Trial for the murder of indigenous leader begins in Honduras

By agency reporter
September 11, 2018

Global Witness has welcomed the start of the trial of eight men accused of the murder of high-profile indigenous leader Berta Cáceres – but have made renewed calls for real justice to take place as the proceedings unfold. 

Together with other civil society organisations, Global Witness joins the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) – which Cáceres co-founded and led before her death – in calling on the Honduran government to prosecute those who ordered her killing, not just the eight accused of pulling the trigger who are on trial.

Cáceres was shot dead in March 2016 in her home town of Tegucigalpa after protesting the controversial Agua Zarca hydropower dam – less than a year after she was awarded the 2015 prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

She had received multiple death threats, attempted kidnappings and threats of sexual assault because of her opposition to the hydro-electric dam being built on indigenous community land in Río Blanco. 

In 2017 Global Witness produced a report on attacks on land and environmental defenders in Honduras, highlighting the ties between the Honduran state, its military and DESA, the company building the dam. Most of those on trial for Cáceres’ murder have links with the Honduran military or DESA, but Global Witness and COPINH believe they don’t include those responsible for ordering her murder, who go higher up the food chain.

130 land and environmental defenders, like Berta Cáceres, have been killed in Honduras since the 2009 coup. In fact, more of these activists have been killed in Honduras per capita than anywhere else in the world over the past decade.

Billy Kyte, Campaign Leader for Land and Environmental Defenders at Global Witness, said: “This trial is a positive development in the attempt to hold some of the perpetrators of Berta’s killing accountable. But those who ordered the attack must be found, exposed and charged too.

“Honduras is one of the deadliest places in the world for land and environmental defenders and will remain so until the government tackles the root causes behind these crimes, such as impunity. Berta’s case is a historical opportunity to push back against this tide and the government must act now to ensure real justice is served.”  

Berta Zúniga Cáceres, general coordinator of COPINH and Berta Cáceres’ daughter, said: “We don’t want this trial to just be about ‘Justice for Berta,’ but rather, a contribution towards structural changes in the country. It should serve to denounce and transform the root causes of murders, persecution and repression that are left in impunity in Honduras.”

Together with Honduran social movements COPINH are carrying out a permanent sit-in protest in Honduras’ capital Tegucigalpa to create a space to build and exercise justice for communities. They invite other international organisations to participate and support COPINH, Berta’s family and the legal team seeking justice for her case. 

Last year Global Witness published a report, Honduras: The Deadliest Place To Defend The Planet, the result of over two years of in-depth, on the ground investigations into the killing, threats and intimidation of defenders in Honduras. The report highlighted the role of industry and government in attacks on Honduran defenders as well as the widespread culture of corruption, impunity and criminalisation in the country.

In 2017 five land and environmental defenders were murdered in Honduras, down from 14 in 2016. However, repression of human rights defenders in general has worsened, with activists facing criminalisation, death threats, police brutality and killings during protests.

Lack of confidence in the judicial process remains an issue, amid claims prosecutors sat on evidence in the emblematic case of Berta Cáceres.

* Download Honduras: the deadliest country in the world for environmental activism here

* Global Witness https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/

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