Protests continue across Honduras following the troubled vote-counting process for the November 26 national elections. Honduras’ highest electoral authority has refrained from officially declaring a winner until the parties’ legal challenges are addressed. While the electoral authority has given incumbent presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández a slim 1.59 percent lead over his challenger Salvador Nasralla, international and local observers have expressed concerns about the reliability of the election results. In the past 10 days, the government’s heavy-handed response to the widespread protests has only deepened the political crisis.
Both the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation missions have raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the presidential election. In its preliminary report released on December 4, the OAS observation mission noted that the “tight margin, along with the irregularities, errors and systematic problems that have surrounded this election, does not allow the mission to be certain about the results.” The EU and OAS have laid out a series of recommendations to restore faith in the electoral process, and called on Honduras’ electoral authority to address the opposition’s concerns and take the necessary actions to ensure fairness and accuracy in the vote count.
It is essential that the electoral body do everything in its power to rebuild its credibility, especially as its unexplained and erratic behavior since November 26 played a major role in destroying public confidence in the election results. Any review of the vote count should be carried out with the participation of the political parties and civil society actors, and the accompaniment of national and international observers.
The delays and numerous reports of irregularities have sparked widespread public protests and violence across the country, resulting in documented cases of security forces opening fire on crowds of civilian protesters. Since December 1, the military has enforced a nationwide 10-day curfew, currently effective between 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. To date, at least 11 people have been killed in demonstrations across the country since election day, and hundreds more have been arrested, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Alongside these incidents of violence, the imposition of the nationwide curfew and the acts of repression against demonstrators are egregious violations of civil liberties.
The government of Honduras has a responsibility to ensure that police and security forces exercise restraint, uphold its citizens’ rights to peacefully assemble and express themselves, and respect the human rights of the citizenry, as Honduras and the international community continue to await the official results of the presidential election.
Key U.S. congressional leaders have spoken to how the Honduran government’s handling of these events will affect the relationship between Honduras and the United States. As recently stated by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), “Honduras faces a defining moment in its modern history. How the government resolves this crisis will determine the path of the country for the foreseeable future. It will also determine the extent of validity and support the next government receives from the United States, because only a credible election, accepted widely by the Honduran people as free and fair, coupled with a demonstrable commitment to transparency, to freedom of expression and association, and to the rule of law, will justify that validity and support.”
It is crucial that the U.S. administration press Honduran authorities to respect human rights, including the right to peacefully assemble and protest. The U.S. government must also support the recommendations of the observation missions and calls to guarantee a transparent, fair, and accurate vote count before a winner is announced.
The U.S. State Department sent a counterproductive and damaging message when it opted to certify that Honduras had met the human rights and rule of law aid requirements two days after the election took place, given reports of irregularities and excessive use of force on the part of the Honduran security forces. It is imperative that the U.S. administration make clear that a positive U.S.-Honduras relationship depends on the Honduran government’s explicit and demonstrable commitment to human rights, transparency, and the rule of law.