Honduras: Special force to solve murders of journalists, lawyers

The Public Ministry of Honduras has created the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Life, with the goal of prosecuting the 97 homicides of journalists and lawyers that have occurred in the country since 2010. Above, a protest organized by the Association of the Journalists of Honduras on May 25, 2013, the Day of the Journalist in Honduras. (René Novoa / ISH)

The Public Ministry of Honduras has created the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Life, with the goal of prosecuting the 97 homicides of journalists and lawyers that have occurred in the country since 2010. Above, a protest organized by the Association of the Journalists of Honduras on May 25, 2013, the Day of the Journalist in Honduras. (René Novoa / ISH)

Rene Novoa / ISH

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Since Jan. 30, 2010, 30 journalists and 67lawyers have been killed in Honduras. Of that total, only 19 cases have gone to trial.

The lack of progress in solving these crimes led authorities from the Public Ministry (MP) to create the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Life (FEDCV) on Aug. 30.

“The purpose of this unit is to prosecute the perpetrators and masterminds of these reprehensible acts,” said Kenia Reconco, the unit’s leader. “To do this, [the FEDCV will be] one of the main tools for identifying and establishing the connections of those responsible.”

The FEDCV is training 150 prosecutors, assistants, analysts, criminal investigators and administrative personnel. The investigative agents and prosecutors are receiving training in crime scene investigation, ballistics, fingerprinting, forensic entomology, genetics, forensic physiognomy, hematology and forensic photography.

“We’ve decided to certify all of our personnel to combat leaks. We’re also giving them specialized training so criminal investigations are carried out in an expedited and professional manner,” Reconco said. “[The idea is to have the ability to] generate solid evidence that will strengthen cases. Society can be sure that we will not rest until we bring all of those involved in these criminal acts to justice.”

As of October, 14 lawyers have been murdered, just one fewer than during all of 2012. Twenty-two lawyers were murdered in 2011, six more than in 2010, according to National Human Rights Commissioner (CONADEH) Ramón Custodio López.

Three journalists have been killed in 2013 after nine were murdered in 2012, six in 2011 and 12 in 2010.

Since 2010, 19 trials – 10 involving a journalist’s murder and nine involving a lawyer’s murder – have gone to trial. Three defendants have been convicted, two have been acquitted and 14 trials are ongoing. The 78 remaining cases are under investigation.

“It’s imperative the new office of the MP expedite the investigation of these crimes because Hondurans are afraid to leave their homes. They fear they will be killed for working as journalists or attorneys,” Custodio López said.

In Honduras, these professions involve a high level of risk, according to Héctor Longino Becerra, executive director of the Freedom of Expression Committee (C-LIBRE), an NGO.

“Organized crime has infiltrated all sectors of society, which has resulted in constant attacks against our colleagues,” he said.

As a result, journalists have opted for self-censorship to avoid being targeted by organized crime groups, according to a 2012 report by the NGO Mexican Foundation of Investigative Journalism (MEPI).

“They write about organized crime, but they protect themselves by leaving out the people who are behind it, particularly the major leaders,” the MEPI report stated. “They report on the violent acts of gangs, but they leave out the international drug trafficking groups and their connections with businessmen, security forces and political groups.”

On Oct. 23, cameraman Manuel Murillo was killed by unidentified assailants in the Tegucigalpa neighborhood of Independencia.

Reconco said she could not provide details about the suspects or the motive for the crime because the murder is under investigation.

Honduras has a homicide rate of 85.5 murders for every 100,000 residents, according to the Observatory of Violence (IUDPAS).

“[Committed] lawyers and journalists affect the interests of drug traffickers, gang membersand other criminal groups,” Custodio López said. “In response, the criminals have created a campaign of death and terror to prevent their names from coming to light.”

As a security measure, C-LIBRE and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) International Program for the Development of Communication (IPDC) formed the Network of Alerts and Protection of Journalists and Social Communicators (RAPCOS) in 2011.

The network brings formal complaints before the courts about the threats posed to the freedom of the press.

“This is a space for seeking out security mechanisms, as well as providing national and international alerts when a colleague is the victim of any type of aggression,” Longino said.

RAPCOS has been introduced in the six departments with the highest rates of violence: Francisco Morazán, Cortés, Olancho, Atlántida, Valle and Colón. The network is expected to reach the departments of Yoro and Copán by the end of the year.

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