Berta’s murder trial report highlights that justice has not been served

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The report released by la Misión de Observación Calificada Caso Berta Cáceres reveals several weakness and flaws in the process relating to the trial for the murder of the Honduran indigenous leader and woman human rights defender (WHRD) Berta Caceres in 2016. The Misión de Observación Calificada includes ESCR-Net members International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF).

Berta Caceres was a distinguished WHRD and founder of Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH). She was internationally recognized for her work to ensure the survival of her indigenous Lenca community, in Honduras, in the face of a national and internationally funded hydroelectric project on their land. The hydroelectric project had been initiated without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous community and Berta Caceres played a key role in resisting the construction. 

On 2 March 2016, Berta Caceres was murdered in her house by armed men. Gustavo Castro from ESCR-Net member Otros Mundos AC Chiapas, who was with her during the attack, was wounded.

La Misión de Observación Calificada was established in July 2018 to observe the trial against 8 men accused of carrying out the murder of Berta Caceres. The men, who are a mix of former members of the Honduran military and employees of Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), the corporation behind the construction of the hydroelectric project, were sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in prison.  

This is the first time a criminal sentence has been passed in relation to the killing of a human rights defender in Honduras. Since Berta’s killing, numerous indigenous and afro-descendant human rights defendershave been killed in the country, which is plagued by impunity. This includes members of the Garifuna afro-descendant movement, Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH). According to Front Line DefendersGlobal Analysis 2019, Honduras is still among the top three most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. 

The report released on 11 Februrary  2020 by Misión de Observación Calificada highlights several weaknesses in the process relating to the the trial, including the absence of investigation into the intellectual authors of the murder and the obstruction of any such investigation by the authorities. Lack of access to information and an arbitrary process are amongst other findings. 

Likewise, the report highlights structural patterns of concern related to the case. Before her killing, Berta Caceres had been granted protection measures by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights. So far, no one has been held accountable for failing to provide protection to Berta Caceres. The report also finds flaws in addressing the alleged fraud in the process of granting the concession to DESA, a lack of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as well as manipulating evidence. 

The report presents several recommendations, including immediately establishing protocols for investigating crimes against human rights defenders in accordance with international standards as well as taking steps to ensure the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights under the principles of nondiscrimination and self determination.

The assasination of Berta Caceres is emblematic of the attacks suffered by indigenous human rights defenders. Often, they are on the frontlines of promoting a different model of development. This pits them against powerful economic and political interests, which in turn makes them targets for attacks. ESCR-Net members have in the past highlighted the need to respect indigenous land rights as a manner to stop the killings of indigenous human rights defenders, many of which remain nameless. 

To read the executive summary (in Spanish) click here