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Honduras: New PEN Centre to campaign against persistent impunity for attacks on journalists

Wednesday 29 October 2014 - 12:00am

honduras fb(London, 29 October, 2014) – The launch of a new PEN Centre in Honduras with a mandate to promote literature and defend freedom of expression is a much needed initiative, PEN International said today.

At a time when Honduran journalists and writers are working in a climate of rising violence and fear, the Centre will bring together journalists and writers in the country with the shared aim of combatting persistent impunity for attacks on journalists, as well as strengthening the place of literature in the country’s cultural sector.

'A democracy cannot be built without critical thinking, respect for freedom of expression and punishment for those who violate this right,' said Dina Meza, President of PEN Honduras.

'Honduras’ disastrous record in terms of impunity for crimes against journalists may further worsen if prompt investigations do not take place and if we do not start to protect those practising journalism in the complete absence of guarantees for their safety. The same fate awaits writers and artists who express criticism of the status quo in any media. This is why decisive action is required from the State of Honduras to comply with its international commitments.'

With at least 44 journalists killed since 2003 and a record of near total impunity for these crimes, Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist.

The launch of the Honduran PEN Centre comes shortly after PEN International submitted a joint shadow report to the United Nations on the situation of freedom of expression in Honduras, with a focus on impunity for crimes against journalists.

The report, written in collaboration with PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law (IHRP), in cooperation with members of the new centre, finds that despite some positive steps taken by the state, most of the freedom of expression concerns highlighted at the last UN review of the country’s human rights record in 2010 persist or have significantly worsened.

Attacks against journalists are on the rise, perpetrators of killings and other violent crimes are rarely brought to justice and institutions responsible for safeguarding human rights continue to prove largely ineffective. Efforts to reform these institutions have made little or no progress.

Similarly, cultural institutions are stagnating due to a lack of long-term policy or investment, which contributes to the wider crisis of freedom of expression.

‘As the world marks the first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2 November, we see that Honduras is locked in a deadly cycle of violence and impunity, with journalists particularly vulnerable to attack’ , said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International

‘Yet the challenges posed to freedom of expression in Honduras go beyond violence against journalists. The lack of a comprehensive policy for- and investment in - culture and arts are hugely limiting freedom of expression. It is essential that a Centre as strong as the newly formed PEN Honduras exists as a watchdog and as a marker of the importance of creative freedom; I look forward to the vital contribution its members will make in defending freedom of expression and promoting literature.’

The PEN Honduras Centre – represented by founding members Eduardo Bähr and Kenia Olivia - was officially established at the 80th PEN International Congress in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 1 October 2014. In line with the PEN Charter, the work of PEN Honduras will focus on promoting the role of literature in the development of mutual understanding and cooperation both within the country and abroad.  One of the key aims of PEN Centres around the world is to defend and promote free speech, regardless of ideological or political opinions or religious beliefs, as enshrined in international law.

PEN International has been working closely with PEN Honduras both on the report to the UN and a campaign for journalist and founding member, Julio Ernesto Alvarado. Alvarado currently faces the reinstatement of a 16-month work ban imposed in December 2013 due to his coverage of alleged corruption by a university dean. PEN considers Alvarado’s conviction and the work ban imposed on him to be politically motivated and a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression.

The work of PEN Honduras in defending freedom of expression is particularly essential given that both the current and previous governments in the country have displayed a lack of political will to investigate the murder of and other attacks against journalists. Of the 44 journalists killed in Honduras since 2003, only four cases have seen convictions, an impunity rate of 91 per cent.

State institutions are marred by corruption and abuse, rarely bringing those responsible for crimes against writers and journalists to justice. State agents have been implicated in up to 50 per cent of all attacks on freedom of expression in 2013 where the perpetrators could be identified.

As result, PEN International has intensified its campaigning for freedom of expression and the security of journalists in Honduras in recent years. In October 2014 at its 80th Congress, PEN’s Assembly of Delegates passed a resolution urging the Honduran government to protect journalists and human rights defenders, better support the arts and humanities and to decriminalise defamation. In January 2014, PEN International published a report Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, jointly with PEN Canada and IHRP, on the strength of which it testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2012, Honduras was a main focus of PEN’s Write Against Impunity campaign and anthology.

PEN’s shadow report to the UN recommends that Honduras take urgent measures to ensure the safety of its journalists and writers, including by implementing a new protection law and enforcing existing protection measures. It must ensure the prompt and thorough investigation of all crimes against this group, increase resources to human rights institutions and review its laws restricting freedom of expression.  Finally, it should develop a comprehensive and inclusive national policy for culture and the arts. (To read the full recommendations, see the executive summary or full report.)

To view this in Spanish click here.

Note to Editors

International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI): The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI). The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity.

For more information contact: Sahar Halaimzai: | t. +44 (0)20 7405 0338