Honduras: UN experts concerned at detention, police powers in justice system

Honduras: UN experts concerned at detention, police powers in justice system

Despite improvements in the judicial system in Honduras, the continued remand detention of nearly 2,000 people, some for more than 10 years, and the “excessive power” of police in the criminal justice system remain matters of concern, according to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Government officials assured the experts they were aware of the problems and committed to continuing and strengthening the reform process, Group Chairperson Leila Zerrougui, an Algerian judge, told a news conference in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, at the end of as visit to the Central American country.

“The Working Group is encouraged by these assurances and hopes that the Government will be able to address some of the concerns expressed already before it adopts its final report on the visit at the beginning of September,” Ms. Zerrougui said.

The Group, whose other member was Spanish judge Manuela Carmena Castrillo, noted that the new criminal procedure code, which entered into force in 2002, had resulted without any doubt in greater transparency of judicial proceedings and a reduction of the delays in the administration of justice.

The share of prisoners held without sentence, which in 2002 amounted to 92 per cent, has shrunk to approximately 62 per cent by March.

But the experts expressed concern with regard to the discrimination to which at least 1,800 persons in remand detention under the old criminal procedure code are subjected. They have been deprived of their freedom without being found guilty of a crime for at least four years – and in some cases more than 10 years.

Among the pre-trial detainees held under the old criminal procedure are persons who were acquitted by the first instance court but continue to be detained because the prosecution has appealed the acquittal. “Their detention is doubly arbitrary,” the experts concluded.

The Group also noted that prosecutors exercise only weak control over the investigative police. As the police also run the prison system, they exercise physical control over all persons in detention at all stages, and not only during the first 24 hours while they are in the holding cells of police stations.

The experts voiced concerns over the Government’s strategy to fight the violent youth gangs, citing its apparent nearly exclusive reliance on repression and marginalization, as well as occasionally on unlawful means, while making no efforts to try to reintegrate into society the thousands of adolescents and young adults belonging to these groups.