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UN Demands Honduras Act to Protect Journalists

HONDURAS / 31 AUG 2012 BY EDWARD FOX EN

Honduras is not doing enough to protect journalists in the country, according to a UN special envoy who claimed the country to be the most dangerous in Latin America for press workers.

Speaking August 14 at the end of a week-long visit to the country, the UN's special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, called on the Honduran government to do more to protect the country's journalists, declaring that Honduras now has the highest rate of journalist murders in the region in proportion to population, reported El Nuevo Diario.

According to the Reporters Without Borders, of the 26 journalists killed in Honduras in the last decade, 20 have been killed since the 2009 coup that saw current President Porfirio Lobo eventually take office. While one of the principal driving forces behind this spike is gang activity in the country -- one radio journalist was killed in December last year for refusing to pay extortion to a gang, for example -- some speculate that the country's police force is behind a crackdown on freedom of speech, carrying out extrajudicial killings. The same police force has well-documented links to organized crime in the country.

La Rue deplored the government's ineffectiveness in tackling these crimes and called on Lobo to act immediately. Among his proposals were providing journalists with armored vehicles, helping relocate them if they receive threats and increasing the penalty for those convicted of murdering press workers. "The absence of justice constitutes impunity and in this case, impunity generates more violence," La Rue stated.

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As El Nuevo Diario noted, La Rue did not provide figures to support his claim that Honduras ranks as the most dangerous country for members of the media in the region. Mexico has typically been regarded as the most dangerous Latin American country for journalists based on the total number killed in recent years. Last month, the country's special prosecutor for crimes against journalists stated that 67 journalists have been murdered since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006.

Taking figures from the Inter American Press Association for 2011 -- seven journalists killed in Mexico, five in Honduras -- and adjusting them based on each country's population, Honduras would have a rate of 0.06 journalists murdered per 100,00 inhabitants and Mexico a rate of 0.006 for last year, supporting La Rue's assertion.

It remains to be seen how quickly Honduras will act to address this problem given the institutional problems facing the country. Combating an endemically high level of violence alongside widespread police corruption and an impunity rate of around 90 percent means that progress will likely be slow on the issue, despite La Rue's demands for swift action.

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