By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The Honduran government must investigate the cases of 22 journalists murdered in the last two years in the Central American country, a United Nations envoy said on Tuesday.
Frank La Rue, a U.N. special freedom of expression rapporteur, also demanded that President Porfirio Lobo establish new measures to protect journalists, including giving them access to bulletproof cars and helping threatened reporters and their families to relocate, either within Honduras or abroad.
"The state must investigate and apprehend the intellectual and physical perpetrators of crimes against journalists," La Rue said at a press conference. "The absence of justice constitutes impunity and in this case, impunity generates more violence against journalists."
The growing presence of Mexican drug cartels in Honduras has fueled a surge in violence that has saddled Honduras with the world's highest murder rate, with 86 killings per 100,000 people in 2012.
La Rue told reporters that since 2010, when Lobo came to power, only one of the 22 cases of murdered journalists ended in sentencing, statistics he called "unacceptable and inhuman."
In the four years before Lobo was elected, only one journalist had been murdered, La Rue added, citing government data.
Alfredo Villatoro, a prominent radio journalist, was the latest victim. His was kidnapped in May and his body found a week later with a bullet wound to the head.
Between 2010 and 2012, 64 journalists were murdered worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which uses its own method for tallying murders.
In Mexico, where the government has been fighting a six-year offensive against drug cartels, more than 80 journalists have been murdered since 2000, according to the country's National Human Rights Commission.
(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Eric Beech)