a visit from the IACHR.