COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORT OF HONDURAS
5 February 2014
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined initial to fifth periodic report of Honduras on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Giampaolo Rizzo Alvarado, Deputy Permanent Representative of Honduras to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Honduras recognized that the indigenous people and people of African origin in Honduras had suffered discrimination throughout history. The elimination of racial discrimination was thus a major goal of the country’s policy, to which both the outgoing and the incoming governments were strongly committed. Any citizen who was a victim of racial discrimination could address a special public prosecutor, who would in turn investigate such cases and demand sanctions for those responsible.
During the discussion, Committee Experts expressed appreciation for the sincerity with which the Government of Honduras had prepared its report and presented it before the Committee, but wondered why it had taken so long for Honduras to ratify the Convention and prepare its first report. The Experts also raised issues of structural racism and racial discrimination, sanctions applied in cases of racism, and what the Government was doing to address the problem of poverty of the indigenous communities, and in particular of the Misquito people. Linguistic diversity, the protection and promotion of local languages and cultural diversity were also discussed.
In concluding remarks, Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Honduras, said that the dialogue with the small, but dedicated delegation of Honduras had been frank and substantial. He invited the State party to review provisions in order to ensure they were in line with the Convention. Special measures ought to be taken to further promote the Convention. The State party was encouraged to integrate diversity as a principle in the Constitution. Concern was expressed over the merger of the Ministry for Indigenous People and People of Afro-Honduran Descent with another ministry. The development of special business zones was a matter of worry for local indigenous communities.
Mr. Rizzo Alvarado, in concluding remarks, said that a broad range of questions had been raised by Committee members, which had led to an open and honest discussion. Some questions of concern had been identified in the course of the discussion, and the delegation was dedicated to responding to those in necessary detail. Mr. Rizzo Alvarado reiterated the commitment of Honduras to the Convention.
The delegation of Honduras included representatives of the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its consideration of the combined second to third periodic report of Montenegro
The combined initial to fifth periodic report of Honduras can be read here (CERD/C/HND/1-5).
Presentation of the Report
GIAMPAOLO RIZZO ALVARADO, Deputy Permanent Representative of Honduras to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that due to the recent change of government in Honduras, it was not possible for the new authorities to send a delegation to Geneva. Honduras was a signatory to the United Nations Charter and the main international human rights treaties. Honduras recognized that the indigenous people and people of African origin in Honduras had suffered discrimination throughout history. The elimination of racial discrimination was thus a major goal of the country’s policy, to which both the outgoing and the incoming governments were strongly committed.
Mr. Rizzo Alvarado said Honduras valued the cooperation it had with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, and it had issued an open invitation to all United Nations special procedures to visit the country. In October 2002, Honduras deposited the ratification documents on the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Constitution of Honduras stated that all Hondurans were equal before the law, and there were various punishments for violating those provisions. Foreigners in Honduras were also granted protection against discrimination on any ground, including racial discrimination.
The Penal Code provided for the criminalization of acts of discrimination, or incitement to discrimination or hatred, on multiple grounds. Another criminal section was in place, prescribing long imprisonment for those inciting or conducting genocide. Genocide and other crimes against humanity were criminal offenses as stipulated in the Statute of the International Criminal Court since 2002. The Labour Code also prohibited discrimination on a number of grounds, including race, religion and political beliefs.
The right of children and adolescents to have cultural activities of their particular groups respected was in place. All individuals had their access to education guaranteed so they could enjoy equal chances. Efforts were being made to preserve different languages in Honduras, and Honduras was officially a multicultural and multilingual State.
Since 2010, the Institute for Indigenous People and People of Afro-Honduran Descent had been operational. The Institute had been implementing the National Plan against Racism and Racial Discrimination, as well as a programme for developing and promoting human capital of members of nine autochthonous peoples. Efforts were being made with the National Statistical Institute with the view of establishing the exact numbers of people belonging to indigenous communities. A national registry for indigenous people was in place, registering them from birth.
More than one per cent of national gross domestic product was spent on the “Bonus 10,000” Programme, which had so far benefited close to 200,000 underprivileged families of indigenous backgrounds.
Mr. Rizzo Alvarado stressed that the National Commission for Human Rights had a central office in the capital, as well as 16 regional and local offices. The annual budget for the Commission had been constantly increasing since 2010. The National Commission against Racism had been created in 2004 as a consultative body to the executive in order to promote political consensus on the elimination of racial discrimination.
