Thursday, 03 March 2016 – We are deeply saddened and outraged by the assassination of Honduran activist—our sister and friend—Berta Cáceres, Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). “The loss of this extraordinary indigenous feminist activist, environmental defender, and community leader takes our breath away and fills us with indignation,” said Lisa VeneKlasen, Executive Director of JASS (Just Associates). “This crime demands the full resources and attention of not only the Honduran government but the international community, in particularly, the US government, given their presence and influence in the country.”
Berta was a dedicated and inspirational leader and a loving mother, who despite repeated threats, arrests, and violence over several years, continued to organize her community in the defense of ancestral lands and against local and transnational corporations operating illicitly to exploit indigenous territories. According to the study How Many More? by Global Witness, Honduras is the “most dangerous country per capita to be an environmental activist for the last five years, with 101 deaths between 2010 and 2014.”
In 2015, Berta was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work in opposition to a DESA hydroelectric project which threatens to cut off the crucial water source for the indigenous Lenca community. Just last week, during a press conference, Berta, on behalf of her organization, had again denounced the project’s devastating impact on the Rio Blanco community and the Honduran government’s complicity in the destruction of livelihoods. “The Honduran government continues to allow and remains complicit in the human rights violations of the Lenca community of Rio Blanco and North Intibucá by supporting the second attempt of DESA to build the hydroelectric project ‘Agua Zarco’ on the Rio Gualcarque.” Despite being granted precautionary protection measures by the Organization of American States in 2009, Berta was frequently threatened, arbitrarily detained by police, and ultimately, murdered for her defense of human rights, indigenous lands and the environment.
Political repression and insecurity have increased significantly since coup d’état in 2009. In its wake, state institutions have been weakened and dismantled while basic protections for citizens have failed. The US government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Central American country, including installing six military bases, in the name of security and “the war on drugs.” In this context, inequality is widening, further deepening discrimination against women, particularly indigenous, rural, poor, and all women activists.
“If they can kill such a high profile activist like Berta in such a devastating way, what kind of message is that sending to us, the thousands of other activists in Honduras who put their lives on the line everyday to demand justice and respect for people’s right?” stated Daysi Flores, JASS Country Coordinator in Honduras. “In our indignation, we must stand together, in a collective scream to say no more, to expose the powers that allowed this to happen, and demand that those responsible are held accountable.”
According to reports, the world renowned and highly respected activist was murdered in a home in La Esperanza at approximately 1 a.m. local time on Thursday. A close friend, Gustavo Castro, Director of Otros Mundos A.C. Chiapas, was also in the house at the time, was injured, and is currently being questioned as the only witness.
JASS calls for an end to impunity and for the launch of an independent and transparent investigation into Berta’s death, and echoes the calls from various international officials and our allies in Honduras that international experts’ presence in this investigation is critical. In a statement, US Congressman Elliot Engel, lead member of the Committee of Foreign Relations, called on the “Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez to bring to bear all available resources to ensure that those responsible for Berta’s murder are prosecuted and held accountable for their crimes,” adding that the Honduran government should accept the support that US Ambassador to Honduras has offered in the investigation. “International support for the investigation and the Honduran government’s acceptance of this support are essential.”
In addition, JASS calls on the Honduran government to:
- Implement the immediate, effective, and carefully consulted precautionary measures granted by the IACHR on March 5 for COPINH, Berta Cáceres’ family, and Gustavo Castro, sole witness to the assassination.
- Launch an independent, transparent investigation into the murder of Berta Cáceres by Honduran authorities, in collaboration and cooperation with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other international experts of the Honduran government, to identify the material and intellectual authors of this crime.
- Immediately release Gustavo Castro and guarantee his safe and rapid return to Mexico.
- Suspend all projects in the Rio Gualcarque, in particular, those managed by DESA, and depart Lenca territory, where many innocent lives have been lost or destroyed for opposing these projects.
- Provide prior, free, and informed consultation of communities and to greatly improve transparency regarding existing and proposed concessions of natural resources. This should include making public project information regarding the nearly 50 hydropower concessions granted since the start of 2010.
- Urgently review all cases where indigenous peoples and rural communities are rejecting the construction of dams, megaprojects, model cities, agrofuel plantations, carbon offsets – like the Clean Development, REDD, and other large-scale projects – and take action to prevent violence and heed the demands of these communities.
- Implement and protect human rights enshrined in international instruments, including women’s and indigenous people’s rights in particular.
JASS calls on the U.S. authorities to:
- Suspend all assistance and training to Honduran security forces, with the exception of investigatory and forensic assistance, so long as the murders of Berta Cáceres and scores of other Honduran activists remain in impunity.
- Ensure that no U.S. assistance and support for multilateral bank projects promote or permit development projects without meeting the obligation for prior, free and informed consultation with indigenous communities, nor without ensuring meaningful consultation of all affected communities and that strong human rights, labor rights and environmental safeguards are in place.
JASS stands with many organizations and activists around the world in solidarity with Berta’s family, her colleagues at COPINH, the National Women Human Rights Defenders Network, and all the Honduran organizations who continue the defense of human rights and of territories in the country.
“In spite of the criminalization they’d like to charge us with, we need to nurture hope in ourselves as women – the belief that we are capable, and that it’s possible to take action on behalf of our people… I believe that we have to find a way to unleash our creative energy, our ingenuity, vitality, and joy in a struggle that is difficult and that forces us to take on powerful interests. I truly believe that it’s possible.” Berta Cáceres
Watch Berta speak on her struggle and violence against women in Honduras.
Contact: Natalia Escrucería Price, +1.925.783.4098