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Take action for Berta Cáceres

Status: Killed

Berta Cáceres

Sr. Embajador Giampaolo Carmelo Rizzo Alvarado
Misión Permanente de Honduras ante las Naciones Unidas en Ginebra
Avenue de France 23
1202 Geneva


+41 22 710 07 66

Your Excellency,

On 3 March 2016, environmental rights defender Ms Berta Cáceres was murdered by as yet unknown assailants who broke into her home in the city of La Esperanza in the early hours of the morning.

Berta Cáceres was one of the most prominent human rights defenders in Honduras and a Lenca indigenous woman who, for the past 20 years, had been defending the territory and rights of the Lenca people. In 1993, she co-founded the Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras – COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras), which led fierce campaigns against illegal logging and mega-projects for their detrimental effects on the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. She faced off – and often won – against illegal loggers, plantation owners, multinational corporations, and dam projects that would cut off food and water supplies to indigenous communities. The human rights defender was  a finalist for the 2014 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, and in 2015 she received the world’s leading environmental award, the 2015 Goldman Prize. She had been a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) since 2009.

Berta Cáceres was deeply involved in an ongoing campaign in defence of the Gualcarque River, the site for the proposed Agua Zarca hydro-electric dam which is being developed by the Honduran company FICOHSA and the multi-national company SINOHYDRO. The human rights defender was one of the strongest voices of opposition to the construction of the hydroelectric dam, which was initiated without consent of local communities or proper consultations with them, in clear violation of the ILO Convention 169. 

The human rights defender was shot dead at approximately 1 am on 3 March 2016. Her brother was also injured in the same attack. It is believed that the assassination was carried out in retaliation for the human rights defender's work in defence of indigenous and environmental rights and denouncing human rights abuses in the context of large-scale development projects in Honduras. One week prior to her assassination, the defender had denounced the killing of 4 leaders of her community as well as threats against her and other human rights defenders, at a press conference.

The human rights defender had previously been threatened and faced persecution as a result of her human rights work, including her criminalisation through trumped up charges of usurpation of land and coercion, in a case that was dismissed in January 2014. A recrudescence in the threats  against Berta Cáceres and members of COPINH was reported in an alert issued by COPINH last February.

Other members of COPINH have been targeted in the recent past. On 15 July 2013, human rights defender and member of COPINH Mr Tomas García was shot dead by the Honduran Army as he participated in a peaceful protest opposing the Água Zarca project. To date, none of the perpetrators of his killing have been brought to justice.

I strongly condemn the killing of human rights defender Berta Cáceres and I am deeply concerned at the increasingly extreme levels of violence faced by human rights defenders in Honduras. I express further concern at the development of a clear trend of killings of human rights defenders in the country and impunity for the perpetrators. 

I urge the authorities in Honduras to:

1. Strongly condemn the killing of human rights defender Berta Cáceres;

2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing of human rights defender Berta Cáceres, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of family members of Berta Cáceres and of the members of COPINH;

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Honduras are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.