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Honduras: Legal tradition

Honduras is a civil law country and, according to the Constitution, a constitutional democracy with a presidential system of government. The Constitution in force was adopted in 1982.[1]

A former Spanish colony, its independence from Spain was proclaimed in 1821. It briefly was part of Mexico, until joining the United Provinces of Central America (subsequently called the Federal Republic of Central America) in 1823. Honduras declared its independence from the Federal Republic in 1838-1839.

The first general civilian elections in Honduras were held in 1981. They ended a long period of military dominance (1963-1981); however, the military has retained much of its influence.

In 1993, proposals were made by President Carlos Reina to strengthen the judicial system and ensure accountability for human rights violations. In 2002, a new Code of Criminal Procedure replaced the former system, which had relied heavily on written proceedings and was inquisitorial in character (meaning investigation is led by a specialized judge rather than a prosecutor); the new system relies more on oral proceedings and confers greater responsibility on prosecutors.[2]

President Manuel Zelaya was detained and sent into exile by the military in June 2009. He had sought to hold a non-binding referendum on launching a process of constitutional reform (which critics claimed was primarily aimed at extending the permitted presidential term, though he denied this). He had indicated an intention to proceed with the referendum despite a Supreme Court decision finding the consultation process to be illegal. His arrest had been authorized by the Supreme Court, to require him to appear before the Court; his expulsion to Costa Rica was effected by the military without Court approval. His removal from the country, and purported removal from office, was promptly and unanimously condemned by the UN General Assembly as a coup d’état, which demanded the immediate and unconditional restoration of his government.[3] In July 2009, Honduras was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) on grounds of ‘the unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order’.[4]

In September 2009, a de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti, former president of the National Congress, declared a state of emergency and restricted a number of rights, including the rights to liberty, to freedom of association and freedom of speech.[5] Thereafter, thousands of individuals were arbitrarily detained, killed, tortured, raped and persecuted.[6] Several petitions challenging the emergency decree were filed with the Supreme Court, although the decree was ultimately rescinded before any judgment on the merits of the petitions was issued.[7]

Following elections held in 2009, Porfirio Lobo Sosa assumed the presidency of Honduras on 27 January 2010. The National Congress enacted an amnesty law covering events that occurred between 1 January 2008 and 27 January 2010. The list of crimes for which amnesty was given did not explicitly include violations of human rights, but as a matter of practice ambiguous wording contributed to many of the human rights abuses remaining unpunished.[8]

President Zelaya left the country in exile, briefly returning to Honduras for few months, after which he left again for the Dominican Republic. In 2011, Honduras was reinstated in the Organization of the American States as a result of having allowed former President Zelaya to return to the country.[9]



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 1. Political Constitution of the Republic of Honduras (Constitución Politica de la República de Honduras, 1982), Decree No. 131, 11 January 1982. The Constitution has since been substantially amended, most recently on 4 May 2005.
  2. 2. Organization of the American States, “Legal System of Honduras” (last accessed 17 August 2014).
  3. 3. United Nations General Assembly, Resolution on the situation in Honduras: democracy breakdown, UN Doc A/RES/63/301 (30 June 2009).
  4. 4. Organization of the American States General Assembly, Resolution on the Suspension of the Right of Honduras to Participate in the OAS, AG/RES. 2 (XXXVII-E/09).
  5. 5. Executive Decree PCM-M-016-2009 (26 September 2009). Unofficial copy available here, last accessed 22 October 2014; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Press Release: ‘IACHR Condemns Suspension of Guarantees in Honduras’ (29 September 2009). Last accessed 22 October 2014.
  6. 6. International Commission of Jurists, La Independencia del Poder Judicial en Honduras (2004-2013) (May 2014), p. 29-30.
  7. 7. International Commission of Jurists, La Independencia del Poder Judicial en Honduras (2004-2013) (May 2014), p. 33-34.
  8. 8. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Report to the Human Rights Council on a mission to Honduras, UN Doc. A/HRC/22/47/Add.1, para. 8.
  9. 9. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2013 Annual Report, para. 245; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2012 Annual Report, para. 158.
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