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Impunity in Honduras: PEN writers testify before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

25 March 2014

PEN International, PEN Canada and the University of Toronto –Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP), Honduran journalist Dina Meza, and Mexican writer Álvaro Enrigue, testify before hearing on violence against journalists at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on 25 March 2014. To read the full statement of the hearing in Spanish and English click here.

To save the life of someone who writes in freedom is to save the world of a lot of people said Álvaro Enrigue, addressing representatives of the State of Honduras before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

‘Why does an organization of writers come to you with this report, and with these deep concerns for Honduras?’ asked Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.Because this culture of impunity slowly, insidiously, squeezes the life out of all other forms of culture.’


The IACHR hearing was an opportunity to present the findings and recommendations of the recent joint PEN/IHRP report directly to representatives of the Honduran government. The report Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity published in January 2014, examines the surge in violence against journalists who cover organized crime, government corruption and other sensitive issues and who increasingly face threats and lethal attacks with almost complete impunity for perpetrators.  Since June 2009 at least 32 Honduran journalists – most working for the broadcast media – have been killed, yet the vast majority of these killings remain unsolved.

Award-winning Honduran journalist and human rights defender Dina Meza, subjected to harassment and threats since 2006, told the Commission:

‘To practice journalism in a country with high levels of impunity, where they do not investigate crimes, threats, persecution and other forms of repression against journalists is to write with a gun pointed at your head… The situation of freedom of expression in Honduras is under attack and journalists’ deaths are an insult.’

The key findings are grounded in the failure of the government to meet its legal obligations. ‘Honduras has violated its legal obligations to protect the right to life, the right to judicial protection and freedom of expression as required by the American Convention of Human Rights.’ said Carmen Cheung, Acting Director, International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law. ‘These breaches are the result of its ongoing failures to prevent, investigate, punish and provide redress for violence against journalists.’

PEN International was troubled to learn the Honduran Government believe that the crimes against journalists were only as a result of delinquency and armed crime murders and threats were not linked to the profession of the journalists.

PEN’s concern was reflected by Commissioner Orozco, former President of the IACHR, who noted that the IACHR is particularly worried about the vulnerability of journalists. The IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero, also noted with concern that in other countries, organized crime often uses scapegoats and for this reason the IACHR strongly recommend that States establish protocols for investigating threats and violence against journalists. She asked whether prosecutors are specialized in investigating crimes against journalists. She also offered the support and capacity building of the IACHR to the State of Honduras to train them in doing so.

Finally, Tracy Robinson, President of the Commission, noted that the State of Honduras must protect any individual who participated in the hearing.

To read the Executive Summary and the Recommendation click here.
To download a PDF of the full report click here.


PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088. www.pen-international.org

PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada. www.pencanada.ca

The International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law enhances the legal protection of existing and emerging international human rights obligations through advocacy, knowledge-exchange, and capacity-building initiatives that provide experiential learning opportunities for students and legal expertise to civil society. www.ihrp.law.utoronto.ca

Honduras: the never-ending struggle,’ Latin American Bureau, 28 March 2014
Dina Meza: a journalist living dangerously in Honduras,’ Toronto Star, 25 March 2014