Fragility of Rule of Law in Honduras
Government corruption, drug-related crimes and poverty are three factors that reinforce each other and perpetuate the fragility of rule of law in Honduras. Poverty in Honduras remains a major concern, as around 48% of its population (more than 4.3 million people) live below the national poverty line, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, the country is also a key transit point for drugs bound to the United States from South America, said the U.S. State Department in its 2022 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. A culture of impunity also prevails, with corruption and abuse marring the country’s judiciary and police, according to the 2022 World Report by Human Rights Watch.

The good news is that while these problems continue to plague the scenic Central American country, several local and U.S. institutions are working together to develop strategies aimed at improving the rule of law in Honduras.

Factors Undermining the Rule of Law in Honduras

In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the Honduran government received a transparency score of 24 out of 100. A score of zero means highly corrupt and 100 is very transparent.

Misconduct, common among police officers and other low-ranking officials, reaches the country’s highest level of government as well. For instance, in 2022, the U.S. government extradited Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez for drug and weapons trafficking charges.

Corruption plays a part in continual poverty by misappropriating the funds intended for the delivery of essential services for the citizens of Honduras. Notably, in 2018, corruption in Honduras was more than $2 billion, or 12.5% of the nation’s GDP.

The Association for a More Just Society says that without a strong government to enforce the rule of law in Honduras, criminal organizations grow in power and influence. As a result, corruption and poverty keep deepening.  

Efforts to Uphold Rule of Law in Honduras

In response to a $300 million embezzlement scandal from 2014, the Honduran public called for the president’s resignation. They also demanded the creation of a national anti-corruption agency.

To address the public outrage, the Honduran government collaborated with the Organization of American States (OAS). This collaboration led to the creation of the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).

The MACCIH began operations in 2016 and was fairly successful. It arrested and convicted many high-ranking government officials implicated in the embezzlement scandal. It also fired 40% of the police force under suspicion of corruption. However, after four years, the MACCIH’s mandate ended following a disagreement between the Honduran government and the OAS.

The MACCIH’s shutdown also led to the end of the Special Prosecutor’s Unit against Impunity and Corruption (Unidad Fiscal Especial contra la Impunidad y la Corrupción) or UFECIC. UFECIC and the MACCIH were working closely in investigating corrupt networks.

Replacing UFECIC was the Special Prosecutor’s Unit against Corruption Networks (Unidad Fiscal Especializada Contra Redes de Corrupción) or UFERCO. However, UFERCO receives insufficient resources and support from national and international institutions. UFERCO’s situation debilitates efforts to uphold the rule of law in Honduras.

An additional complication to addressing the fragility of rule of law in Honduras is a new penal code, the Washington Office on Latin America said. The new code reduces sentences for corruption and drug trafficking-related crimes. 

Indeed, the controversial new code led to the acquittal of 14 officials implicated in the 2014 embezzlement case. Beneficiaries of the controversial code also include those convicted of misusing government money. Under the new code, those sentenced to less than five years have the possibility to reduce their sentence if they can repay the stolen funds. The new penal code went into effect in June 2020.

Onward and Forward: The Path to Strengthening the Rule of Law in Honduras

Despite the setbacks, several activities aimed at reducing the fragility of rule of law in Honduras persist. One such initiative is the Justice, Human Rights and Security Strengthening Activity (Unidos por la Justicia). This project, which USAID launched in 2016, operates to: instigate institutional reform, increase access to justice and civil society, increase policing and empower women to combat gender-based violence.

Additionally, the Biden Administration has pledged $4 billion over four years to address crime, poverty and corruption in Honduras and its neighboring states El Salvador and Guatemala. The move is part of the “U.S. Strategy for Addressing the Root Cause of Migration in Central America” plan.

This funding led to the founding of the Effective Justice to Combat Criminality and Corruption Project (JECCC), a U.S.-backed project seeking to collaborate with and expand on the efforts of Unidos por la Justicia.

In the past, the United States gave funds directly to the central government and Honduran law enforcement. However, to avoid funneling money into corrupt institutions, the new protocol prioritizes NGOs working toward improved education, agriculture and women’s rights.

