Download PDF Version
Last updated 20 February 2013
Civil society in Honduras has its roots in church groups and grassroots organizations (labor and peasant-based) that were established in the 1950s, but did not begin to flourish until the 1980s and 1990s when the concept of civil society in Honduras became part of popular social discourse.
After Hurricane Mitch, CSOs grew in number, increased their activities, and began to coordinate their efforts because international funding was plentiful, the need was great, CSOs had a central problem around which to organize, and the government could not handle relief and reconstruction on its own. Today there are many laws that provide for civil society participation in governmental functions, either as consultants, implementers, or social service providers.
One can say that progress has been achieved by civil society in Honduras "despite" a tradition of public indifference, and the refusal of some in government to allow civil society to contribute to public policy discussions. However, CSOs have managed to increase the space for civic engagement with government at both the executive and legislative levels. Although the environment for civil society is still not ideal, the progress made shows a greater willingness to break with an authoritarian political style.
In 2009, Honduras experienced a political crisis that began over a dispute over plans to amend the Constitution of Honduras, which culminated in the forcible removal and exile of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by the Honduran military. In November 2009, Presidential elections were held, and Porfirio Lobo, was sworn in on January 27, 2010.
Honduras remains deeply divided following the crisis of 2009/2010. The Government of President Lobo faces significant opposition from a portion of civil society. The Lobos government believes some opposition groups are being funded by foreign elements hostile to the Lobo administration. As a result, like in many countries in the region and around the world, the Government has promoted NGO, anti-terror, and financial legislation that would restrict the legal space for civil society. Aside from these legislative challenges, CSOs have alleged before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other international bodies that the Government routinely violates their human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly.
|Organizational Forms||Foundations and Associations|
|Registration Body||Secretary of State, Ministry of Interior and Justice|
|Barriers to Entry||A lack of legal framework creates a complicated web of laws that makes registration difficult
|Barriers to Activities||The current legal framework gives the government a lot of power and discretion to supervise the activities of organizations|
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||Recent political climate has narrowed civil liberties|
|Barriers to International Contact||None|
|Barriers to Resources||Sustainability is a serious problem for many organizations due to lack of resources|
|Population||8,143,564 (July 2011 est.)|
|Type of Government||Democratic Constitutional Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 68.93 years
Female: 72.37 years (2011 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 79.8%
|Religious Groups||Roman Catholic: 97%; Protestant: 3%|
|Ethnic Groups||Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European): 90%; Amerindian: 7%; black: 2%; white: 1%|
|GDP per capita||$4,200 (2010 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2011.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||121 (2011)||1 – 169|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||23.2 (2010)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||32.7 (2010)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||129 (2011)||1 – 178|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 4
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
||75 (2012)||177 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1997|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||Yes||2005|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1981|
|Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||2002|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1983|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||Yes||2005|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
|American Convention on Human Rights||Yes||1977|
|Additional Protocol to the Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights "Protocol of San Salvador"||No||--|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of the Republic of Honduras establishes, among other things, citizens’ freedom of association and inalienable right to assemble (so long as those rights do not contravene the “public order and good custom”). It confers to the President of the Republic the authority to grant juridical personality to “civil associations, in conformity with the law.” The relevant Constitutional provisions include:
- Participatory Democracy (Article 5)
- Principle of Freedom (Article 61)
- The principle of free speech (Article 72 and 74)
- Principle of Freedom of association and assembly (Article 78, 79, 302)
- Right of petition (Article 80)
- Defense Law (Article 82)
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Honduras does not have a specific law governing every aspect of civil society. Thus the laws and regulations governing CSOs is scattered throughout Honduran jurisprudence.
The key laws affecting CSOs in Honduras include:
The Civil Code includes in its list of judicial persons “associations and foundations of public interest, recognized by the law.” The Code also notes that legal personality begins in the instant in which the association is validly established, and that the civil capacity of associations is regulated by their statutes, subject to approval by the Executive Government.
The Administrative Procedures Code grants to the Ministry of Governance and Justice the authority “to grant judicial personality to civil and political associations and foundations of public interest recognized by the law, and to approve their statutes or regulations of the institution.” The procedure adopted by the Ministry of Governance and Justice is relatively simple, requiring the submission of basic documents.
Special Promotion Law for Non-Governmental Development Organizations (the “NGO–D Law”). In July 2011, President Lobo signed the Special Promotion Law for Non-Governmental Development Organizations (the “NGO-D Law”). CSOs hope that the NGO-D Law will improve the operating environment for civil society in Honduras. Among the more favorable provisions:
- Organizations applying for legal personality may only be denied registration if they fail to comply with clearly defined requirements that largely conform to international best practices. This change imposes limits on the discretion of Ministry officials, who had previously denied legal personality to organizations such as those working with HIV-positive individuals.
