Various ESCR-Net members demand justice for Berta Cáceres
This past 17 September 2018 marked the first day of the trial for the assassination of Honduran human rights defender Berta Cáceres and the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro.
The attack, which occurred on 2 March 2016, followed powerful social protests by organizations and activists, spearheaded by the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the organization co-founded and led by Cáceres. These organizations and human rights defenders were mobilizing in opposition to the construction of the ‘Agua Zarca’ hydroelectric project, raising concerns about how the dam would negatively impact the land of indigenous Lenca communities.
Berta’s killing has been widely recognized as an emblematic case in which social movements and grassroots groups, in collaboration with NGO allies, have challenged a megaproject with the potential to severely impact on human rights and been forced to contend with violent reprisals as a result. Since her murder, the case has been closely monitored by civil society groups in Latin America, including various ESCR-Net members.
With Honduras currently under the microscope of the international community, various legal experts and human rights defenders have denounced rights violations against the victims during the process, as well non-compliance with applicable procedural rules. Observers have alleged obstruction of the trial by the Public Prosecutor, as well as efforts to block consultation of expert opinions, impede due process, conceal information and prevent analysis of evidence, including evidence obtained following raids that could implicate the company DESA, owner of the ‘Agua Zarca’ project. Observers also claim that the Attorney General’s office refused to submit information and expert reports fundamental to the search for the truth. They have condemned the Honduran government for its refusal to create an independent commission that would guarantee a suitable investigation to secure justice. Additionally, the observers have highlighted the unwillingness of the Trial Court responsible for ruling in this first legal phase to recognize COPINH as a victim, even though the broad-based social movement has been the main protagonist in defending human rights threatened by the project. Reports received indicate that the Court has also failed to admit the testimony of key witnesses attesting to the actions of DESA employees in relation to the crime.
ESCR-Net members respectfully recall that the Republic of Honduras has the obligation to guarantee justice in the face of serious human rights violations. These obligations have their origins in, among other sources, the commitments of the Honduran government under the American Convention on Human Rights (specifically, in Article 1.1, as well as 8.1 and 25) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (specifically, in Article 2.3). The landmark case of Velásquez Rodríguez v. Honduras tried in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights clarified that states permitting impunity for negative human rights impacts are internationally responsible for these abuses. In 2016, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders underscored serious concerns about impunity following Berta’s murder.
With hope that this trial might clarify the background and context within which the crime against Berta Cáceres took place, ESCR-Net members demand that justice be carried out with transparency and due respect for the rights of the victims, including a recognition of COPINH as a victim. They urge the government of Honduras to take the necessary steps to avoid future acts of repression and violence against defenders of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. They stress that it is time for Honduras to demonstrate to the world that it has an independent legal system that seeks justice, truth and human rights guarantees, as well as the political will to put an end to impunity following crimes committed against human rights defenders in the country.