At UN, Daughter of Murdered Indigenous Activist Calls for End to Contested Dam Project on Sacred River in Honduras

JASS (Just Associates)

Demands International Investigation into Death of Goldman Prize Winner Berta Cáceres

NEW YORK, March 18 - The daughter of slain Honduran indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres called Friday for an immediate halt to the controversial dam project which the renowned human rights leader had mounted a decade long fight to stop.  

Addressing the Plenary of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Bertha Isabel Zuniga Cáceres said the March 2 murder of her mother in her hometown of La Esperanza was “not an isolated event,” but part of a campaign of intimidation against the Lenca people, who oppose plans to build the Agua Zarca Dam along a river which is sacred to them.  

Under international law, indigenous groups must be consulted on projects that affect their lands, but the Lenca say they were not consulted about the dam. They maintain that the 22MW hydroelectric project, which would create a 300-meter long reservoir and divert 3 kilometers of the river, will jeopardize their water resources and their livelihood.  

The dam project is a “violation of indigenous people’s right to free, prior and informed consent in the construction of infrastructure and extractive projects in their land and territories,” Zuniga Cáceres said.  

The murder of Cáceres. one of Honduras’s most prominent human rights activists, sparked international outrage. On Friday Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the U.S. attorney general assassinated in 1968 and president of the international environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance, joined the growing chorus of world leaders, activists and human rights figures in condemning Caceras’ death. He asked for the intervention of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in preventing further bloodshed in Honduras.  

“We are calling on Secretary Kerry to take immediate and tangible actions to discourage further tragic events like the murder of Ms. Berta Cáceres, tireless defender of Honduran rivers, land rights, and indigenous communities,” Kennedy said. “Ms. Cáceres’ life was taken due to injustice, greed and corruption. On Tuesday, Nelson García, a colleague of Ms. Cáceres, was also killed in cold blood. They both fought against the most perverse threats to their environment in a country rife with socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations.”  

For a decade, the organization founded by her, the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, has protested to try to stop the dam’s construction. Cáceres, 44, had filed legal complaints, organized community meetings and brought the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Last year, she won the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded to grassroots leaders who build community support to protect the environment.  

Over the past month, the threats against Ms. Cáceres and her organization had mounted after security forces detained more than 100 people during a peaceful protest on Feb. 20.  

On Friday, Zuniga Cáceres called on the United Nations to pressure the Honduran government to honor her mother’s legacy by not only halting the damn project, but by initiating a comprehensive review of all other infrastructure and development projects in the country to determine whether “free, prior and informed consent” has been obtained.  

Zuniga Cáceres also echoed demands by other members of the Caceres family for an independent investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights into the assassination, and into the atmosphere of impunity that has arisen since the 2009 coup in Honduras. In the wake of that coup human rights defenders, environmental activists, journalists, judges and labor leaders have been murdered, and most of the killings remain unsolved. Women defenders and indigenous leaders are particularly at risk.  

Twelve environmental defenders were killed in Honduras in 2014, according to research by Global Witness, which makes it the most dangerous country in the world, relative to its size, for activists protecting forests and rivers.  

“This crime should not remain in impunity, a sad but common reality in our countries,” Zuniga Cáceres said.

Read the full speech below. 

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