- CSO sustainability is promoted by unambiguous provisions authorizing organizations to engage in economic activities, including the sale of goods and services.
- CSOs will be regulated by one clearly drafted framework law rather than an unwieldy collection of codes and highly discretionary laws that confused organizations, leading to both poor compliance and inconsistent oversight.
- Standards for internal governance, transparency and avoidance of conflicts of interest crafted by CSOs will enhance the legitimacy of the sector.
- A new Liaison Commission will create a formal mechanism for CSO-Government collaboration.
Law to Regulate Private Development Organizations dedicated to Financial Activities. This law regulates the activities of the financial private development organizations (OPDs in Spanish) that provide credit loans. It governs what these organizations can and cannot do with regard to internal governance, investment, and other operational activities. The law also establishes that OPDs must be independently audited on an annual basis and registered with the National Banking and Insurance Commission (Comisión Nacional de Banca y Seguro). Organizations seeking OPD status must be solely dedicated to financial development activities.
The Law of the National Convergence Forum Created a national space for dialogue between State representatives and “authorized representatives” of civil society.
Presidential Decree CPSC created the Civil Society Participation Commission, and defines its membership and mission.
Other Laws affecting CSOs:
The Labor Code contains regulations on forming and managing workers’ unions and management unions.
The Law for State Modernization created the Presidential Commission for the Modernization of the State, comprised of representatives from business guilds, workers’ confederations, and other civil society organizations.
Law for the Social Sector of the Economy and Law of Cooperatives
Although the latter has partly replaced the former, both define what cooperatives and other associative businesses can work on.
The Law of the Consumer provides a definition for consumer organizations.
The Law of Municipalities and its Regulations defines the local councils as the natural organizational structure at the municipal level, and establishes how they are organized, function, and registered. It also provides for the possible association of municipalities.
Law Creating the Consultative Committee to Implement the Poverty Reduction Strategy
Laws that give consultative or executive roles to CSOs:
The Law of the Public Ministry, and Regulation of the Citizen Council creates the Citizen Council, made up on civil society organizations, to consult with and support the Public Ministry.
The Law against Domestic Violence anticipates government and civil society cooperation in implementing this law. It also calls for the creation of the Inter-institutional Commission to follow up on the law’s implementation.
The Organic Law of the Human Rights Commission, and its Regulations establishes the possibility of the Commission’s signing agreements with CSOs to do joint projects.
The Organic law of the Police institutionalizes civil society’s participation through the National Council on Domestic Security (Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (CONASIN))
The Law Creating the Honduran Institute of Childhood and the Family creates a Consultative Council that has representatives from guilds and professional associations, and CSOs that work with children, adolescents, and families.
The Law Creating the National Institute of the Woman creates a Council of Directors comprised of civil society representatives from several ethnic organizations, and among others, the Association of Peasant Women.
The Equal Opportunity for Women Law dedicates various articles to government and civil society’s joint responsibility when it comes to ensuring equal opportunities in jobs and social security, and equal opportunities in participation and decision-making systems in the power structure. Article 79 establishes the duty of the State to incorporate women’s organizations in spaces for State, municipal, and community participation. Article 80 makes civil society responsible for promoting equal participation of women in the decision-making processes of community groups, non-governmental organizations, unions, cooperatives, professional and other guilds, until the Boards of Directors have equal participation.
The Law of Nomination of Justices to the Supreme Court anticipates the participation of civil society delegates on the Supreme Court Justice Nominating Board.
Other laws have called for the creation of democratic institutions to incorporate civil society. CSOs would participate in ways like electing members or help manage the entity. This is the case with the Public Ministry, National Human Rights Commission, and the Offices of the Attorney General for Women, Ethnic Groups, Childhood, Consumers, Human Rights, and Environment.
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
The Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for the Development of Honduras (FOPRIDEH), is leading the CSO commission negotiating with the Government on regulations to implement the new Honduran Development NGO Draft Law (NGOD Law). FOPRIDEH is also participating in commissions working on several other effective or proposed laws affecting CSOs in the country. The NGOD Law, which was passed in March 2011 and published in June, requires that implementing regulations be finalized by mid-January 2012. After intense negotiations to remove a number of proposed restrictive provisions, the draft regulations currently await final approval. It is unclear, however, how long it may take to publish the regulations, as Honduras is facing multiple crises, including a prison fire that killed close to 400; turnover in over half a dozen Cabinet positions; and routine attacks on CSOs in the press by senior government officials. The Office of the President is reportedly close to issuing its own regulations, but it is unclear if they will be as enabling as the law they implement.
