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Honduran Court Declares Police Cleanup Law Unconstitutional

Honduran police in Tegucigalpa Honduran police in Tegucigalpa

The Honduran Supreme Court has declared a law aimed at cleaning up the country's notoriously corrupt police force to be unconstitutional on the same day that the government sought to extend that very legal measure, adding yet another barrier to law enforcement reform in Honduras.

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The law had laid out the procedures under which the government could purge the National Police of corrupt elements. However, on November 26, a five-member body known as the Constitutional Branch of the Honduran Supreme Court declared it to be unconstitutional

The court had its reasons. While the law required every police officer to undergo an extensive vetting process -- including background checks, drug tests and lie detector tests, and stipulated that failure of any of these is grounds for removal from the force -- it also made it impossible for officers to appeal the dismissal.

The ruling came on the same day that the law expired. President Porfirio Lobo called on congress to pass an extension of it. Because the branch's ruling was not unanimous (a four-to-one decision), the final say on the law will now go to the full Supreme Court, comprised of 15 judges. 

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The ruling is just the latest obstacle to police reform efforts in the country, home to one of the most corrupt police forces in the region. While President Lobo initiated an ambitious reform program last year, creating an independent commission to oversee the effort, progress has been slow. Only a fraction of the estimated 14,000 police officers in the country have been vetted, and the process itself has come under political and legal fire.

In October, in just one of the latest efforts to derail the reform, a number of police officials accused the head of police, Juan Carlos Bonilla, of pursuing a political agenda in dismissing certain officers. 

Regardless of their merit, these allegations have served to distract reform efforts, which are badly needed. In 2011, one congressman said that 40 percent of police officers had links to organized crime.

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