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Government vows to investigate journalist murders thanks to IFEX-ALC

IFEX-ALC delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review on Honduras in Geneva on 4 November
IFEX-ALC delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review on Honduras in Geneva on 4 November

Rachael Kay

The Honduran authorities have done an about face and have pledged to investigate the murders of nine journalists this year, following international lobbying by IFEX-América Latina y el Caribe (IFEX-ALC), an alliance of 17 IFEX members in the region. It's just one of many free expression commitments the government made following the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Honduras, an evaluation of the country's human rights record by members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

"IFEX-ALC's support in the lead up to and during the UPR process was crucial in raising awareness about Honduras's freedom of expression situation," said Anarella Vélez, vice president of IFEX member Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre) based in Honduras.

Honduras's press freedom ranking has fallen abysmally since the June 2009 coup with a sharp rise of acts of censorship and violence against journalists. This year alone nine journalists have been killed and the perpetrators have not been brought to justice in a single case. Until now the authorities had denied the dire free expression situation and linked the killings with common and organised crime, say the IFEX members.

But Honduran officials welcomed all the recommendations coming out of last week's session, many of them relating to free expression. This is largely due to the efforts of IFEX-ALC, which lobbied dozens of delegations at the UNHRC.

As a result, the government pledged to give more resources to investigating the killings of journalists as well as the rights abuses that occurred during the June 2009 coup.

It also reiterated the need for the UN to establish an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and called for the creation of an "International Commission against Impunity".

Another highlight during Honduras's presentation was a promise to modify its telecommunications legislation to bring it "in line with the agreements and international standards on human rights" - so that it will recognise community media, for instance. Access to information was also deemed "a fundamental part of exercising and enjoying freedom of expression."

"It is important that the Honduran government accepts the UNHRC's recommendations. It demonstrates the government's willingness to address the issue. Now civil society and the state have to work to strengthen the democratic process in Honduras. Institutional changes are needed to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is safeguarded," said Omar Rábago of ARTICLE 19's Mexico and Central America office.

The IFEX-ALC delegation was made up of representatives from C-Libre, ARTICLE 19, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters in Latin America and the Caribbean (AMARC LAC) and the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP). With the support of the International Network of Human Rights, IFEX-ALC was present during all of the UPR sessions on Honduras, and met with more than 30 delegations. Accordingly, more than 20 of them highlighted Honduras's deteriorating free expression record and quoted IFEX-ALC's recommendations in their interventions.

The work of the delegation in Geneva enhanced on-the-ground lobbying efforts of IFEX-ALC members in their own countries, who have been targeting embassies of the UNHRC members and relevant government authorities in the run up to the review.

Next March, the UNHRC will reconvene in Geneva to adopt the final report. In the run up to the meeting, IFEX-ALC members will be closely following Honduras's compliance with the recommendations.

"This has been an amazing experience and we could not have asked for a better outcome. Hopefully the recommendations will be implemented and result in substantive changes," said FLIP executive director Andrés Morales.

The IFEX Campaigns and Advocacy programme has crafted a guide on how to access the UPR. Click here to read it
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