Laws on property and forests recognized the rights of indigenous peoples to property, protection of their ancestral territories and cultivation of land in traditional ways. The main source of livelihood for the lower-income people of indigenous origin came from the production and sale of agricultural and home-made products. Several indigenous groups had poverty rates much higher than the population at large, which was why the Government had adopted a number of public policies to address that challenging issue. A special national programme of education was in place to address the needs of children of indigenous descent; on the average, a child of indigenous or Afro-Honduran descent stayed in school for 4.8 years, while the national average was 7.4 years.
Concerning the economic participation in Honduras, the national rate was 53 per cent, while the rate for indigenous people stood at 45 per cent. Close to half of the indigenous and Afro-Honduran labour force was currently unemployed.
Mr. Rizzo Alvarado noted that close to 80 per cent of indigenous households had access to sanitation, but in some areas as many as 40 per cent of homes had no access to sanitation. Certain groups, such as the Misquito, were particularly affected. The Misquito families also lived more in communal homes than in private, detached houses. Six out of ten indigenous and Afro-Honduran families lived in cramped conditions, which did not allow for enough living space and privacy for family members.
Regarding the participation of indigenous and Afro-Honduran people in political and public life, conditions were the same as for the population at large, and no discrimination was in place. In addition, in 2011, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal recommended that affirmative means be undertaken to promote political and civil rights of that section of the population.
Any citizen who was a victim of racial discrimination could address the public prosecutor from the special office for ethnic groups and cultural heritage, who would in turn investigate such cases and demand sanctions for those responsible.
Questions by Experts
PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Honduras, expressed appreciation for the sincerity with which the Government of Honduras had prepared its report and presented it before the Committee.
Mr. Murillo Martinez said that Honduras was an extraordinary Central American country with a population of more than eight million and nine different ethnic groups. All the indigenous peoples spoke different languages. An autonomous census estimated that there were more than 1.5 million people belonging to various ethnic groups in the country, 60 per cent of whom were indigenous and 40 per cent of African descent. Government efforts in recent times had made it possible to have more accurate data on the breakdown along ethnic lines.
The administration of previous President, Porfirio Lobo, had promoted the rights of indigenous people, and particularly of the Garifunas, including the inclusion of two ministers of indigenous background in the cabinet. The political will of the State party to overcome the historic challenges had also been manifested through the establishment of the Ministry of Indigenous People and People of Afro-Honduran descent in 2011.
The main challenges remained unmet, in spite of the progress made in recent years. People of indigenous descent were not actively involved in the decision-making process. They had unequal access to the labour market, and there were few legal guarantees for land ownership. People in those communities were not well organized to promote their interests. The report of Honduras showed that the per capita income of ethnic groups was only 30 per cent of the national average, and poverty affected more than 88 per cent of children of indigenous and Afro-Honduran descent. It was not clear how the programme “Living Better with Work” would help the most underprivileged classes of the population.
What actions was the State taking to deal with the structural racism and racial discrimination against indigenous people and people of Afro-Honduran descent?
Cases of racism were frequent in Honduras, and sanctions were not applied in line with the laws. The Country Rapporteur asked for more information on cases of racism and racial discrimination which had been processed in courts.
Had any government or parliamentary initiatives been taken in the direction of making diversity a constitutional category? Was anything being done to implement Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization? Had there been any consultations on that matter?
Mr. Murillo Martinez noted that the right to land ownership and land management was of critical importance for the future of indigenous communities, such as the Garifunas. He asked for details on what was being done to provide ethnic groups rights to their ancestral territories.
Could the State party provide statistics on Misquito divers who had died or had become disabled as a result of consequences of that perilous occupation, suffering the consequences of decompression sickness.
Another Expert pointed out that the Committee had a significant responsibility given that it was the first time that Honduras had presented a report to it. The Expert commented that Honduras would have to overhaul its legislation so that Article 4 of the Convention could be reflected in full.
The Expert said that all people of African descent, including visitors, and not only Afro-Honduras, should be protected from discrimination.
Was there bilingual or multilingual teaching in schools, and did the television have programmes in indigenous languages?
The report mentioned 44 cases of people who had been referred to the special prosecutor for offences of racism or racial discrimination. How many of those people had actually been prosecuted and punished?
An Expert noted that a national plan for human rights had been promised in 1993, but it had not been adopted and implemented. The Expert also asked what was being done to improve the conditions of the Misquito people, who were disproportionately poor.
