In an effort to reform its country’s deeply troubled justice system, the Honduran Congress voted Tuesday evening to dismiss Attorney General Alberto Rubi, replacing him and his team with a temporary oversight committee. Rubi and his staff of prosecutors will step aside immediately to make way for a five-member commission—composed of three civic activists and two politicians—that will take over the prosecutor’s office for 60 days.
With one of the highest murder rates in the world and overcrowded, unruly prisons, Honduras has reason to take swift and drastic action. Impunity is rampant in Honduras’ prosecutorial system, and murders have only increased during the past three years. According to the prosecutor’s office, only 20 percent of all pending murder cases have been investigated and fewer of those have been prosecuted during the past four years.
The temporary commission appointed to replace the attorney general will audit the work of the prosecutor’s office to diagnose flaws and conduct a major institutional overhaul, ultimately replacing personnel and redesigning the office’s approach to tackling the country’s daunting crime rate.
Tuesday’s move toward reform, endorsed by 113 of Honduras’ 128 deputies, has met with some backlash from legislators and other government officials who claim that Congress has overstepped its constitutional authorities. The constitution stipulates that Congress can name special commissions to investigate issues of national interest, but is careful to preserve a separation of powers. Some have said that by appointing the 60-day commission, the legislature has gone too far in meddling with other branches of government.
Meanwhile, it is clear that justice reform in Honduras is long overdue. Honduras’ teeming prisons are at 143 percent capacity, according to a 2012 OAS report, and more than half of prisoners incarcerated in Honduras are still awaiting trial. Even after a fire killed 361 prisoners at a facility in Comayagua in 2012, little has been done to relieve or reform the burdened criminal justice system.