Country report and updates: Honduras

Honduras

30/04/1998

1 Conscription

conscription not enforced

Since 1994 conscription has not been enforced.

At present there is no clear legal basis for conscription.

In May 1994 the Honduran Congress amended art. 276 of the 1982 Constitution, according to which all able-bodied men aged 18 to 30 were liable to two years' military service. The constitutional amendment established voluntary military service in peace time and called for the 1985 Military Service Act and corresponding regulations to be redrafted. [3]

But this constitutional amendment does not mean conscription has been abolished. Art. 1 of the amendment stipulates that "the state has the right to conscript as established in the military service law." The article also states that "in time of international war, all Hondurans capable of defending and performing services on behalf of Honduras are considered soldiers." [3]

As the constitutional amendment calls for redrafting the

Military Service Act, it is not clear how far this law now still officially applies. According to a Honduran NGO, the population on the whole believes that military service is no longer compulsory. [2]

No new legislation on military service has been passed since 1994. In April 1994 newly elected President Reina submitted a draft law on military service to Congress, requiring the abolition of compulsory military service and its replacement by voluntary and educational service. This bill was rejected by Congress in January 1995. [9]

In 1996 a new draft law was submitted to Congress, which was due to be debated before the end of the year. So far however this has not happened. The proposed law was drafted mainly by the armed forces, NGOs working on this subject not being involved. The draft law is beliebed to resemble the 1985 Military Service Act. [2]

The draft law calls for two years' military service and for recruitment to be conducted only under certain conditions:

when the number of active soldiers falls short of the number deemed to be needed for national defence, when an international war breaks out, or during national conflict or state of emergency (arts. 3 and 49).

The draft law calls for the setting up of a military registration system run by the armed forces, which would contain full data of all males of military age. It would empower the President as chief authority on conscription and military strength, to introduce it. Art. 25, however, assigns the armed forces the task of coordinating conscription procedures. Given the history of forced recruitment in Honduras, this is obviously a very controversial matter.

Selection of recruits is to take place by ballot. [3]

This draft law is still to be discussed in Congress. No further details about it are known. [2]

The armed forces have urged the government to re-introduce conscription because of a shortage of recruits. In 1996 it was estimated that the military had less than 50 percent of the troops they were allowed. [5]

The shortage of recruits is especially significant as the size of the armed forces has been reduced from 26,000 in 1986 to 18,000 in 1997. [13]

The government announced the above-mentioned November 1994 call-up after pressure by the army on the grounds that depleted ranks were impairing their efficiency. President Reyna emphasised this call-up was a temporary expidient. Apparently he is in favour of voluntary military service and promised at the 1993 elections to abolish conscription. [1]

There is considerable public resentment to re-introducing conscription. This is because of human rights violations committed within the armed forces and in the course of past forced recruitment. This practice particularly came under fire in the early 1990s following several incidents leading to the death of civilians during forced recruitment operations. The rape and murder of a 15-year-old boy and the public shooting of a young mother during a forced recruitment drive in 1993 in particular prompted public debate. [3]

In 1993 the MCCP (Civic Christian and Popular Movement - Movimiento Civivo y Cristiano y Popular) was founded, a coalition of about 50 grassroots organisations. It managed to raise public awareness of conscription issues and to catch the attention of Honduran society. Its most striking action was a 15-day hunger-strike in May 1994 calling for an end to conscription. This took place just before Congress debated the constitutional amendment on establishing voluntary military service. [3] [6]

recruitment

The latest call-up for military service was in November 1994. Seven thousand of the liable young male conscripts, selected by ballot, received call-up notices. The call-up was not very effective as only 2,000 enlisted. [3]

As voluntary enlistment is insufficient to achieve the requisite number of recruits, the armed forces have made several attempts to attract more recruits - apart from lobbying for re-introduction of conscription. In order to make an army career more attractive soldiers' salary has been increased from USD 3 to USD 20. [7]

In 1996 military officials issued a public appeal to youth to enlist in the army voluntarily as fulfilment of their national duties. [3]

Population registrars (Registradur'as del Estado) reportedly draw up lists of young men who have reached the age of 18 and give them to the armed forces, which is in fact illegal. [2]

forced recruitment

In the 1980s and 1990s forced recruitment was the norm. (see: history) Since 1994 there have been no reports of forced recruitment by the armed forces. The existence and alertness of the MCCP is believed to have contributed to the prevention of further forced recruitment. [2]

2 Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized. Neither the Constitution nor the 1985 Military Service Act contains any provision for conscientious objection and substitute service. [1]

The right to conscientious objection is to a minor extent recognized in the draft law submitted to Congress in 1996, the terms of which are very unclear on the matter. According to art. 34 citizens who opt for alternative service are to be exempt from the military recruitment, except in those situations referred to in arts. 3 and 49, according to which military call-up is permissible. A literal reading of the draft law would therefore seem to suggest that those wanting to perform alternative service may do so only when there is no military call-up. [3]

The substitute service envisaged in the draft law is directly linked to the armed forces. Moreover the proposal stipulates that all those engaged in substitute service must undergo basic military training. [3]

Several legal proposals on recognizing the right to conscientious objection have been made by NGOs in the past. [3]

In 1995 the MCCP submitted a proposal to the government, whereby the right to conscientious objection would be recognized, but it never received serious consideration by the appropriate committees of the Honduran Congress. In 1982 the Mennonite Church submitted similar proposals.

