The recent dismissal of three judges and a magistrate in Honduras, apparently because they spoke out during the political crisis that engulfed the country last year, sends a disturbing message to other jurists in the Central American country, three independent United Nations human rights experts warned today.
The experts said the dismissal last month of the judges Guillermo López Lone, Luis Chávez and Ramón Enrique Barrios and the magistrate Tirza Flores could have the effect of intimidating other members of the judiciary “to refrain from expressing views different from those expressed by the authorities” in Honduras.
“None of the decisions that led to the dismissal of the judges and the magistrate contains legal grounds that justify why the conduct that was the object of the disciplinary proceedings was considered to be grave,” the experts said in a statement issued from Geneva.
The Supreme Court notified the four jurists that they had been dismissed for “non-compliance or serious breaches of their duties,” but the experts said the sackings seem to be connected to the jurists’ public remarks during last year’s crisis, when there was a coup d’état in Honduras, and their involvement in several acts of protest.
“Judges can be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, in accordance with fair procedures that guarantee objectivity and impartiality. Accepting an invitation to give a lecture, write an article, present an application for habeas corpus in favour of the dismissed president or participate in public demonstrations does not seem to meet these criteria.”
The dismissed judges and magistrate have appealed the decision to the Judicial Career Council of Honduras, and a ruling is expected soon.
The experts stressed in their statement that it is important to resolve the matter “in accordance with international standards in this area” and for Honduras to consolidate the independence of the judiciary and guarantee both democracy and the rule of law.
The three experts are: Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; and Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. They each serve in an independent and unpaid capacity and report the UN Human Rights Council.