Photo above: An abandoned house is stripped of any valuable building materials and bears the graffiti of the violent gang that forced the former residents to flee. This and many houses like it are scattered through the neighborhoods where AJS works.
In 2013 Honduras had the highest murder rate of any country in the world. Extortion, robbery, rape and assault are also a reality, especially in Honduras’ poor urban neighborhoods. Further, corruption is rampant among law-enforcement officials, discouraging crime reporting and inhibiting access to justice. This creates a vicious cycle; the World Bank´s Institutional Governance Review of Honduras has suggested that less than 2% of reported crimes result in convictions. Often, victims never report crimes, believing law enforcement officials are ineffective and corrupt. Police, prosecutors, and judges struggle to effectively address these problems when crimes are not reported and witnesses refuse to testify. Lack of training and resources and a surplus of cases provide further reason for these officials to overlook unprestigious cases where both victim and aggressor are poor.
Provide investigative, legal and psychological supports for people with few resources who have been victims of violent crimes, and push for structural change in Honduras' security and justice systems.
AJS supports projects that work for peace and justice at a grass roots level (select a title to find out more):
Honduras’s has one of the highest homicide rate in the world, and 96% of those murders will never see a conviction. We’re working to change that by investigating and prosecuting some of the most difficult murder cases, not only bringing individuals to justice, but proving that justice systems can work.
In Honduras, only 4% of reported homicide cases result in arrest. Police and judicial systems in Honduras suffer from corruption, lack of training, and a backlog of cases so long that even honest, well-equipped officials struggle to keep up. This means that members of the most vulnerable Honduran communities often do not trust police, public prosecutors, and judges to do their jobs, Fearing retaliation from violent perpetrators, they may refuse to provide witness testimony necessary to bring about conviction, something that makes Honduran judicial officials lose trust in victims. This lack of trust and support fuels a vicious cycle of violence and impunity that has contributed to Honduras being considered one of the most violent countries in the world.
AJS’s Peace and Justice Project bridges the gap of trust between law-enforcement officials and communities by forming close ties with victims and witnesses of crime and connecting them to police officers and prosecutors who are honest and trustworthy. AJS’s three-person teams of lawyers, investigators, and Christian psychologists assist the government with building compelling cases, support the Public Prosecutor in bringing the case to trial, and help survivors of violent crime heal from trauma, giving them the emotional support needed to witness against the perpetrator. In three of Tegucigalpa’s most poor and violent neighborhoods and one neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, the Peace and Justice Project is doing more than bringing about justice in individual cases, it is showing entire communities that the system of justice can work on their behalf.
The Peace and Justice Project has a 95% conviction rate, almost 24 times the national average. This has reduced the impunity rate in key communities from 4% convictions to 60% convictions for violent crimes, while also reducing the overall homicide rate dramatically. In one community, an average of 54 murders per year dropped to eight. Over the last ten years, we celebrate at least 600 lives saved through interventions in these violent communities, and tens of thousands who enjoy safer communities for their families.
Too many children have lived through the tragedy of sexual assault or abuse. Shame, fear, and lack of education make this crime one of the least reported, meaning few perpetrators face consequences for their abuse. We’re working to change that, by investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual abuse against children while helping children heal from their trauma.
Sexual abuse and trafficking of children are some of the most harmful and traumatizing crimes, but also some of the least reported. The World Health Organization reports (pdf) that 1 out of every 12 Honduran children will suffer from sexual abuse – this risk is much higher in poorer and more violent zones. Due to fear, stigma, or lack of education about what constitutes abuse, many of these crimes will never be reported. Even when these cases do go to trial, faults in the Honduran Justice System mean that only a fraction of perpetrated will ever be imprisoned for their crimes.
The Rescue Project offers holistic rehabilitation services to victims of sexual abuse and their families. This not only includes psychological counseling and healing, but also investigative and legal support to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice, preventing further attacks and serving as an important point of healing for victims. AJS’s three-point team of lawyer, investigator, and psychologist fight valiantly on some of the most difficult cases in the Honduran judicial system to protect the most vulnerable – Honduras’ children. In themes of prevention, the team also works to educate citizens on preventing sexual abuse and human trafficking and the need for structural changes in the justice and security system.
Rescue’s team captured 17 criminals last year, all of whom are currently facing trial, and psychologists continue to walk alongside 60 victims, seeing remarkable recoveries, while dozens more have graduated from their programs. Over two thousands of children and families have received training on preventing sexual abuse and assault, and Rescue’s partnership with local police is helping them to give better attention to victims and strengthen their ability to solve cases.
The stresses of severe poverty are compounded by broken families, domestic violence, high levels of street crime, and inadequate public services—resulting in psychological, emotional, and physical trauma. AJS's holistice, comprehensive youth and family programs address these needs and interrupt cycles of violence.
“Children and youth who experience or observe violent behavior in the homes are more likely to engage in violent behavior themselves”, the World Bank states. AJS works with at-risk children and teenagers in three of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa. Many of these children come from poor and single-parent households and are not enrolled in school, which makes them particularly vulnerable to substance abuse and the influence of neighborhood gangs.
AJS’s Impact Clubs offer a safe space for these young people to grow through service learning, leadership building activities, and the teaching of values like responsibility, community, and peacemaking. These Clubs treat at-risk youth not as problems to be solved but as important actors in the transformation and improvement of their communities. Understanding the importance of the home environment, AJS’s holistic approach to violence prevention also includes providing psychological and legal support for families. Through our Strong Families curriculum, parents of Impact Club youth learn to communicate with their children and to discipline without resorting to violence. AJS’s youth and family programs work in a complimentary, coordinated approach to create stable home environments and give youth an alternative to the violence around them.
Over the past ten years, the Gideon Project has led dozens of campaigns and trainings on themes like the prevention of violence, insecurity, and migration, reaching hundreds of children. Currently, 350 children attend weekly Impact Clubs, and 2,153 of their parents and siblings have access to psychological and legal assistance. One hundred families have graduate from Strong Families with new ways of interacting with their children. While it’s difficult to put an exact number on how this has affected violence in communities, it’s certain that these programs are transforming communities by starting with the most vulnerable. Perhaps one Impact Club graduate says it best: “I’m doing things I never thought I’d achieve, that I would never have dreamed about. The clubs help us to be better. They change lives.”
The Alliance for Peace and Justice is a coalition of over 100 civil society organizations, the Catholic and Evangelical churches in Honduras, and Honduras’ largest university. AJS is at the center of the coalition, convening these diverse groups around the most important public security issues.
Honduras suffered 14 murders every day in 2015. Many of these homicides are related to organized crime, gang activity, and the trafficking of cocaine through the country. The overwhelming levels of violence combined with high levels of impunity in the justice system mean that few of these criminals will ever face justice.
The Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ) is a coalition of organizations representing diverse sectors of civil society who share the mission to reform the Public Security system in Honduras. APJ investigates and reports on the effectiveness of the legal system, advocates for the purging of corrupt police and judicial officials from their post, and trains Honduran citizens how to navigate the complex process of taking cases to court – all with the goal of ensuring that justice in Honduras is for all citizens and not just the wealthy or elite.
Though homicide rates are still some of the highest in the world, they have dropped 30% in three years. Previously the most violent country in the world, Honduras has turned a corner, in part thanks to reforms in the security sector that APJ has fought for. APJ convenes people from diverse sectors around a common goal, advising and advocating to the national police, the Public Ministry, and the Secretary of Security, among other actors.
Learn about AJS´s personal and ongoing confrontation with violence as a result of the 2006 murder of AJS labor rights lawyer Dionisio Díaz.