It appears the legal environment for civil society remains unpredictable, and the need for constant monitoring for threats to the sector remains critical. There was a three month delay in President Lobo signing the NGO-D Law – far in excess of the time frame for Presidential action on congressionally passed legislation according to Honduran law. During the summer and early fall 2011, several other laws affecting CSOs were passed or introduced, and, as with the NGO-D Law, proper legislative procedure was not followed. Thus, while the NGO-D Law requires that the Government collaborate with civil society in drafting regulations to implement the law within six months of its effective date, it is not certain that these requirements will be honored. Two laws affecting CSOs during this time include:
- The Framework Law on Social Public Policies (the “Social Policy Law”). Congress reportedly passed this law in April 2011, however, the Law has not been published, and to the best of our knowledge, President Lobo has not signed it.
- The Law on Popular Security. Congress passed this new tax law in summer 2011, which imposes a new 0.3% surcharge on transactions conducted through financial institutions, with limited exemptions (e.g., low-dollar transactions; remittances; transactions by individuals who maintain small personal bank accounts; etc.). Most CSOs, along with other types of legal entities, are subject to the surcharge. Only humanitarian NGO-Ds will be exempt.
Honduran laws make reference to various forms of organizations: Private Development Organizations (OPDs in Spanish), Non-Profit Organizations (OSFLs in Spanish), Nongovernmental Organizations (ONGs and ONGDs – development ONGs), Civil Associations, and most recently, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).
However, The Civil Code (Articles 56 and 58) only recognizes as legal persons two forms of CSOs, associations and foundations. For registration purposes, the government includes within the concept of civil association "any form of association, institution, organization or foundation whose grant or cancellation of legal personality belongs to the President of the Republic itself or through the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior and Justice "(Regulations of the Registry and Tracking Unit of Civil Associations Art. 6; Ministerial Decree No. PCM-024-2002. Government Gazette, 5/9/2003).
In order to gain simple legal status, an organization must present an application, power of attorney, articles of incorporation, bylaws, copies of the board members’ identity cards, and a 10-lempira stamp to the authorities. In most cases, the application is made to the Ministry of Interior and Justice.
Public Benefit Status
Under the Constitution and other laws all groups dedicated to community development and the progress of Honduras, without self interests, independent of government, and are not-for-profit are viewed as the same in most cases.
Tax benefits such as sales tax exemptions only apply in cases where a CSO runs a social welfare project that has been recognized by the authorities as being eligible. In many cases, this exemption or other tax incentives are given to the entity that finances the eligible project, not to the CSO itself. In this case, the CSO only enjoys a direct exemption from taxes on purchases for the exempt project. Ultimately, exemptions are granted at the discretion of the Executive Director of the Tax authority.
Barriers to Entry
Honduran CSOs have historically operated without the benefit of a “framework” law – i.e., a law that provides the basic conditions for establishing a CSO as a legal person, and regulating its operations. As a result, the Ministry of Governance and Justice exercises unfettered authority over the granting of legal personality to Honduran CSOs. Consequent abuses, including a 7-year lag between a CSO’s application and the government’s grant of legal personality, are not uncommon.
Barriers to Operational Activity
The lack of a framework law means an absence of clear reporting requirements – leaving NGOs vulnerable to multiple and ad-hoc requests for information from various government entities and/or to charges of a lack of transparency by the public.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Non-governmental groups reported a significant deterioration in the human rights situation in Honduras since the expulsion of President Jose Manuel "Mel" Zelaya Rosales’s from Honduras. International human rights groups have accused Honduran authorities of using excessive force against protesters and harassing human rights defenders. The de facto regime used troops to shut down dissenting media outlets and imposed curfews to prevent anti-coup protestors from forming large groups to voice their opposition. In addition, the de facto regime issued a decree on September 27, 2009 suspending most civil liberties and invoking a state of emergency, and the de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, issued an executive order giving the executive the right to close any media service it deemed a threat to national security or public order, without a court order. As a result, an opposition radio and TV station were immediately closed.
The decree and executive order were unpopular with civil society groups and the Honduran public. On October 19, 2009 the de facto regime published a decree abrogating its earlier suspension of civil liberties. The two media outlets were reopened.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no barriers to international contact. However, see the “barriers to resources” section below.
