Honduras has reformed its penal code to allow life sentences for individuals convicted of murdering certain types of officials, including judges and police officers, but widespread impunity is likely to dampen the measure’s effectiveness.
On October 22, Honduras’ Congress raised the maximum sentence for homicide from 40 years to life in prison for cases involving the following types of victims, reported El Heraldo:
- The heads of one of the three branches of government — that is, the president, Congress president, or Supreme Court president.
- Members of the National Defense and Security Council (made up of the heads of various security bodies, including the Attorney General’s Office, the Defense Ministry, the police, and the state intelligence agency).
- Members of Congress.
- Police officers.
- Military officers.
- Protected witnesses.
- The head of the office responsible for seizing assets, known as the OABI.
Congress also approved stricter penalties for those who extort, threaten or kidnap these officials, reported Proceso Digital.
The reforms were proposed by the National Defense and Security Council after two prosecutors were murdered on October 10 in an attack that police attributed to the Barrio 18 street gang.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although harsher sentences could go some way towards deterring criminal groups from attacking officials and law enforcement personnel, the measure is unlikely to make a significant difference without justice reforms that tackle impunity. Honduras’ impunity rate is over 97 percent, meaning that most murderers can count on never seeing the inside of a courtroom, even if their victim was a public official.
In Honduras, lawyers, justice officials and law enforcement personnel are often the targets of attacks by gangs and other criminal groups. Since 2010, at least 84 lawyers have been killed, including some five public prosecutors. The most recent case was that of Iris Argueta, shot on October 23 in Olancho province.
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Of the five public prosecutors killed since 2010 — including the head of the anti-money laundering unit in the Attorney General’s Office, who was shot in April 2013 — only one case has resulted in a conviction.