Another Expert asked whether the delegation could consult with the capital in order to provide answers to a number of questions raised by the Experts.
The question of definition of racial discrimination was raised again. It was important to amend the legislation to bring it closer to the definition from Article 1 of the Convention. What had to be taken into consideration was that it was not only citizens or indigenous people who could be discriminated against.
Concerning the National Commission on Human Rights, the Expert inquired what the result of complaints submitted to the Commission was, and whether there had been cases of complaints on racial discrimination.
The Expert asked whether the customary law of various ethnic groups was recognized by the State.
Another Expert said that there was lack of equality between the Constitution and the international treaties. The Expert wondered whether having a large number of grounds for discrimination – 18 in the current draft legislation – might be too detailed or counterproductive.
An Expert stressed that it was important for the new President and Government of Honduras to recognize diversity as an integral value of the country and continue implementing actions to combat racial discrimination.
The Expert asked why Honduras took so long to ratify the Convention. He noted that the report, while very late, was very detailed in many aspects, particularly regarding development programmes for the indigenous population.
An Expert stated that a properly functioning and independent judiciary was the key to the implementation of any international convention. The problems of impunity and the ability of the legal system to deal with it remained a cause of concern. The Expert asked for assurances on the independence of the judiciary.
What measures were being looked at with regard to eliminating extra-judicial killings?
Another Expert said that a number of areas of concern had been brought to the Committee’s attention, such as the corruption of the police forces and their impunity. What was being done to address those problems?
Regarding the law on special development zones, which had been challenged, inter alia, by indigenous groups, and had been struck down by the Supreme Court, the concern existed that the legislature had subsequently reenacted the law. The judges who had voted to strike it down had been dismissed.
The Expert asked whether structural reforms of the special prosecutor office were being contemplated.
Another Expert said that special and absolute disqualifications and aggravating circumstances were mentioned in Honduran criminal legislation, and asked for clarifications on what those were.
An Expert asked for the definition of torture and what the penalty for torture was.
The Expert noted that the majority of persons with disabilities in Honduras were Misquitos, mostly because of their traditional diving practices. The Expert inquired whether the Government was planning to undertake any actions to address that issue.
An Expert said that having a special prosecutor just for the indigenous people and people of Afro-Hungarian descent seemed like segregation and could be understood in a negative context. She asked for clarification on this.
If lands were expropriated from indigenous people, what were the procedures to follow for their return?
Indigenous and Afro-Honduran people were the most vulnerable groups in the country, another Expert noted. The prevalence of crime had an adverse impact on the economic development of the country. What was the protection given to the most vulnerable groups so that they could a earn reasonable living without their earnings being taken away by organized crime?
An Expert asked about the targets and deadlines of the national plan against racism.
What steps had been taken to ensure that the judiciary was not contributing to racism and racial discrimination? Were there any training programmes in place for that purpose?
How was the discrimination against women, particularly indigenous women, being addressed? What was being done to address the extreme poverty experienced by juveniles from the indigenous groups?
An Expert said that a long time – 32 years – had passed between the signing of the Convention and its ratification by Honduras. Was there a prioritization in the submissions of draft laws in Honduras? If so, the treaty dealing with racial discrimination should have been given a priority over the previous three decades. If domestic and international laws were on an equal footing, why had the Convention been ratified so late?
The Chairperson of the Committee asked what significance was attached to language and various dialects.
Response by the Delegation
In response to these questions and comments, the delegation thanked the Country Rapporteur for
his analysis of the report and the questions, and other Experts for raising a number of questions.
Mr. Rizzo Alvarado thanked the outgoing authorities in the Justice Ministry of Honduras for providing their support to the delegation. He noted that concern was expressed that the Ministry for Indigenous People and People of Afro-Honduran Descent was losing its influence, as it was being merged with other bodies under the new government.
On the “Workers Live Better” programme, the delegation said that it was a presidential programme, designed by national experts, to try to respond to the high levels of unemployment in Honduras, and was national in scope. It was supposed to benefit anyone without employment, with a particular emphasis on young people. More than 230 private companies were associated with it and received governmental subsidies in the first several months of employment of new workers.