3 Draft evasion and desertion

penalties

Draft evasion and desertion are punishable under the Military Code. [11]

Art. 182 defines a deserter as 'any member of a unit who is absent without permission for five full days'. There are three types of penalty for desertion. The least punitive is from 61 days to a year's imprisonment; the medium-term confinement ranges from a year and a day to two years' imprisonment; the highest level ranges from two years and a day to three years' imprisonment.

Under art. 184 'desertion in peacetime will be punished by lesser to medium-term military confinement' while 'in wartime punishment will be increased by two levels'. Furthermore 'if the deserter was on duty, was being held in a correctional facility, or stole any fire-arms, munition, supplies or a horse, punishment will be increased by one level.'

Under art. 187 'penalties for desertion will, without exception, extend the offender's period of military service by half of the main penalty'.

Under art. 50 'penal actions and penalties for desertion shall expire once the deserter reaches the age of 50.'

According to the US embassy in Honduras, desertion is punishable by the death-sentence under the Military Code, but such cannot be imposed as this would be unconstitutional. [12]

practice

Draft evasion during the above-mentioned November 1994 call-up was considerable. Out of the 7,000 young men called up, only 2,000 obeyed to the call-up order. [3]

Desertion by those enrolled was considerable too. A 1995 report indicates that half of those enlisted had deserted by 1995. [5]

According to a statement by the Honduras embassy in Canada in 1996, it is not known how those who did not obey conscription orders in 1994 would be treated. According to the embassy such cases are dealt with individually. [10]

According to the US embassy in Honduras, draft evaders who get caught are enlisted into the armed forces, but receive no further punishment. [12]

According to an US scientist, young men who do not turn up at a military base, who have been chosen by lot to do so, are considered deserters and hence are liable to face imprisonment. [9]

5 History

Until 1994 conscription was enforced. Because of escalating conflict in the region (civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua) and the increasing need for recruits into the Honduras armed force, forced recruitment became more frequent in the 1980s. Legislation stipulated that conscripts must first receive a call-up notice, after which a municipal committee had to select the necessary needed recruits. In practice the armed forces used other recruitment methods. [4] [8]

Youths were often press-ganged in such public places as restaurants, town centres, places of entertainment, buses and outside workplaces and schools. Military patrols asked for military identity cards and, if unavailable, the youths concerned were recruited and taken to military barracks. Young men who could prove that they were students, or whose families could buy them out, could be able to forestall recruitment.

The poor people were particulartly singled out for forced recruitment as recruitment drives usually took place in the countryside or the crowded parts of cities.

Although the legal recruitment age was 18, during recruitment drives young men were often not asked for birth certificates; their age was assessed in accordance with their size, which meant many minors were apt to get recruited.

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 18,800 troops - about 0.30 percent of the population. [14]

Sources

[1] González, J. 1996. Objeci--n de conciencia en Centroamérica. KEM-MOC, Bilbao. [2] MOC-Honduras 1997. Response to CONCODOC enquiry, November 1997. [3] NISBCO 1996. Democracy or deception? The Future of Military Service in Honduras. NISBCO, Washington DC. [4] SPS Honduras 1996 Under age soldiers - the case of Honduras. Case study for the UN Study on the impact of armed conflict on children. [5] NISBCO 1996. Hondurans prepare for renewed struggle over military service. NISBCO, Washington DC, 21 March 1996. [6] MCC-Honduras 1995. Honduras Mennonites vs. Draft, MCC, 25 April 1995. [7] Maldonado, Carlos 1997. 'Zur Entwicklung von Wehrdienst und Kriegsdienstverweigerung in Lateinamerika', in: KDV im Krieg, 5/1997. Connection e.V., Offenbach. [8] US Library of Congress 1993. Honduras - a country study, Area Handbooks, State Department, Washington DC. [9] DIRB, 10 March 1995. [10] DIRB, 28 June 1996. [11] DIRB, 17 July 1995. [12] DIRB, 25 January 1996. [13] DIRB 1997. Honduras: Changes in the armed forces, DIRB, Ottawa. [14] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.

Articles related to conscientious objection

03 Sep 2009
English

Students demonstrate against obligatory military serviceStudents demonstrate against obligatory military serviceAfter the military coup in Honduras in June 2009, resistance is growing in the country to what is seen as a reintroduction of conscription, which had been abolished by a constitutional amendment in 1994. Already in July 2009, human rights activists accused the Honduran military to forcefully recruit for the Armed Forces.

01 Apr 2008
English

The Ibero-American Convention on Young People's Rights, which entered into force on 1 March 2008, explicitly recognises the right to conscientious objection. Article 12 of the Convention reads: "Young people have the right to form a conscientious objection against compulsory military service." It also includes a commitment of states to create legal instruments to safeguard this right, and to progressively end compulsory military service.

Forum posts related to conscientious objection