Honduras has the world’s highest homicide rate, and the State Department is working with the government and civil society in Honduras to reduce it—to improve Hondurans’ lives and to lessen the threat of violence that has contributed to the surge of unaccompanied children to the United States. In August, for example, our embassy in Tegucigalpa invited representatives of 45 civil society organizations to attend an all-day workshop on how activists can cut their chances of becoming crime victims. To increase the impact, participants were encouraged to teach these lessons to all their members.
Cybersecurity tips were particularly interesting to the audience because Internet crime is evolving so rapidly, and few Hondurans have learned how to prevent themselves from becoming easy targets because of the way they use their phones and computers.
Another area that drew extensive questions was the very blurry process of reporting crimes. Knowing which office to call and understanding the follow-up procedures are vital to effective law enforcement. Because of widespread police corruption, many citizens believe that filing a report is fruitless -- and might even make them targets for additional crimes.
The experts also emphasized the importance of basics such as rolling up windows, keeping doors locked, checking the rear view mirror, changing travel routes, and not resisting perpetrators. They shared the latest techniques for remaining vigilant and aware of surroundings. “A lot of what they talked about may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people weren’t aware of how much these practices can help,” said Amanda Johnson-Miller of the embassy’s Political Section.
“I found it really valuable and am eager to set up training sessions for members of our organization,” said Carlos Gomez of the Association for a More Just Society.
In addition, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and the embassy team prepared participants to create a multimedia campaign on the important work of human rights defenders in Honduras. Short video clips filmed at the event will run on major TV channels and will be used on the embassy’s social media pages.
These recent activities wrapped up a two-year CSO engagement. To help change the narrative of runaway crime and government inaction, CSO teamed up with the U.S. Embassy to begin a partnership with a new coalition of nongovernmental organizations: the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ).
APJ developed into a nationally recognized and respected voice on security reform and government accountability, and the U.S. government’s support enabled the coalition to hone its skills and to expand its network. APJ advocacy was instrumental in achieving first-ever public hearings by the Honduran Congress to examine accountability and security reform.
CSO also provided advisers to support high-profile prosecutions, strategic communications support for the government, and assistance for a neighborhood security program that helped law enforcement earn convictions in 80 percent of its cases -- 40 times the national average.
CSO usually works in a host country for only 18 months or so, and all staff members have returned to Washington. The model also calls for a small deployment; our team in Honduras never exceeded six, and we implemented programs directly with local partners. We try to build on local initiatives and pass them along to partners, including both the U.S. government and local organizations. For example, CSO successfully parterned with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcment (INL) to coordinate continued support for one of CSO’s hallmark criminal justice reform iniatives.
“Reducing crime rates takes time,” noted DCM Julie Schechter Torres, “but we believe that we have helped lay a foundation for progress.”
About the Author: Nick O'Neill serves in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.