This article was published at InSight Crime.
Lawmakers in Honduras are backing a legal attack aimed at undermining the country’s internationally-supported anti-corruption body by declaring its creation unconstitutional, a move that could derail ongoing anti-graft probes.
Honduras’ Congress released a legal analysis on May 29 calling for the suspension of the internationally-backed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH) based on the “unconstitutionality” of its creation.
According to the congressional analysis, the 2016 agreement to create the MACCIH, which was signed by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and the Organization of American States (OAS), violates the Honduran constitution by interfering with “national sovereignty” and the “autonomy and independence” of the country’s institutions.
The document serves as support in a case currently under consideration by the country’s Supreme Court. In early March, lawyers representing several members of Congress implicated in the MACCIH’s anti-graft probes submitted a complaint to the court with the same legal argument about the unconstitutionality of the MACCIH’s mandate.
The Supreme Court has not yet made a decision in the case, but media reports in Honduras suggest that the court may chip away at parts of the MACCIH by declaring the creation of the body’s investigative arm within the Attorney General’s Office unconstitutional.
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As corrupt officials in Honduras continue to step up efforts to derail anti-graft probes, the recent legal arguments over the MACCIH’s constitutionality could potentially lead to the dismantling or weakening of the body, casting a dark cloud over the future of the fight against corruption.
Eric Olson, the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American program, told InSight Crime it would be “a devastating blow” if the Supreme Court rules that part or all of the MACCIH’s mandate is unconstitutional.
According to Olson, the “risks are enormous” for such a decision by the court, which is packed with allies of President Hernández, who himself faces allegations of corruption.
Olsen warned that a ruling against the MACCIH could throw further doubt on “what the motivations are” and worsen the “lack of confidence in Honduras’ judicial system.”
In particular, the attacks on the MACCIH’s investigative arm are “very troubling,” Olson said, because they could result in the body being stripped down into a “pretty toothless institution without much capacity,” even if the mission isn’t halted entirely.
Christine Wade, a Central America expert and political science professor at Washington College, told InSight Crime that although the MACCIH’s mandate has been weak from the start, absent its presence, it’s unlikely that Honduras’ anti-corruption investigations will continue.
“There is very little political will or institutional capacity to deal with corruption in Honduras. The political elite, starting at the very top, have very little appetite for investigating themselves,” Wade said.
Even if this latest attempt to undermine and derail the probes is unsuccessful, Olson and Wade agree that the campaign to defang investigative bodies will find a different path.
“Those in Honduras who have something to fear from an independent justice system will continue to attack it as many ways as they can. This is one avenue, but there are other avenues,” Olson said.