New report highlights growing violence, impunity in Honduras

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  • January 27, 2014

By Maria Hendrischke

In a new report published last week, PEN International, PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law lamented Honduras’ transition to a life-threatening place where crimes against journalists often go unpunished.

The report, titled "Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity," focuses on the situation of journalism and free speech since the coup d’état against President José Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

In the past ten years, at least 38 journalists have been killed in Honduras. However, these cases have led to only nine arrests and two convictions, which amounts to an impunity rate of 95 percent.

The crimes committed against journalists and other social communicators, such as bloggers, have increased in number since 2009, when Honduras was not a country of primary concern in international comparison. But nowadays, high rates of unpunished crime create an atmosphere of fear in Honduras, the report said. In 2012 alone, PEN International registered 344 acts of aggression against media institutions and journalists, with more than half of them coming from state agents.

Consequently, media outlets often self-censor their work, especially when reporting on sensitive issues like corruption. Honduran journalists often report on crime without offering analysis or establishing context because they fear becoming victims of violent attacks if they do, the report said.

Furthermore, prosecutors treat the killing of journalists as an act of “street violence.” In the rare cases that lead to an investigation, authorities only search for the actual killer but not for individuals who might have ordered the crime.

In line with PEN’s report, other international organizations have already responded to Honduras’ treatment of journalism. The Unesco began to develop a regional program in Honduras in 2013 addressing the issues of freedom of speech and safety for journalists.

To fight all these critical points, the PEN report suggests that the Honduran government should install better-functioning bodies to investigate crimes committed against journalists, empower the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights and make effective laws aimed at improving the security of journalists. The report calls on donor nations and international organizations to support the country in efforts to do so.

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.