Barriers to Resources
Sustainability is a major issue for Honduran CSOs. Their survival depends to a large extent on foreign funding that is steadily decreasing. As a result, CSOs have been forced to seek other avenues of support.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||9th Session 2010|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||
|U.S. State Department||2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Honduras
2010 Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports: Honduras
|Failed States Index Reports||2012 Foreign Policy Failed States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Honduras and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||Not available|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at email@example.com.
Cold War Policies Revived by Honduran Intelligence Law (February 2013)
The doctrine of national security, which fostered the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, is making a comeback in Honduras where a new law is combining military defence of the country with police strategies for maintaining domestic order. The law created the National Directorate of Investigation and Intelligence (DNII), a key agency in the security structure that does not appear to be accountable to any other body, and does not appear to be under democratic civilian control. The approval of the law on January 14 took human rights organizations, civil society groups and academic bodies by surprise, because of the rushed nature of the legislation, the lack of consensus-building and the skipping of two of the three debates necessary for passing laws in parliament. “This bill unites or fuses military defense and internal security, which is dangerous, because one of the aims after the Cold War was to separate these fields, due to the negative effects (their union had) on systematic violation of human rights” in the region, sociologist Mirna Flores, an expert on the issue, told IPS.
Human rights defender tortured: Karla Zelaya (October 2012)
On 23 October Karla Zelaya, a journalist with the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán, MUCA), was abducted from a bus stop in Tegucigalpa at 6.30am by two men who forced her into the back of a car. As the car pulled away, the two men, who got in the back of the car with Karla Zelaya, told her to cooperate and interrogated her about MUCA leaders, including Jhony Rivas. They blindfolded her and began to ask her more questions, while scratching her with a sharp object on her chest and stomach. They spoke about killing MUCA leaders and told Karla Zelaya they knew her routine and where her family lives. MUCA is a movement campaigning for the land rights of peasant farmers, amid ongoing disputes over land ownership in the Aguán region, north east Honduras.
Human rights lawyer, Antonio Trejo Cabrera, assassinated (October 2012)
Authorities in Honduras should ensure a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the killing of attorney Antonio Trejo Cabrera, Human Rights Watch said. Trejo, a lawyer who advocated for peasant land rights and publicly opposed the creation of special autonomous development zones, was shot and killed on September 22, 2012, after attending a wedding south of Tegucigalpa.
Minister of Justice and Human Rights condemns the murder of two human rights defenders (September 2012).
Two public interest attorneys were murdered in Honduras. One represented peasant groups seeking lands in northern Honduras. The other was a government Prosecutor for the Human Rights office. The Minister of Justice and Human Rights called the murders unacceptable for the rule of law, and the head of the Honduran Bar Association (also the Deputy Attorney General) called it an attack on the state.
UNESCO chief calls for investigation into death of Honduran journalist (May 2012)
The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today called for an investigation into the killing of Erick Martínez Ávila, a Honduran journalist and gay rights activist.“I condemn the murder of Erick Martínez Ávila,” UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, said in a news release. “I am deeply concerned about this second journalist killed in Honduras in a month and call on the authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime against the basic human right of freedom of expression.”
94 House members urge Secretary of State Clinton to suspend aid to Honduras (March 2012)
94 House members sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise alarm over human rights violations in Honduras where human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists are subject to death threats, attacks and extrajudicial executions. The letter asks the State Department “to suspend U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces.”
Increased threats and intimidation on civil society members in Honduras reported in early 2012 (March 2012)
A representative from Reporters Without Borders visited Honduras from February 17-29 and concluded that in the beginning of 2012 reporters, local media owners, and civil society members have faced an increase in threats and intimidation, especially in Aguan, which is the site of an agrarian conflict involving the military, andin Copan, a city which is a transit point for drug smugglers entering neighboring Guatemala. This "climate of terror" resurfaced with the government's implementation of "Operation Lightening" in November 2001.
UN Special Rapporteur Sekaggya visits Honduras, expresses concern about legislation that will restrict the work of CSOs (February 2012)
Margaret Sekaggya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, visited Honduras and met with government officials, including the President, and a wide and diverse segment of the civil society. She welcomed the commitment expressed by the President himself to accept and implement her recommendations, particularly the openness of the President to have a constructive dialogue with civil society. However, she expressed concern that the valuable role of human rights organizations may be affected by the adoption of legislation aimed at restricting the work of civil society organizations.
U.S. hopes Honduras will come around on human rights (November 2010)
Unions plan for general strike (August 2010)
Honduras: Investigate attacks on journalists (March 2010)
6 cited in Honduran leader's ouster (January 2010)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner organization in Honduras.