Regarding structural racism and racial discrimination, the Constitution of Honduras provided for a legal and political foundation for equal treatment before the law and in the fight against discrimination. Constitutional provisions were inspired by universal human rights conventions. The Secretariat of State for Indigenous Peoples and People of Afro-Honduran Descent, which was created in 2010, provided for development coordination and inclusion of indigenous and Afro-Honduran peoples, included training and institutional strengthening. More than 660 leaders of indigenous communities had been provided trainings on capacity development, while 170 officials of the judiciary system had been trained on human rights and minority rights in particular.
The National Plan against Racism and Racist Discrimination strove to fight the structural causes of those scourges and help communities break out of poverty and social exclusion.
On the issues of bilingualism, the education law recognized and promoted the importance of multilingual and multicultural education. The law had been deemed a success and there were no obstacles for its further implementation.
Many lands occupied by indigenous people and the people of Afro-Honduran descent were registered in special registries which recognized them as historical or cultural heritage. Between 2010 and 2013, more than 75,000 such ownership property titles had been issued. Ownership, management and usage of such lands were allowed and promoted, both individually and collectively, and there was no time limit to it. Indigenous peoples had to be consulted by the State prior to any exploitation of such lands by the State, in which case the indigenous peoples had to be compensated.
Mr. Rizzo Alvarado explained that all laws in Honduras were applicable to all people, and were based on universal equality before the law. At the same time, some affirmative measures had been adopted to promote and protect the underprivileged groups.
Regarding statistics on the unprotected practice of diving among the Misquitos, and actions taken in that respect, in 2012 an inter-institutional commission had been created to address the issue. There were some 4,000 men who suffered disabilities as a result of unsafe diving practices.
On the issue of the term “race”, it was the term used by the Convention itself. When the term was mentioned, it could also be understood as human race. Various reforms, in line with the international standards, such as on femicide and torture, had been incorporated in the Penal Code. Generic aggravating circumstances included committing hate crimes, based on sex, gender, religion, national or ethnic origin, political opinion, and so on. Health conditions, such as being affected by HIV, were also included on the list of possible grounds for discrimination. Thus far, there had been no cases of expulsion of foreigners for committing racial crimes.
Answering questions on the usage of the term “Afro-Hondurans”, Mr. Rizzo Alvarado said that the United Nations used the term “people of African descent”, while in Honduras those people themselves had adopted the former term. Neither nationals of Honduras nor foreigners of African descent could be discriminated against on the ground of their descent.
The official radio and TV programmes included programmes which promoted equality of all. The national anthem of Honduras had been translated to a number of indigenous languages, and the Ministry of Education was promoting bilingualism in the education system.
Out of 55 complaints against individuals for committing racial discrimination offenses, 31 were being currently processed, 17 had been dismissed, four had been prosecuted and for three alternative solutions, such as reconciliation, had been found. Since 2010, the National Commission for Human Rights had reported having received more than 32,000 complaints, out of which some 10,000 had been investigated.
The human rights based approach had been incorporated in the budgeting process, both at the central and local government levels.
The delegation explained that the Constitution established that all international treaties had to be approved by the Congress before ratification by the executive branch. Such treaties would then become integral parts of the national legislation. If a treaty contravened the Constitution, it had to be submitted for discussion in the Congress, where it would demand a two-third approval.
On why it had taken so long for Honduras to ratify the Convention and submit its first report, the delegation said that prior to the government of President Lobo Sosa, there had been no specialized technical institution in charge of international obligations of the State. It was only in 2010 that the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights had been created and since then Honduras had been dealing with the backlog of its international obligations.
The national action plan on human rights included a strategic approach to address the issues of various vulnerable social strata, including specific plans with concrete ways of measuring the impact on improving living conditions.
Regarding the protection of minors in Honduran indigenous communities, the Government had been working together with UNICEF on protecting children’s rights, ensuring access to education and developing a communication strategy on indigenous children’s rights.
The delegation answered the issues of corruption and alleged impunity of the police forces by explaining that there existed a specialized directorate for monitoring, evaluating and investigating police conduct.
Concerning torture, the delegation said that the Criminal Code provided a precise and comprehensive definition. Prison sentences for acts of torture were between five and 15 years, depending on the gravity of the act.
The office of the special prosecutor for ethnic groups and cultural heritage provided an additional level of protection for vulnerable groups, because that office could step in automatically or act on allegations of racial discrimination, in order to ensure proper investigation and punishment of those involved.
Extortion was one of the crimes affecting the people of Honduras in general, and not only the indigenous communities. The Government had established a special intelligence unit to look into that issue and had improved overall prevention measures.
