(Washington, DC) – The Honduran Congress should conduct a transparent, impartial, and participatory process for electing the country’s next human rights ombudsman, Human Rights Watch said today.
A new ombudsman must be chosen by March 14, 2014, when the current ombudsman’s six-year term ends. The ombudsman directs the National Human Rights Commission (El Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, or CONADEH).
“Unfortunately, in recent years the National Human Rights Commission has too often been viewed as a political body rather than an impartial defender of human rights,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “It is critically important for Congress to choose an ombudsman who is willing and able to tackle Honduras’ daunting human rights problems, and who can make sure the commission fulfills its mandate as an independent watchdog.”
Honduras suffers from rampant crime and impunity for human rights abuses. The institutions responsible for providing public security have proven largely ineffective.
The National Human Rights Commission was created in 1982 by constitutional mandate as an autonomous institution to protect human rights and advance the rule of law. The commission has a broad mandate to investigate any human rights violation. It also has the power to evaluate whether national laws comply with Honduras’s commitments under binding international human rights treaties.
The law establishing the commission (Ley Orgánica del Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos) sets forth minimum requirements for candidates and stipulates that the ombudsman must be approved by a majority of Congress.
On February 26, 2014, Congress announced that a committee of 15 of its members would oversee the selection process. The committee has agreed on regulations setting out prerequisites and general criteria for its evaluations, including public hearings to question top candidates.
Under the regulations, the committee will present the three candidates it determines to be the most qualified to Congress, which will select one of the three by majority vote.
Congress should ensure that clear, objective criteria are used to evaluate the candidates, including their independence and knowledge of international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said. The vetting of potential candidates should be fully transparent, rigorous, and accessible to the public, as set out in the committee’s regulations.
“While the rules recently set out by Congress are a step in the right direction, the test is whether Congress will follow them and carry out a fully transparent, objective selection process,” Vivanco said. “If the next ombudsman is chosen behind closed doors or picked on political grounds, it will greatly undermine the credibility and effectiveness of CONADEH.”