TEGUCIGALPA / GENEVA (31 October 2023) — The legal and judicial system in Honduras has failed to ensure justice and accountability for the most serious crimes and threats to the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and social communicators, a UN expert said.

“Hondurans working on issues related to land, the environment, corruption, organised crimes, agrarian and mining conflicts remain at high risk of violence, online and gender-based attacks, intimidation, smear campaigns, and judicial harassment,” said Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, at the end of an official visit to the country.

“Almost every journalist I spoke to – whether in mainstream media, online media, or community radio, male, female or gender diverse – claimed that intimidation has reached such a high level and the measures offered by the Protection Mechanism are so inadequate that they feel compelled to self-censor in order to protect themselves and their families,” she said.

The expert called for a major overhaul of the Protection Mechanism, which was created in 2015. “Many of the individuals I met gave concrete examples of long delays in response or no response at all, risk assessments that fail to take into account the context and environment in which people live, work and are endangered, and the absence of gender considerations although many of those seeking support are women or LGBTQI individuals,” she said.

Khan welcomed the repeal of the Public Secrets Law and encouraged the Government to continue to expand access to public information, including for marginalised and Indigenous communities.

She noted that community media is an important vehicle for preserving Indigenous culture and languages, and the primary means by which people in rural areas receive information.

The expert urged the Government to ensure that adequate legal and operational conditions are created for the operation of community radios.

She urged authorities to accede to the Escazu Agreement to strengthen access to information, promote public participation and protect environmental human rights defenders.

“Honduras must decriminalise the crimes against honour (slander and libel), and revise the crime of usurpation, which is used to criminalise those protesting peacefully in defence of their rights to land and livelihoods,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“The highly polarised political environment has eroded trust in the integrity of information, poisoned public discourse and endangered dissenting voices,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Labelling critical reporting as “fake news” not only undermines and delegitimises journalists, but it also makes them more vulnerable to threats and attacks,” she said.

“I urge the Government to uphold the right to freedom of expression as a vital tool to advance its ambitions for sustainable development and inclusive democracy,” she said.