Honduras: the country where rights are dying
Translated by Margot Daniele, Proofread by Coralie Frachisse
Spanish is spoken there and there are dream beaches. Honduras is a country of Central America, bordered by the Caribbean, Nicaragua, Salvador, Guatemala, dotted with islands, and it possesses everything to be the perfect summer destination. Yet, there are many red flags. Problems there are piling up and disgraceful titles are added to the Republic of Honduras’ reputation. On 21 January 2021, it was there that feminists and the LGBT+ community lost a fight while Parliament was entering in Honduras’ Constitution the absolute prohibition of abortion, as well as the prohibition of same-sex marriage.
Strict and absolute prohibitions
“Set in stone”, “legal gag”, “constitutional lock”
These are the expressions used by various media to qualify the extent of the prohibitions that were adopted in Honduras in January 2021.
The current Constitution of Honduras dates back to 1982 and has already been edited many times since (26 times to be exact). In 2009, while the Honduran president Manuel Zelaya tried to organize a referendum to form a constitutional assembly that would write a new constitution, there was a coup d’état. Manuel Zelaya was deposed and exiled, while Roberto Micheletti, who was president of the Congress of Honduras, took his place. It was in this context of constitutional crisis and coup d’état that the president of Costa Rica, Óscar Arias, called in to help by the American State Department to arbitrate the crisis, declared that, according to him, the Honduran constitution is “the worst in the entire world”, and represents an “invitation to coups d’état”.
Since 1982 and before the constitutional revision of January 2021, abortion and same-sex marriage had already been prohibited. In a desire to ratify these prohibitions, which almost seems like relentlessness to trample women’s rights and sexual freedom, article 67 of the Constitution was revised in the following words:
“The practice of any form of interruption of the life of those yet to be born, whose life must be respected from the moment of conception, is prohibited and illegal. Legislation created after the present article that establishes the contrary will be null and nonexistent”.
This constitutional revision was introduced by Mario Pérez, deputy of the National Party in power, and was adopted via an accelerated procedure. It would have already been difficult to grant these rights before the reform since a vote of two-thirds of the unicameral Congress was needed to go from prohibition to right to abortion and gay marriage. This now seems nearly impossible since one needs the approval of three-quarters of members of Parliament, meaning 96 votes out of 128, even more so as the Congress of Honduras is now dominated by the conservative party.
This abortion prohibition is absolute: women do not have the right to abort under any circumstances. Abortion is defined in the penal code as a crime punishable by a maximum of six years of imprisonment for women and doctors who would practice it, even in the cases of incest, rape, severe fetal malformation, or when pregnancy puts the mother’s health at risk. It is one of the world’s strictest legislation on the subject. In South America, other countries have chosen a total prohibition: Salvador, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Surinam. Finally, it should be noted that since 2012 in Honduras, taking or selling the morning-after pill is also defined in the penal code as a crime punishable by imprisonment.
However the fight is not over yet
The reform still has to be ratified by at least 86 members of parliament during the next legislature to close the process. This election is scheduled for November 2021. Consequently, the Women’s movement for peace Visitación-Padilla has organized protests and urges the population to not vote for deputies who have supported this decree in the next elections. Women’s rights defense organizations ask for at least the right to “therapeutic abortion”.
These repressive policies are also denounced by the UN and Amnesty International as serious violations against women’s fundamental rights and sexual and reproductive rights. According to figures, the situation is even more alarming: the UN believe that the number of unsafe clandestine abortions amounts to between 51 000 and 82 000 per year. Furthermore, in Honduras, 30% of pregnancies among adolescent girls is reportedly identified, which represents the second-highest rate in Latin and Central America. Insecurity prevails in the county: women and homosexual people are the first victims of this omnipresent violence in every social sphere of Honduras.
A tense and unequal overall context
What is even more striking in Honduras is that the situation is particularly critical on all fronts. In 2016, it was considered to be the most non-egalitarian country of Latin America. Ecologically, major projects based on the overexploitation of natural resources have caused serious droughts and river pollution. Meanwhile, 130 environmental activists were killed between 2009 and 2019. Economically, extreme poverty characterizes the country. In 2019, the country’s developmental rate was the lowest of the American continent and 39% of households lived in extreme poverty.
Furthermore, Honduras has one of the world’s highest rates of homicide: in 2015, the United Nations estimated that this rate amounted to 63,8 homicides per 100 000 inhabitants, a rate that has gone up to 93,2 in 2011! According to the Global Competitiveness Report of the Global Economic Forum, the country is ranked 136/137 in terms of organized crimes. Entire areas of the country are controlled by drug traffickers who simultaneously threaten the population, journalists, tourists, and politicians. As a result, the entire system is severely corrupted, including the police, as well as the army and the highest leaders of the country. It seems clear the major reforms are to be hoped for Honduras, such as for Argentina where abortion was finally legalized on 30 December 2020.
L3 droit et philosophie à l’université Lyon 3