Saturday, February 18, 2017

UN Concerned New Criminal Code Violates Human Rights

President Juan Hernandez is urging the Honduran Congress to pass his package of reforms to the penal code, saying that opposition to them is just politics.  Among those are changes to the law so that the Police and Military have immunity from being prosecuted for the use of force, and another change that criminalizes protests as terrorism.  Needless to say the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)  has grave concerns about three of the changes.

First the OHCHR is concerned about changes to the definition of terrorism in Article 335 of the Codigo Penal.  The changes adds to the paragraph on terrorism:
"Apply the penalties from the preceding article to those who as individuals or as part of a criminal organization of any type, that seeks to assume the powers that belong to the State such as taking territorial control, the monopoly on the legitimate exercise of the use of force by the different institutions of criminal justice, causing fear, putting in grave risk, or systematically and indiscriminately affecting the fundamental rights of the population, or any part of it, the internal security of the State or the economic stability of the country."

For those who haven't been paying attention, every Honduran government since the coup has asserted that protests such as the Torchlight Marches were violating the fundamental rights of the population because protesters blocked the streets.  The change in the law criminalizes as terrorism protests against the government.  The OHCHR agrees, and suggests that the law make a more narrow definition of terrorism:
"The UN has shown over and over the necessity for the States to limit the application of anti-terrorism measures to the field of acts of authentic terrorism, as specified in the Doctrine, comparing practices in laws, and the Special Relator of the UN for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental liberties in the struggle against terrorism in 2010."

The OHCHR also has concerns about the changes to Article 222 of the Penal Code referring to extortion.  They point out the new law, as written, strengthens the penalty to 20 years to life in prison.  This ignores the Honduran Supreme Court guidance that calls for a penalty that is proportional to the harm caused called for in their review of the proposed law.  The Honduran Supreme Court also indicated in their review of this proposed change that it felt that increasing the penalty would not significantly serve as a deterrent to lower the incidence of extortion.  Furthermore, the law defines extortion as terrorism, which for the OHCHR is just wrong.  Extortion is never, per se, automatically an act of terrorism.  Such an equation breaks the spirit and international norms in the struggle against terrorism. It significantly restricts the processual and penal guarantees violating the principles of necessity and proportionality through the way it restricts the rights of the accused and prisoners, the OHCHR concluded.

Finally the OHCHR suggests that changing the law to create impunity for law enforcement officials who use use their weapon in the line of duty need to be reconciled with a respect for human rights.  As article 25 is modified to read, law enforcement officials would have immunity from prosecution any time they fired their weapon in the line of duty.  The OHCHR points out that this creates a situation of impunity for officials who resort to the arbitrary excessive use of force, perform extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearance, and so on.  The OHCHR goes on to point out that if they approve this reform, they will be in violation of international treaties and norms to which the government of Honduras is signatory.

So naturally, the National Party is all for said reforms.  PAC, PINU and Libre have come out opposing the reforms, and elements of the Liberal Party are split on supporting the package of reforms, with a final vote set for Tuesday.

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