Honduran government to close more than 5,000 civic organizations, including freedom of expression groups

By Diego Cruz

Update 03/14/2014: Honduras' interior minister Rigoberto Chang Castillo apologized to the more than 5,000 NGOs that the country's official journal "La Gaceta" announced last week, C-Libre reported.

In a meeting with representatives of Honduras' civic organizations, Chang Castillo promised to modernize the Monitoring and Registry Unit for Civil Associations (URSAC)'s computer equipment and staff training procedures to prevent similar errors in the future. He added that Jorge Montes, URSAC's current director, had been removed.

Chang Castillo also extended the period of time NGOs have to correct errors in their registry.

Original: On Feb. 28, the Honduran government ordered the cancelation of the legal status of 5,429 non-governmental organizations, including freedom of expression organization Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre), which condemned the order in a public alert published on March 7, asking for support from national and international organizations.

The Monitoring and Registry Unit for Civil Associations (URSAC) published a resolution ordering the cancelation of the legal status of the nonprofit associations for various reasons, primarily their supposed failure to present annual reports for their activities and finances, as required by executive decree 770-A-2013.

“Once the legal personality of these civil associations is canceled, they must proceed with the liquidation of their goods and other assets, transferring their duties to another nonprofit civic association with similar social objectives,” the resolution explained.

In its alert, the organization C-Libre considered this action “an escalation against organizations that are critical of the current governments policies and promote and defend human rights in Honduras.”

C-Libre said they had documentation showing they had presented the required financial reports on time and meeting all administrative requirements. C-Libre demanded a public apology from URSAC for damages done to the organization and said it was willing to take legal action through international organizations.

The organization described President Juan Orlando Hernández’s government as authoritarian and asked for support from other nonprofit organizations in rejecting the cancelation. They considered the action a “vile abuse” of freedom of expression and the right to information access, which the organization promotes as one of its goals.

According to the newspaper El Heraldo, other organizations affected by the cancelation include Aeroclub de Honduras, Artículo 19 Honduras, Asociación de Libre Expresión, Organización para el Desarrollo Comunitario, Agencia Centroamericana de Acreditación de Postgrado and Asociación Alianza Global.

Even though the majority of the nonprofits were canceled for not presenting financial reports, other reasons given by the government included organizations no longer receiving resources from abroad or having already finalized their projects and operations, El Heraldo reported. They also said another 4,800 civil associations had their legal personhood canceled toward the end of 2013, in what was referred to as a “filtering operative” to regulate the organizations’ operations.

According to Rigoberto Chang, minister of the Interior and Population, there are a total of 18,000 non-governmental organizations in Honduras, the Mexican news agency Notimex reported.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.