Honduras: UNHCR report urges reforms to defend displaced people’s land

from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 29 Sep 2017 View Original

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Thousands of people displaced by gang violence in Honduras are being robbed of their lands and homes because of gaps in the existing property legislation, according to a new UNHCR report (available in Spanish). The report also presents a set of concrete recommendations to ensure that these rights are better defended and protected.

Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world and those forced to flee the country tell shocking stories of cruelty, sexual violence and brutality.

Forced displacement in Honduras has been linked to the extreme violence of ruthless criminal gangs called “maras”, which often fight each other over territory and control of illegal activities.

According to official figures from 2015, at least 174,000 people were displaced in Honduras between 2004 and 2014 in 20 urban municipalities in the country. Some 7,000 of them said that dispossession and occupation of their land and property was the main reason for fleeing.

Since the 2015 survey only included 20 urban municipalities, it is clear that the real number of those displaced by violence is likely to be much higher. In addition, many displaced people are reluctant to contact the authorities and simply go into hiding to escape further persecution by these groups.

The land and housing report is based on interviews with displaced people - including members of the local, indigenous, peasant and Afro-Honduran communities -, national and local authorities, experts and civil society. It notes that, in the absence of a proper land registry, displaced people often struggle to prove that they are the legitimate owners of their own houses or land.

One of the most worrying findings of the report is that dispossession has taken many different forms both in urban and rural contexts. Gangs destroy and forcibly occupy houses, with families often given only 24 hours to leave.

In rural contexts, where drug routes are being fought over by criminal cartels, families have also reported pressure to sell their lands at lower than market prices or to simply abandon their property.

Indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities report physical threats when they claim their collective and territorial rights which are being infringed by industrial, infrastructure, development and tourism projects.

The report makes a number of recommendations to ensure that government policies take into account and protect the property rights of displaced people, especially in procedures to regularize title deeds.

One of the main recommendations is the creation of a registration system for abandoned land and housing, to guarantee the legal protection of the rights of IDPs and the establishment of restitution mechanisms linked to durable solutions.

Some other recommendations include the strengthening and support of networks to protect and defend the rights of people displaced by violence and indigenous, Afro-Honduran and urban community organizations.

UNHCR continues to provide technical support to the Government of Honduras in the design and implementation of the response to forced displacement.

UNHCR, together with our partner Caritas, have started to identify abandoned houses and land in high risk areas and has activated a land and housing working group with the participation of key governmental entities. The main result of this group is the development of tools for the identification of abandoned property and the design of a registration system for abandoned property.

In addition to those displaced within the country, the number of Hondurans fleeing to other countries, such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala, has been increasing since 2013. In 2016 alone, more than 24,935 Hondurans sought international protection. In total, over 215,000 people fled Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in the first half of 2017 due to gang violence, mostly to the USA and Canada.

For more information on this topic, please contact:
In Mexico City, Francesca Fontanini, fontanin@unhcr.org, +52 1 (55) 9197 2690