The delegation explained that two thirds of the Honduran population suffered from poverty, which was why the administration of President Lobo Sosa had implemented the programme “Bonus 10,000”. Through that programme, one per cent of national GDP was being distributed to the poorest families, which had already reduced the poverty rate by three per cent. A number of public policies was in place to reduce poverty levels.
Honduras was implementing a national plan for gender equality, which also addressed the needs of indigenous women. The Government was receiving technical assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund to reform national legislation dealing with children, adolescents and family, including having judges specialized for matters of juvenile justice.
Follow-up Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked how people who did not belong to indigenous or Afro-Honduran communities were classified. Could the delegation read out the list of all groups that were considered vulnerable?
Another Expert inquired whether the State party intended to develop, or restore, alphabets for unwritten indigenous languages.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that the remaining population groups were called Hondurans and were people of mixed backgrounds. They included minorities stemming from European or Asian descent. It was explained that the definition of vulnerable groups came from the national human rights action plan, and it indeed included a wide array of people, including, inter alia, youth, women, human rights defendants, journalists and sexual minorities.
The delegation explained that special education needs were met by having teaching texts translated to the majority of indigenous languages. The delegation was not aware of specific efforts to recover lost languages, such as the Maya language, but a more comprehensive answer could be provided subsequently.
Follow-up Questions by the Experts
An Expert recommended that gender or sex-based discrimination be included in the reporting process, and for the State to have statistics desegregated by gender.
Another Expert commented that it was difficult to understand what exactly Honduras considered under the term “race”. The Expert gave an example of Norway which had recently eradicated all references to race from its legislation, and the same process was underway in France. How did the delegation understand the term “national origin”?
What were the special measures to combat structural racism and what exact measures was the Government taking to improve the living conditions and the fate of the Misquitos who dove for lobsters for a living?
The Country Rapporteur said that he was quite satisfied with the delegation’s responses. He said that the Committee’s concern on Misquito divers had been clearly expressed. He wondered about historical prohibitions of accepting immigrants from Africa.
Another Expert raised the issue of a law establishing special development and business zones on territories traditionally belonging to indigenous communities, and whether the law against racial discrimination would continue to be applicable in such zones.
An Expert said that current trends seemed to increasingly perceive “race” as a social construct, but for the Committee that term was real because it existed in the Convention.
The Chairperson commented that the programme “Bonus 10,000” was quite important if it managed to provide needy families with basic subsistence.
Response by the Delegation
Regarding statistics, the delegation said it would check whether such detailed figures existed, and, if so, those could be sent subsequently in a written form. When specific variables on various ethnicities became available from the upcoming census, those would be provided in the following country report.
The delegation stated that they had provided a detailed explanation on why the term “race” was used in the national legislation, which was in order to harmonize it with international norms.
There were special measures in place to combat structural racism, details on which could be provided in writing. Migrants were considered to be particularly vulnerable, and the Government was cooperating with the International Organization for Migration and the Catholic Church on administering migrant support centres.
The delegation explained that the cabinet was just being finalized right now and there was still no information on the inclusion of representatives of indigenous communities. Once the composition of the Government was known, that information could be provided.
The “Bonus 10,000” programme would be continued by the incoming Government. It would require receiving families to send their children to school and have them regularly checked in health centres.
Regarding the applicability of the anti-discrimination law in future special development zones, the delegation promised to revert after consulting with the capital.
PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Country Rapporteur for Honduras, said that the concluding observations and recommendations would be sent to the State party and recalled that the Committee had expressed concerns with regard to the criminalization of racism, and invited the State party to review provisions in order to ensure they were in line with the Convention. Special measures ought to be taken to further promote the Convention. The State party was encouraged to integrate diversity as a principle in the Constitution. Concern was expressed over the merger of the Ministry for Indigenous People and People of Afro-Honduran Descent with another ministry. Development of special business zones was a matter of worry for local indigenous communities. Hope was expressed that the State party would manage to provide desegregated data in its following reports.
GIAMPAOLO RIZZO ALVARADO, Deputy Permanent Representative of Honduras to the United Nations in Geneva, thanked the Chairperson and the Rapporteur for their encouraging words. A broad range of questions had been raised by Committee members, which had led to an open and honest discussion. Some questions of concern had been identified in the course of the discussion, and the delegation was committed to responding to those in necessary detail. Mr. Rizzo Alvarado reiterated the commitment of Honduras to the Convention.
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