Future of Police Cleanup Law Unclear As Honduras Faces Political Crisis

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After Congress voted to remove several Supreme Court justices who rejected Honduras’ police cleanup law, the future of President Porfirio Lobo’s police reform efforts is now uncertain, as the country faces down an institutional and political crisis. 

Congress passed a bill late night on December 11 that would submit the police cleanup law, among other issues, to a popular vote. The next day, they voted 97-31 to remove four Supreme Court justices who’d blocked the police reform law two weeks ago, prompting an intense debate among congressional and legal officials who said the move was illegal.

The proposed police cleanup law would require every officer to submit to polygraph and toxicological tests. It would also require them to take a psychological exam and hand over their financial records. In late November one branch of the Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, arguing that it violated due process and did not give police officers a way to appeal their dismissal. 

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Political tensions are currently running high in Honduras, with the Congressional vice president describing the process as “a high-level political crisis” even before the Supreme Court justices were fired. It’s unlikely that the police reform referendum will be voted on before Honduras can solve the current conflict between Congress and the judiciary. If it does end up going to popular vote, this will likely spark another intense political debate, if the judiciary and other legal advisers argue that the referendum process itself is unconstitutional. 

Lobo’s government committed to a mass purging of the police force after several officers were implicated in the murder of two university students in November 2011. At the time, the incident shocked the country and called attention to the deeply corrupt elements within the police force. Since then, Honduras committed to submitting hundreds of officers to polygraph tests. 

But progress has been slow: according to Honduras Culture and Politics, only a fraction of the 233 police officers who have failed the polygraph test have actually been dismissed. The Supreme Court has been scheduled to discuss the results of the tests in a meeting Wednesday, but were forced to cancel after Congress voted to remove four out of five of the Court justices. 

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