Earlier this month, Honduran newspapers reported that the Supreme Court of Justice was set to hear a proposal to reduce the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. The proposal, which the Court would then have the option of forwarding to the national Congress, was said to be the work of a group composed of members of the Association of Judges and Magistrates, the Association of Judicial Employees and Functionaries, and the Association of Judges for Democracy.
A La Tribuna article of March 10 relates that support for the initiative has also reportedly been expressed by the College of Lawyers and the National Police, and quotes Honduran judge Oscar Genauer as saying:
The incidence of crimes is more frequent among people younger than 18, which is why they must be tried as adults.”
Judge Genauer refrains from expanding his legal equation to explain why adults committing politically-motivated crimes do not have to be tried at all, as in the case of the continued assassination of civilians opposed to last year’s coup d’état against President Mel Zelaya. The most recent victim, anti-coup Honduran high school teacher José Manuel Flores, was killed in the company of his students on the afternoon of March 23; Judge Genauer has thus far failed to speculate on whether Mr. Flores’ students will be more or less likely than adults to engage in criminal behavior after viewing their teacher’s murder.
The increasing criminalization of youth was one of the primary concerns expressed by María Luisa Borjas, former chief of internal affairs for the Honduran police force, in a November 2009 interview in Tegucigalpa. According to Borjas, a total of 3,000 young people had been exterminated during the presidency of Zelaya’s predecessor Ricardo Maduro, a process aided by the generous application of the label marero—“gang member”—by Minister of Public Security Óscar Álvarez, who is currently reprising his ministerial role in the administration of Pepe Lobo. As for why it is imperative to criminalize Honduran youth rather than to encourage their development into a viable social force, the former option permits approximately 10 families to retain their grasp on the entire country and serves to detract attention from delinquency by other members of the population, such as military officials involved in drug trafficking.
At the burial last October of assassinated Colonel Concepión Jiménez, Romeo Vásquez Velásquez—head of the Honduran armed forces—recalled that the deceased had been nothing but the humble director of the military enterprise that manufactured uniforms and boots for the soldiers. According to Vásquez, the colonel had possessed grander, more frontline aspirations, but Vásquez had reminded him that a shoeless military was not capable of commanding respect; it was not clear whether the eulogy of Jiménez’ manufacturing talents constituted an effort to debunk suspicions that his post had been a cover for narcotics-related activity.
As for other sorts of cover, these are addressed in a recent Rights Action article about José Manuel Flores, the high school teacher shot by men in ski masks. The article recalls a policy initiated by Óscar Álvarez during the Maduro administration, according to which “police dressed in civilian clothes and wearing ski masks… participate in raids. Their appearance makes them indistinguishable from organized crime assassins, who operate with impunity throughout Honduras and the region.”
It thus appears that traditions of impunity will remain unaffected by judicial proposals to reduce the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and that accompanying proposals calling for a “move toward disarmament” will not apply to all armed actors.