A group of UN independent experts on Monday urged [press release] the government of Honduras to increase its oversight of the 706 registered and numerous unregistered private security companies operating in the country. The Working Group on the use of mercenaries [official website], recently returned from a five-day mission to Honduras, commended certain progress in establishing national police laws and a human rights bureau, but expressed great concern over the proliferation of both legal and illegal private security companies. The experts stated that outsourcing the use of force to hundreds of private security companies seriously undermines the rule of law and any functioning national security mechanism. The ratio of private security guards to police officers in Honduras is reportedly five to one. Also during its visit, the Working Group received consistent information that many private security guards carry firearms that are prohibited and are allegedly used to commit human rights violations [UN News Centre report] including killings, disappearances, forced evictions and sexual violence. The experts were particularly concerned about the alleged involvement of private security companies in land rights disputes in the Bajo Aguan region in the north of the country between landowners and peasant associations, where representatives of peasant associations have reportedly been victims of such abuses at the hands of private security. The Working Group recommended adequate training and resources for the National Police to facilitate the rule of law, as well as a strengthening of the Honduran judicial system to properly investigate and prosecute potential human rights violations.
In January the Honduran National Congress [official website, in Spanish] approved controversial amendments to the police law [JURIST report] designed to eliminate corruption. Approval came after the congress voted to dismiss four justices [JURIST report] of the country's Supreme Court [official websites, in Spanish] a week earlier, after the justices ruled that the police reform bill supported by President Porfirio Lobo [NYT profile] was unconstitutional. Tension between the three branches of government in Honduras has risen recently, and Lobo has expressed concern that he may be forced out of office like his predecessor, who was removed during the 2009 military coup [JURIST report]. In June 2011 the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared that the coup was unconstitutional [JURIST report] but stated that former president Manuel Zelaya was culpable when he ignored orders of the Supreme Court. Zelaya signed an agreement [JURIST report] in May 2011 allowing his return to the country after nearly two years in exile.