Merkley, Leahy, Durbin, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Tackle Corruption, Human Rights Violations in Honduras

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) today led a group of eight lawmakers in introducing the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act of 2021—legislation that lays out a comprehensive framework for combating corruption, impunity, and human rights violations in Honduras.

The introduction comes as U.S. federal prosecutors made public that they are investigating Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández for accepting large bribes from, and giving assistance to, an alleged drug trafficker who delivered thousands of kilos of cocaine throughout the United States.

In response to the news—which adds to a long list of cases by U.S. prosecutors in which Hernández has been implicated or directly accused of involvement in drug trafficking—the bill would impose sanctions on the Honduran president for corruption and human rights abuses and suspend U.S. security assistance and export licenses for covered defense articles and munitions items to the Honduran police and military, among other provisions.

“The United States cannot remain silent in the face of deeply alarming corruption and human rights abuses being committed at the highest levels of the Honduran government,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “A failure to hold Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, national officials, and members of the police and military accountable for these crimes will fuel widespread poverty and violence and force more families to flee their communities in search of safety. We need a comprehensive plan of action, including sanctions, and halting the provision of U.S. security assistance and defense equipment to the Honduran police and military.”

“This bill shines a spotlight on glaring problems that have too often been excused by U.S. administrations: the rampant corruption and violations of human rights that prevent the people of Honduras from building a safe, prosperous country.  It is time for the United States to make clear that our aid is contingent on having partners with the integrity and commitment to achieve these goals.  That is the purpose of this legislation,” said Leahy.

“Human rights violations, democratic backsliding, and drug trafficking have been unchecked in Honduras for far too long,” Durbin said, “I am proud to support the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act.  It’s long overdue that President Juan Orlando Hernández be held accountable for his troubling leadership.”

“I remain extremely concerned at the continued human rights abuses by Honduran security forces and the corrupt actions of President Juan Orlando Hernández. This legislation will ensure that the U.S. government is not complicit in abuses carried out by the Hernández government against the people of Honduras. The Honduran government must protect its own people, uphold human rights, and commit to adherence to the rule of law,” said Markey.

“The United States must stand against kleptocracy and corruption, which so often go hand in glove with human rights abuses and other criminality,” said Whitehouse.  “This legislation sends a message that we will not support governments that abuse the public trust and choose profit over their own people.”

“As human rights deteriorate in Honduras the United States cannot sit idly by. These sanctions will hold the Honduran leadership accountable and make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye to rampant corruption and flagrant abuses of international law,” said Van Hollen.

In addition to his most recent indictment, Hernández has been named a co-conspirator in three other high-profile drug trafficking and corruption cases that have been tried or are being prosecuted by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, in which federal prosecutors allege that he has repeatedly used public office to protect and facilitate drug trafficking.

The Government of Honduras has taken significant steps in recent months to shield senior officials from accountability, including shutting down the Organization of American States-backed Mission of Support against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) in January 2020. Collusion among government officials, security forces, and organized crime in the knowledge and perpetration of human rights abuses remains unchecked, with Honduras ranking as the deadliest country in the world for human rights and environmental defenders on a per capita basis, and human rights violations continue unabated under the cover of COVID-19 pandemic response.

Merkley, Leahy, and Durbin were joined by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Full text of the legislation is available in English here, and in Spanish here.