17 March 2003
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Item 13 of the provisional agenda
RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
Written statement* submitted by Casa Alianza/Covenant House Latin America,
a non-governmental organization in special consultative status
The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.
[3 February 2003]
CASA ALIANZA TESTIMONY TO THE UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS ON THE MURDERS OF HONDURAN CHILDREN AND YOUTH
More than 50 children and youth under the age of 23 are being murdered every month in Honduras, a Central American country of barely 6 million people.
Sixty percent of the murders have not been investigated sufficiently in order to identify the killers. Of the murderers who have been identified, one third of them are police officers; one third of them gang members and one-third members of the public who, with no confidence in the judicial system, take “justice” into their own hands and kill whom they perceive to be the criminals of society.
Covenant House Latin America, known in Spanish as Casa Alianza, has collected evidence and accusations to document the murders and extra-judicial executions of more than 1,500 children and youth in Honduras since 1998. Not only have national policemen and other groups committed atrocities against these children by killing them, but also the judicial system has failed in its role to balance power in the country by omitting to prosecute these crimes. Less than 5% of the murders have reached a conviction.
The State of Honduras – through direct action and by omission - is violating the most basic human right to life of children and young people, many of whom already live on the streets without love and without a family. By ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Honduras has recognized that "every child has an inherent right to life" (Article 6).
Between January of 1998 and December of 2002, Casa Alianza has documented 1,565 violent murders of children and youth in Honduras. Of these, 823 deaths (53%) were of children, under 18 years of age. Seventy four percent of the victims – 1,161 - were male.
2002 was the bloodiest year for children in Honduras when 552 of the murders occurred (persons under the age of 18). In 2001, 430 murders of children occurred; another 277 children were killed in 1999; 209 in 2000, and 97 in 1998, the year that Hurricane Mitch devastated the country.
Of the murders Casa Alianza documented between January of 1998 and June of 2002, 83% were committed with firearms. Drive-by shootings began in 2001 and account for 79 of the total murders.
The majority of the murders of children and youth happen in the larger Honduran cities: 549 occurred in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, while 474 occurred in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second largest city.
Private guards account for 23 of the murders. Five deaths occurred while the child was held in police custody – in several instances the failure to make medical attention a priority for the child caused his death. In 10 cases, the wrongful use of force by the police killed the children. An additional 152 murders were committed by groups outside of the government, but apparently tolerated by it. Some suggest that members of the State’s security apparatus are involved with these groups, who are suspected in some of the cases with unknown perpetrators. Whilst this has not yet been proven, it is the responsibility of the State to investigate.
Gang members commit a significant number of the killings in Honduras – one third of the cases where the killers have been identified. This is the same proportion as the number of cases where the police are involved. Gangs are a growing social phenomenon in Honduras and throughout Central America and they cause terror in many areas of the urban centers in the country. The police have been unable to control the groups.
The State of Honduras, the media and even many in society maintain that the murders of children and youth are solely the settling of scores between the growing numbers of gangs in Honduras, and refuse to become involved. The reasoning is that if the killings occur amongst gangs - and gangs are bad - then why worry over the death of their members? This reasoning fails to recognize the value of life and the responsibility of the State of Honduras to protect it. Furthermore, according to Casa Alianza’s statistics, only 13% of those deaths between January of 1998 and July of 2002 have been proven to be gang-related.
Celia Medrano of the Central American Commission of Human Rights noted that in Honduras, there exists a policy of extermination in which the evidence points to the participation of the police and paramilitary. “La era del exterminio.” Ronald Diaz. V. La Nación, Costa Rica, 6 October 2002.
Amnesty International views the persistence of these abuses as proof that the authorities have not trained their officials properly on how to uphold the law, nor have they investigated the reports on abuses committed by supposed agents of the State, nor have they effectively dealt with those responsible for the abuses.
In an effort by the new government of President Ricardo Maduro, who assumed power in January 2002, a special investigative unit of the Honduran police was established in September 2002 with just five agents and without the necessary material support. Not one of the 15 initial cases given to them to investigate by Casa Alianza's Legal Aid Program has led to a conviction although a few of the cases are being investigated. A Casa Alianza request to the government to increase the number of investigators from 5 to 10 after President Maduro publicly offered to use "all the country's resources necessary to stop the killing of children", has not received a response.
The lack of an effective and transparent system of justice in Honduras has encouraged individuals to seek justice outside of the legal system, much like the gang warfare the state seeks to remove. Indeed, this failure to protect the country’s children and youth and the State’s failure to prosecute those who harm them, lets people literally get away with murder.
The media may be considered a co-conspirator with the government in at least permitting such violent deaths. It has influenced the culture’s gang assumption. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, Asma Jahangir, after her August 2001 visit to Honduras, expressed concern that the media seems to try to reduce the importance of these murders by publishing details of the victim’s past criminal activity or affiliation with gangs.
Several key recommendations of the Special Rapporteur’s report to the UN High Commission on Human Rights have yet to be implemented by the State of Honduras, including that of naming a Children’s Ombudsman and of investigating the extra-judicial executions.
Until the State of Honduras investigates ALL the murders and presents the accused to the judicial system where they shall be tried and, if evidence permits, condemned, then the killings will continue and children’s blood will continue to flow. It is time the international community intervenes in this state of endemic violence.
Casa Alianza/Covenant House Latin America requests that the UN High Commission on Human Rights:
- Arrange for the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions to return to Honduras to follow through on the implementation of her recommendations from her August 2001 visit
- Offer direct support to the State of Honduras for the training of investigative police who will specifically investigate the murders of children and youth
- Request a formal report from the State of Honduras on the advances made in the investigation of the more than 1,500 murders of children and youth under the age of 23 in Honduras between January 1998 and December 2002.
* This written statement is issued, unedited, in the language(s) received from the submitting non-governmental organization(s).