Back to top
9 March 2016

Open letter to President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández on the murder of activist Berta Cáceres

On 8 March 2016, the Vice President of the European Parliament Ulrike Lunacek addressed this open letter to President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández on the murder of Berta Cáceres, to urge the Honduran authorities to open an investigation into the killing of the human rights defender.

Dear Mr. President of the Republic of Honduras, H.E. Juan Orlando Hernández,

As Head of the Long Term Election Observation Mission to Honduras in 2013 and Vice-President of the European Parliament, and as a profound friend of your country and your citizens I would like to send you my greetings and add my voice to the many others that have publicly expressed their profound grief and resolute condemnation of the murder of founder and co-ordinator of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations COPINH, Berta Cáceres.

The relentless defender of human rights, and environmental and territorial rights of the Lenca people and prestigious Goldman Prize 2015 Award was found shot dead by unknown perpetrators, who entered her house in La Esperanza, Intibucá Province. In this criminal action the only eye-witness, the Mexican citizen and coordinator of "Otros Mundos Chiapas/AC", Gustavo Castro Soto, was severely injured by bullet wounds.

Unfortunately, it was an announced crime. For more than two decades, Berta Cáceres has carried out peaceful campaigns against mega-projects, as they were not based on the previous, free and informed consent of the indigenous people living in the respective regions. In this sense, she did nothing but literally put into practice what is stipulated in the ILO Convention 169, which this very government of Honduras ratified. The opposition of Berta Cáceres, COPINH and others against the hydroelectric project Agua Zarca, which endangers the access to water for the Lenca people, let to many hostilities against her, let alone the fact that it destroyed a sacred area for the community.

Just one week before the deadly attack on her, Berta Cáceres denounced the murder of four indigenous leaders and death threats not only directed towards her but also towards other human rights defenders, in a press conference. For precisely these threats, precautionary measures were granted to her by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) since 2009. However, this same Commission has repeatedly called upon the government of Honduras that these measures were not implemented in an adequate manner. On March 5, 2016, the IACHR renewed the call for precautionary measures for the family of Berta Cáceres, COPINH and also for Gustavo Castro Soto, as all their lives are at a serious risk.

As you are aware of, the President of the European Parliament strongly condemned the assassination of Berta Cáceres at the Strasbourg plenary on 8 March 2016. Together with him and my colleagues at the European Parliament, with many organizations in Honduras, Latin America and Europe, we urge the competent Honduran authorities to implement the precautionary measures as soon as possible and in full consultation with the affected, and to allow for the safe return of Gustavo Castro Soto to his home country.

I am grateful for your announcement to immediately conduct an extensive investigation into the case. Nevertheless, I would urge you to accept the help of an independent international investigation team, which would be invited by, and enjoy the full co-operation with, the government of Honduras. It is not sufficient to look for the material perpetrators of the murder. It is necessary to establish all responsibilities along the demand chain and establish investigation lines that have to do with the nature of the political work of Berta Cáceres as co-ordinator of COPINH.

The assassination shows the degree and unrest caused by the extractivist model, based on the exploitation of natural resources. There is no economic benefit that can justify the violation of human rights. This is a debate which we are carrying out in many places in Europe, a main investor in Honduras. Furthermore, it is a debate which the government of Honduras should carry out as well, to ensure the interests of citizens of the Republic of Honduras.

The assassination of Berta Cáceres serves as an emblematic case in a country with an extremely high number of homicides and at the same time an almost total impunity. The issue of impunity in several areas - for instance in the investigation of the murders of journalists or with respect to electoral crimes - was already, as you will remember, a topic of our conversations during the EOM. In the case of the murder of Berta Cáceres, only the entire clarification of the crime at all levels and the imprisonment of all responsible perpetrators can contribute to the re-establishment of trust in the judicial system of the country.

Today, on the occasion of the International Women's Day, I would like to send you this message, and I would like to emphasize and stress again the extraordinary courage of Berta Cáceres, who was a woman, an indigenous Lenca and a human rights defender. We have lost a strong and unique woman. Our reaction to the atrocity of this crime must be to honour her fight, to understand and to protect all those who continue the fight for human, environmental and territorial rights.

I am hoping for your reply,

With kind regards,

Ulrike Lunacek

Vice-President of the European ParliamentHead of the EU Election Observation Mission to Honduras 2013