– Xander Heiple
Photo: Flickr

Law in Timor-LesteAll states face economic, social and political pressure, but when the pressure exceeds a state’s ability to control it, the state becomes fragile. The Fund for Peace uses the Fragile States Index (FSI) to assess the vulnerability of 179 countries every year. The Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste has shown significant decreases in economic and environmental fragility in recent years. In 2020, for the first time, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) report on the state of fragility did not list Timor-Leste as a fragile state. In the FSI’s 2021 report, Timor-Leste ranked first of all the world’s countries for yearly reduction in overall fragility score. Improvements to fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste have also helped the nation reduce poverty.

History of Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste, formally known as East Timor, is one of the world’s youngest nations. It was a Portuguese colony until 1975, then remained under Indonesian sovereignty until 1999. In 1999, the U.N. organized the East Timorese Independence Referendum, in which citizens chose independence over greater autonomy within Indonesia.

Timor-Leste became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century after the formal ratification of independence in 2002. Timor-Leste has devoted the last 20 years to rebuilding infrastructure and formal institutions damaged by past conflict. Around 1.3 million people call the newly peaceful, democratic nation home.

Economic Growth in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s poverty rate dropped from 50% in 2007 to 42% in 2014, indicating economic growth. Less poverty means less violence, so the drop in poverty means improvement in fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste. The Timorese government has put great effort toward reducing disparities within the economy, especially through education.

After decades of conflict, the Timorese needed to rebuild nearly all institutions from the ground up. Between 2005 and 2008, the government devoted significant funding to primary education, leading primary education enrollment to increase from 68% to 85%. However, older youth and adults still lacked the education to participate fully in society and the economy.

In 2010, with only 36% of the population functionally literate, the World Bank launched the Second Chance Education Project. The program set up nine community learning centers with flexible hours, providing a second chance to those too old for primary school. By the time the project ended in 2017, 1,670 students had participated in the mature education course, 55% of whom were women. Timor-Leste’s recent efforts put the country on target to achieve U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (quality education) by 2030.

Social Improvements

Improvements in health and nutrition directly improved fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste. Malnutrition is the country’s leading cause of premature death and disability. Timorese children suffer the third highest stunting prevalence in the world, with more than 50% of children younger than 5 identified as stunted. Experts believe that loss of productivity due to malnutrition costs Timor-Leste $40 million per year.

To combat malnutrition, the World Bank implemented the Community Driven Nutrition Improvement Program. Operating in 49 villages, the four-year program taught families how to grow and cook nutrient-rich foods. The program gave more than 1,000 families sweet potato cuttings and provided more than 400 families with seeds for their home and community gardens.

With the help of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), Timor-Leste has also brought its malaria epidemic under control. The GFATM funded and helped launch the National Malaria Control Program in 2003. Following the launch, Timor-Leste saw a 97% decrease in reported cases, which dropped from around 223,000 cases in 2006 to only around 6,200 in 2012. The program followed a six-part strategy:

  1. Enhance early detection and effective therapies.
  2. Distribute long-lasting insecticidal nets.
  3. Conduct indoor residual spraying.
  4. Improve epidemic prevention, preparedness and response.
  5. Educate the public.
  6. Enhance monitoring and research.

Political Improvements

Timor-Leste’s democracy continues to flourish. Since gaining independence in 2002, the state has successfully held four peaceful, free and fair multi-party elections, all of which ended with a smooth transfer of power. Democratic stability will continue to improve fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste. As one of Southeast Asia’s most stable democracies, the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Report classified Timor-Leste as on target for SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

The Timorese government now prioritizes rebuilding infrastructure and public services. The Timor-Leste Road Climate Resilience Project is currently restoring 110 kilometers of road connecting three of the main districts in the country. Inability to travel throughout the country isolates communities and isolation hurts the economy. The project will connect 410,000 citizens, encouraging greater economic activity. The road will also help decrease malnutrition by giving families access to diverse foods grown in other parts of the country. The road restoration project is nearly 80% complete.

Goals for Timor-Leste Through 2024

In November 2019, the World Bank Group established the Country Partnership Framework for Timor-Leste. It plans to transform Timor-Leste’s “natural wealth into improved human capital and sustainable infrastructure” with three main objectives:

  1. Promote private sector-led growth and diversify the economy.
  2. Improve human capital.
  3. Continue to rebuild infrastructure, especially transportation.

Along with Timor-Leste, the OECD also removed Egypt, Malawi, Nepal and Rwanda from the list of fragile nations in 2020. As fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste and other nations improve, their neighboring nations will also find more stability. There is always room for improvement but the world should take a moment to celebrate the significant progress in the small, young country of Timor-Leste.

– Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr