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    Country Reports


Initial report submitted on 23 July 1998 (E/1990/5/Add.40)



Population, 2000 estimate:            6.3 million

Ethnicities:             90 % mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European),  7 % Amerindian,

                        2 % black, 1 % white

Religion:             97 % Roman Catholic, Protestant minority


GDP (purchasing power parity), 1999 estimate:                          US$14.1 billion

GDP per capita, 1999 estimate:                                                           US$ 2,050

Annual growth in GNP per capita,   1999-2003 estimate:             2.8 %

Total unemployment:                                                             30 %

Women’s unemployment:                                                             60 % [1]


Major industries: Agriculture (bananas, coffee, shellfish, meat, timber), Manufacturing (Export Processing and Assembly)


Fertility Rate, 2000 estimate:                                      4.26 births per woman

Birth deliveries attended by trained personnel:             54% [2]

Infant Mortality Rate:                                        36 deaths per 1,000 live births

                                                                                    (high: Cuba  - 7.51 , 

                                                                                    Lat. America average - 31)


Life expectancy at birth, 2000 estimate:            Total - 69.93 years

                                                                        Male - 67.91 years

                                                                        Female - 72.06 years


Poverty:                                                           50 %  of population below national poverty line


Illiteracy, 1999:                                                

Male (urban areas):                                      26.1%

Female (urban areas):                                      25.9%                         

Sources: World Bank Group unless indicated otherwise [3]



Honduras ranks among the lowest income countries in the Americas and its economy relies heavily on agriculture.  In the 1980s, the country experienced a long period of economic decline.  Since 1990, the economy registered an average growth of six percent fueled by growth in manufacturing and construction.  President Carlos Roberto Flores of the Liberal Party took office in January 1998 after what was considered internationally a relatively clean election. 


In October 1998,  Honduras was devastated by Hurricane Mitch, one of the worst natural disasters to strike the Western Hemisphere. The storm killed 5,000 people, left thousands of people homeless, and caused US$3 billion damage to the country’s infrastructure. [4]   The effects of Mitch will have long-term impact on the country’s economy.  As a result of storm damage, GDP contracted by about three percent in 1999. 


In general,  the economic crisis and the structural adjustment program adopted in 1990 has led to increased poverty, especially in the rural areas.  Despite the widespread damage and losses in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, it has been reported that the country is meeting its “macroeconomic” goals. [5]   However, there is some evidence that the “good macroeconomic performance” sometimes comes at a price and  the greatest sacrifice is by the country’s poorest.  For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the economic modernization policy in Honduras — which is aimed at integration into the international market and privatization — discouraged the production of basic grains resulting in decreased family food security.  High population growth coupled with the above-described economic factors have affected farmers and led to increased poverty. With lower salaries and no direct access to land, women experience poverty more acutely, which in turn worsens already high infant mortality and malnutrition rates. [6]  




COVENANT ARTICLE 2 AND 3: Non-Discrimination and Obligation of States Parties to Adopt Legislative Measures and Equal Rights of Men and Women


Mechanisms Created to Advance Women

Following the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1988, the Honduran government revised the Agrarian Reform Law in 1991 to give women equal rights to land.  The Law for the Modernization and Development of the Agricultural Sector (LMA) recognized women as producers. Moreover, the Women’s Commission and a Permanent Forum in the National Congress have been instituted to provide a way to channel legal reform initiatives and disseminate information on laws for women. [7]


On the policy level, institutional mechanisms have been created to facilitate women’s access to a range of services related to agricultural work.  The Committee for Integration of Rural Women in Agrarian Reform and the Coordination Commission for Development of Rural Women were established to redefine mechanisms and technical assistance services in order to make them more useful and accessible to women, including credit and access to land. [8]   To date, according to experts, these efforts have produced only minimal results and have not changed the basic situation of inequality nor improved women’s status.  Despite equal rights under the law, application is limited or non-existent for the rural poor, who lack the education and experience with a market system to demand compliance with the law.  The FAO has reported that women continue to face a variety of obstacles when trying to obtain credit and investment capital. [9]


Another national mechanism for women, the Instituto Nacional de la Mujer (INAM; National Institute for Women),  charged with political work to advance women’s status, is ineffective as it is severely underfunded:  According to Emma Mejía-Sabonge, Director of Acciónes Para El Desarollo Poblacional (ADP;  Population Development Program), “INAM receives less funding than the zoo, and the zoo is in a pretty bad shape.” [10]


So far, a gender perspective and a plan for action has not been adopted in policy analysis on the governmental level.  Women’s human rights activists told IWRAW that women need to have a greater representation and attention to their specific problems in every ministry and not only in agencies created specifically to focus on advancing women’s status. [11]



According to NGO sources in Honduras, the law does not provide properly for the division of marital property upon divorce or separation. According to Mejía-Sabonge,  in case of divorce or separation men typically receive the majority of the marriage property as they are seen as the breadwinners who have contributed more to the family.  Women’s contribution is unacknowledged since most of their work is done in the home.  In rural zones,  the division of common property is further complicated by the fact that about half of all unions are common law marriages [12] While recent changes in the law have simplified the divorce process and made divorce more accessible [13] it is unclear whether the new law addresses the question of marital property division.



COVENANT ARTICLE 6, 7 and 8: Right to Work,

to Just and Favorable Conditions of Work, and to Form and Join Trade Unions


Women constitute 60 percent of the unemployed in Honduras and they often work in the low-status, low-pay,  informal occupations, such as domestic help. [14]    According to the 2000 UNDP  Human Development Report, per capita GDP attributable to women is less than one-third of the GDP attributable to men (US$ 1,252 compared to US$ 3,595). [15]


Women’s Economic Losses as Result of Hurricane Mitch

According to Enlace, a publication of the Christian Commission for Development in Honduras (CCD), women’s losses during the storm often have been discounted by relief programs. [16] Several activists that IWRAW interviewed stated that women were not represented on the Foro Nacional (National Forum),  instituted to assess damage and produce a plan of action following Hurricane Mitch.  According to Teresa López, gender programs coordinator with CCD, in addition to losing homes and fields, women also lost the inventory of their “patio economy” such as small animals, kitchen utensils and gardens.  López claims that  since women’s income is considered a secondary source in many families, women’s economic losses were not properly included in initial damage assessments.  For example, a woman may have lost all her chickens, which represented only a small portion of the total family income, yet the chickens were the source of all of her personal disposable income, because of family budget structure and distributional issues.  López told IWRAW,  “If women don’t have their own source of income, it makes them more vulnerable and dependent on their partners.” [17]




EPZs (Economic Processing Zones)/Maquiladoras

Despite mixed reactions in Honduras to the existence of maquiladoras (Asian and US assembly plants producing for export), several women’s activists that IWRAW interviewed expressed the opinion that people are generally supportive of the industry and thankful for their existence as they provide an income source when no other options exist, especially for women. [18]    At the same time, they are critical of abuses that occur in the industry.  Women comprise about 80 percent of workers in maquiladoras.  The majority of the plants are located in the industrial zone surrounding Santa Barbara and San Pedro Sula. [19]   For several years, factory owners have been under intense scrutiny from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and many international NGOs.  Policies have been adopted to force factories to give workers rights after they have worked a certain period of time in the factory.  In order to avoid following these regulations, factories release workers just prior to when they would acquire their benefits.  This leads to added job instability for the maquila workers. [20]   


As the maquiladora workers are mostly single young women from 18-24 years old (although American students investigating the Chelsea Factory in Honduras noted seeing 12-13 year old girls working in the plant [21] ), employees often require them to undergo sterilization as a condition of hiring, and those who become pregnant are fired. Although the 8-hour days is the supposed norm, they are often forced to work overtime.   The average salary amounts to about 500 lempira (US$33) week. 


Some maquilas are unionized, and conditions in such factories are usually  better, verbal abuse less frequent and overtime not required, [22]   although even in those, workers receive neither medical insurance nor social benefits.  Employees in maquiladoras face numerous obstacles when trying to organize a union or in the process of applying for the union status.  This was the case with workers’ attempts to unionize at the Yoo Yang company in the Continental Park.  The Yoo Yang workers applied for collective bargaining agreement in March 2000, but by August 2000, the agreement had not been approved. [23]   In similar cases when workers have tried to organize, companies such as Phillips Van-Heusen, have either threatened to move out of the country or have moved their production to Guatemala or elsewhere. [24]   For instance a Korean Kimi maquila factory closed down in May 2000 [25] after a 4-year struggle with workers who were attempting to register a union.  Although the Kimi workers and their SITRAKIMIH union won legal recognition in 1997, the company eventually moved its operations to a non-union Modas Cielo factory in Guatemala.  Kimi is a supplier of companies such as J.C. Penney and Collegiate Licensing Company (supplying clothing to US colleges, including Indiana University and Duke University). [26]


Rural Women

According to a 1994 FAO report, 20 percent of rural households in Honduras are headed by women.  Women play a crucial role in some sectors of agricultural production (especially in the small farmer sectors) working an average of four hours per day performing crop and livestock work. [27]   In the 1990s, there were some 40 NGOs providing support to rural women, chiefly through small projects for income generation and other types of assistance. Government generally has been supportive and has encouraged NGOs to provide some services that it cannot provide because it lacks funds. [28]


Access to Land

After 30 years of the agrarian reform process, in  1993, women comprised only four percent of the owners of land and 22 percent of those in the land title program. [29]    It is unknown what has changed since that time.  In the 1990s, women had very limited access to credit and generally received smaller amounts of financial help than men. For example, among the beneficiaries of the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) ­— which provides credit to the coffee sector — only 9.5 percent were women. [30]


Agricultural Training

Despite the existence of various agricultural training programs, the enrollment and participation of women has been very low.  In 1990-1993, for example, only 11 percent of women were trained in agriculture-related technologies and no women participated in farm mechanization and food storage training.  In 1993, women comprised 25 percent of those trained by the Honduran Corporation for Forest Development (COHDEFOR) and IHCAFE. [31]   It is unknown what has been done to stimulate women’s participation in these types of training.



COVENANT ARTICLE 9 AND 10: Right to Social Security

and Protection of the Family and of Mothers and Children


Social Security

Honduras currently has no social security or federal pension program.  People well into their eighties must work to support themselves.  Because of women’s longer life expectancy, elderly women disproportionately suffer the consequences of the lack of social security. Some sell tortillas or wash laundry, often making long treks to the wealthier parts of town to find work each day. [32]


Child Prostitution

Many young girls are involved in the prostitution industry in Honduras.  Some of these children have not finished the fourth grade.  Some girls say they were initially involved in gangs and then moved on to prostitution.  No statistics exist to know exactly how many children are involved in the industry.  Additionally,  many of the children involved do not speak out, frequently because they fear losing an income that is necessary to support themselves or their families. [33]



COVENANT ARTICLE 11: Right to an Adequate Standard of Living


More than two years following Hurricane Mitch, thousands of families remain in temporary shelters in the capital and in the countryside.  In March 2000, in Tegucigalpa alone, more than 6,000 people lived in five huge government-sponsored macro-shelters and thousands stayed in crowded conditions with their families. [34]   IWRAW visited one of five macro-shelters in Colonia Soto, Tegucigalpa, where families live in extremely poor, inadequate and crowded conditions.  Children have no shoes or clothing and  the hygienic conditions are very poor.   For instance, IWRAW met a family of eight, who lives in one tiny room.  Residents of the shelter feel that they are forgotten by the government —  like “prisoners” in the shelter.  In some of the shelters, there are no teachers and no school supplies for children.  

In February 2000, a group of women at the Tegucigalpa macro-shelter formed a committee to protest the situation and to ask the government to allocate inexpensive land to the shelter residents on which they would be able to afford to build new homes.  They were conducting a letter-writing campaign, but as of the end of 2000 there was no response from the authorities. [35]



COVENANT ARTICLE  12: Right to Physical and Mental Health


Violence Against Women

According to Lyda Pierce of CCD, in addition to unemployment and poverty, domestic violence is one of the most serious problems women face in Honduras.  Pierce stated that it was difficult to fight the problem in the context of the acute economic situation.  The Ley Contra la Violencia Intrafamiliar (The Law Against Family Violence) was adopted in 1997, but its application has not been effective. [36]   According to activists in Honduras, the government does not give sufficient financial support and political backing to programs related to the implementation of the law, such as family counseling and legal assistance to victims of abuse. [37]   There is not enough money to train judges and police to sensitize them in dealing with instances of domestic abuse and other instances of gender-related violence, such as rape.  Moreover, police officers and other enforcement officials often do not know that the law exists. [38]   Another problem is also a huge case backlog as the Consejería de la Familia (Council on the Family),  an office established under the Health Secretariat to deal with cases of domestic violence, remains extremely underfunded. The Consejería, for example, does not have its own legal staff. 


Women have reported to NGOs that when reporting rape and other violence to law enforcement officials, they were treated very aggressively and accused of provoking the attack, for example, by being asked, “Why were you out that late?” [39]


Access to Health care

The government has started privatizing health care in the past several years with a resulting decline in access for many people.  Currently, even at state-run hospitals an unofficial payment is required for childbirth services, ranging from 70-100 lempiras (US$4.65-10.33).  Without payment, women do not receive adequate care and necessary medication. [40]


Moreover, health care services are not provided uniformly.  In the most isolated rural areas it is close to non-existent.  The Misquita region, for example, lacks vaccinations, deparasiting, and prenatal care.  There are no permanent physicians as the Health Ministry has no presence there.  One of the most deprived areas is also Intibulcá, where the indigenous Lenca live.  The Lenca regions lack access to very basic services and have only limited access to health care. At the same time, the communities are plagued by alcoholism and other social problems, which affect the well-being and safety of families, and particularly women and children. [41]   Garífuna women, who live on the northern coast, must drive 8-10 hours to the La Ceiba hospital to receive health services.   Even those hospitals often lack necessary supplies. [42]



Honduras has the highest HIV/AIDS incidence (1.92 percent of the population) in Central America.  The male-female ratio of 4:1 registered at the beginning of the epidemic has shifted steadily over the years and is now approaching parity (38 percent of women in 1996).  Now more women are contracting HIV than men.  The 25–29 age group is the most affected (21.8 percent), although the number of cases diagnosed in children under 5 has been increasing (from 1.9 percent in 1987 to 4.8 percent in 1996). Geographically, the largest proportion of AIDS cases are in the northern region of the country (47.6 percent), followed by the central region (20.4 percent).   Of the cumulative total of 6,005 cases registered up to 1996, 1,041 have died.  The percentage of infected women rose from 30.3 percent of all cases in 1992 to 38 percent in 1996. In 1991, in San Pedro Sula — one of the most affected regions — the incidence of HIV infection stood at 3.6 percent among pregnant women and at 14 percent among prostitutes. [43]


Reproductive Rights

Although  Honduran NGO activists told IWRAW that since December 1999, the government is making an effort to implement its policy of reproductive health, including distribution of condoms and a condom campaign — chiefly to fight the high HIV/AIDS incidence — there has been some resistance from the Catholic Church.  Two influential groups linked to the Catholic Church, PROVIDA (Pro-life) and Opus Dei, also have a strong preference for “natural” contraception methods. [44]    However, even when natural methods of birth control are taught,  women are the only ones who are targeted by educational programs.  As a result of this one-sided approach, women’s partners often do not accept using any contraception methods.  There have been instances of women being beaten by their husbands who found contraceptive pills. [45]    Abortion is prohibited by law.



COVENANT ARTICLES 13 AND 14: Right to Education


Historically Honduras has suffered an acute shortage of teachers in the provinces, especially in the rural zones. The problem has deepened as many children displaced by Hurricane Mitch have been unable to register at schools, largely because of the teacher shortage. [46]


It is common for girls as young as age four to start taking care of their younger siblings.  This practice often inhibits them from attending school, while their brothers have no such responsibility. [47]  



COVENANT ARTICLE 15: Right to Participation in Cultural Life

and Benefits of Scientific Progress



According to Ely Melendez, vice-president of Enlace Mujeres Negras Honduras (Connection of Black Women of Honduras), one of the most important issues of the Garífuna black community in Honduras is the question of the preservation of the Garífuna culture, including the music, dance, crafts,  and cultural rituals. [48]   According to Melendez, in the North coast area where most Garífuna communities live, the government does not make an effort to preserve the culture and the culture suffers  a “profound lack of respect.” For example, the government has tried to develop a program of “criadas de pollo” (chicken raising) among Garífuna women — while seafood is the staple protein for the Garífuna. [49]





Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Honduras. 24/08/99.   CRC/C/15/Add.105


Concerns and recommendations:


     Concern about the use of the biological criterion of puberty to set different ages of maturity between boys and girls. This practice is contrary to the principles and provisions of the Convention and constitutes a form of gender-based discrimination which affects the enjoyment of all rights;  introduce the adequate reforms to its domestic legislation in order to bring it into full conformity with the principles and provisions of the Convention.


     Reinforce measures to combat the prevalence of cultural attitudes and traditions which are patriarchal and discriminatory against the girl child; increase measures to reduce economic and social disparities, including between urban and rural areas, to prevent discrimination against the most disadvantaged groups of children, such as the girl child, children with disabilities, children belonging to indigenous and ethnic groups, children living in and/or working on the streets and children living in rural areas; strengthen efforts to revise prevailing cultural attitudes and traditional practices which constitute a form of gender-based discrimination; undertake educational campaigns to raise awareness of the need to prevent and combat discrimination on the grounds of gender and ethnic origin.


     Reinforce and take all available measures to prevent and combat cases of abuse and ill-treatment of children, insufficient awareness regarding the harmful consequences of ill-treatment and abuse, including sexual abuse, both within and outside the family; law enforcement should be strengthened with respect to child abuse and adequate procedures and mechanisms to deal with complaints of child abuse should be reinforced in order to provide children with prompt access to justice to avoid impunity for the offenders; educational programmes should be established to combat traditional attitudes within society regarding this issue.


     Concern at the high and increasing rate of teenage pregnancy and the insufficient access by teenagers to reproductive health education and counselling services, including outside schools and at the increasing rate of substance abuse among adolescents; continue, with the support of international cooperation, with its efforts in the prevention of HIV/AIDS ;  undertake comprehensive and multidisciplinary study to understand the scope of adolescent health problems and as a basis to promote adolescent health policies and strengthen reproductive health education and counselling services. The Committee also recommends that further efforts be undertaken for the development of child-friendly counselling services as well as care and rehabilitation facilities for adolescents; strengthen measures to prevent and combat substance abuse among adolescents.


     While the Committee takes note of the reforms to the Penal Code and of the training given to the municipal children's defenders to prevent and combat sexual abuse and exploitation of children, it expresses concern at the absence of data and of a comprehensive study on the issue of sexual commercial exploitation of children as well as the lack of a national plan of action to tackle this issue. In light of article 34 and other related articles of the Convention, the Committee recommends that the State party undertake studies with a view to designing and implementing appropriate policies and measures, including care and rehabilitation, to prevent and combat this phenomenon. The Committee recommends to the State party to take into account the recommendations formulated in the Agenda for Action adopted at the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Stockholm in 1996.


[1] IWRAW interviews with activists in Tegucigalpa, February 2000.

[2] Pan American Health Organization, Honduras: Basic Country Health Profiles, Summaries 1999, available at: www.paho.org/English/SHA/prflhon.htm>, accessed 26 September 2000.

[3] World Bank Group, Honduras: Overview,  available at <www.worldbank.org>, accessed 25 September 2000.

[4] The World Factbook: Honduras, available at <www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ho.html>, accessed 10 October 2000.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Food and Agriculture Organisation, Women, Agriculture and Rural Development. Fact Sheet: Honduras - Women, agriculture and rural development (World Bank Atlas, 1994), on-line, available at <www.fao.org/docrep/V9650e/v9650e00.htm>, accessed 25 September 2000.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] IWRAW interview with Emma Mejía-Sabonge, Director of Acciónes para el Desarollo Poblacional (ADP), Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[11] Ibid.

[12] IWRAW interview with Emma Mejía-Sabonge, Director of Acciónes para el Desarollo Poblacional (ADP), Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[13] Melanie Wetzel, “Divorce Made Easy,” Honduras This Week, on-line, 28 June 1999, available at www.marrder.com/htw/jun99/business.htm, accessed 20 April 2001.

[14] IWRAW interviews with activists in Tegucigalpa, February 2000.

[15] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2000: Gender-related Development Index, p. 163.

[16] “Women Find New Ways to Cope with the Effects of Mitch on their Lives,” Enlace [Publication of the Christian Commission for Development in Honduras (CCD)], no. 3 (December 1999):8.

[17] Ibid.

[18] IWRAW interview with Anna Fink of CCD and with various Honduran activists, Tegucigalpa, 18 February 2000.

[19] IWRAW interview with María Elena Mendez of the Centro de Estudio de la Mujer (Center for the Study of Women), Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[20] “Latam-Labor: Less and Less Stability, Especially for Women,” Business & Industry, 30 April 1997.

[21] “Labor-Americas: Students Push for Sweatshop-Free Clothes,” Inter-Press Service, 11 October 1998.

[22] IWRAW interview with María Elena Mendez of the Centro de Estudio de la Mujer (Center for the Study of Women), Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[23] “Yoo Yang Renews Lease, Easing Fear of Flight; Union Legal Recognition Filed,” US/LEAP (U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project) Newsletter, August 2000, available at <www.americas.org>, accessed 3 October 2000.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Kimi Closes, Runs to Guatemala,” US/LEAP (U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project) Newsletter (August 2000), available at <www.americas.org>, accessed 3 October 2000.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Food and Agriculture Organisation, Women, Agriculture and Rural Development. Fact Sheet: Honduras - Women, Agriculture and Rural development (World Bank Atlas, 1994), on-line, available at <www.fao.org/docrep/V9650e/v9650e00.htm>, accessed 25 September 2000.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] “Flesh Can Rot Quickly,” The Gazette (Montreal) 29 November 1998.  Sect: Magazine Pg. C2.

[33] “Central America Shuts Eyes to Prostitution of Children,” Toronto Star 18 September 2000. Sect: Life.

[34]   “Women Find New Ways to Cope with the Effects of Mitch on their Lives,” Enlace [Publication of the Christian Commission for Development in Honduras (CCD)], no. 3 (December 1999):8.

[35] IWRAW interview with victims of Hurricane Mitch, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[36] IWRAW interview with Emma Mejía-Sabonge, Director of Acciónes para el Desarollo Poblacional (ADP), Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] IWRAW interview with Lyda Pierce of CCD, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 19 February 2000.

[40] IWRAW interview with Emma Mejía-Sabonge, Director of Acciónes para el Desarollo Poblacional (ADP), Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[41] IWRAW interview with Lyda Pierce of CCD, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 19 February 2000

[42] “South to Honduras,” Midwifery Today & Childbirth Education 31 December 1998. no. 48: 59.

[43] Pan-American Health Organization, Honduras: Basic Country Health Profiles, Summaries 1999, on-line, available at<www.paho.org/English/SHA/prflhon.htm>, accessed 26 September 2000.

[44] IWRAW interview with Emma Mejía-Sabonge, Director of Acciónes para el Desarollo Poblacional (ADP), Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[45] Ibid.

[46] IWRAW interview with Suyaba Amador of Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz Visitación Padilla, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[47] “Flesh Can Rot Quickly,” The Gazette (Montreal) 29 November 1998.  Sect: Magazine Pg. C2.

[48] IWRAW interview with Ely Melendez of Enlace Mujeres Negras - Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 18 February 2000.

[49] Ibid.




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