Organized Crime Targets Lawyers in Honduras

  • Written by  Ángel Servellón
 

Practicing law is a high-risk profession in Honduras. Since 2010, 59 lawyers have been killed in the country, according to the National Human Rights Commissioner (CONADEH), Ramón Custodio López. “These murders are the result of the precarious public safety situation caused by common criminals and organized crime,” he said. So far in 2013, six lawyers have been killed after 15 were murdered last year, 26 in 2011 and 12 in 2010. In 92 percent of cases, a firearm was used, 6 percent involved suffocation or strangulation and 2 percent involved knives. The most dangerous cities for lawyers are Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, according to CONADEH. 

However, there have been murders, threats or acts of intimidation against legal professionals in 10 of the country’s 18 departments. “Most of the victims were murdered inside their cars, in the company of their families, friends or even the clients they were defending,” Custodio added.

 

Prosecutors from the Public Ministry (MP) also have been victims, with three murders since 2010. On April 18, attorney Orlan Arturo Chávez, a prosecutor from the Money Laundering Unit of the Public Ministry’s Office against Organized Crime, was killed inside his car in Tegucigalpa. Mr. Chávez was one of the principal authors of major laws in Honduras, such as the 2002 Law against Money Laundering and the 2010 Property Deprivation Law. These two laws had a considerable impact on organized crime, according to Carlos Vallecillo, the spokesman for the Directorate for the Fight against Drug Trafficking (DLCN). The unit prosecuted 27 cases — of the 140 complaints it received — and seized US$10,190,785 from 2002 to 2012, according to Mr. Vallecillo.

 

Some of the country’s 16,000 lawyers are no longer interested in practicing their profession, particularly when it comes to criminal cases, because they are scared for their lives, according to the Roy Urtecho, president of the Bar Association of Honduras (CAH), “There are lawyers who want to resign,” he said. “They tell me that they no longer want to pursue criminal cases but instead dedicate themselves to preparing legal documents.”

 

One attorney who would prefer not to litigate criminal cases is Rafael Aguirre, who uses a fictitious name to protect his identity for security reasons. Mr. Aguirre received his degree in 2002 from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) and even though he wanted to practice criminal law, he works on business matters. “It’s very risky to expose yourself to the dangers of practicing criminal law,” he said. “That’s why I prefer to work as a legal consultant for a bank — it brings peace of mind to me and my family.”

 

The Fight Against Impunity

There have been only two convictions out of the 59 lawyer homicide cases. In November 2012, the families of murdered attorneys and representatives from CAH demanded an official explanation regarding the killings, Mr. Urtecho said. “On behalf of the Bar Association, we asked the government to implement a policy that provides the National Police with what they need to carry out preventive work and assign special investigators to end the impunity for killers,” he said.

 

Authorities from the MP recognize that justice is pending in the cases involving crimes against attorneys. “Progress in these investigations has been slow,” said Special Prosecutor for Human Rights German Enamorado. “It has been mainly due to the agencies’ lack of funding, prosecutors’ excessive workloads and the lack of expertise among criminal investigative officers.” The Public Ministry’s budget was about US$50 million in 2012. “The Human Rights Office has only 25 agents, who are responsible for the 4,000 cases under investigation,” Mr. Enamorado said. “We often have to choose between paying the staff and investing in training.”

 

However, to address the demands of the most affected groups — such as lawyers, journalists and homosexuals — the MP has established a unit that operates under the Office of Common Crimes to monitor these cases, according to Mr. Enamorado. “In late 2012, we designated a group of 10 prosecutors who would be in charge of investigating these cases,” he said. “Neither threats, nor intimidations, nor budget cuts will stop our work because we made a commitment to carry out investigations into the killings of lawyers on behalf of the Honduran people.” (5/1/13)

 

Note: This article was originally published by InfoSurHoy.com.

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