WHRDIC Mourns the Death of the Indigenous Leader and Feminist Activist Berta Cáceres
“I have been persecuted not just for political leadership but also for being a woman, for being Lenca. In this country it’s not the same being a male leader and being a female leader. And that comes with a very heavy weight.”
We, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC), demand justice for Berta and call on the Honduran government and the international community to stop violence against women human rights defenders.
Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was a Woman Human Rights Defender (WHRD) and prominent Lenca indigenous and feminist activist in Honduras. In the morning of March 3rd, 2016, Berta Cáceres was murdered in her sleep, in her home in Intibucá, Honduras.
Ms. Cáceres was the General Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) and a member of Honduras' National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders. Berta led the struggle for the rights of the Lenca indigenous peoples and against the construction of a hydroelectric project, Agua Zarca, by the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA). The regional Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the Dutch development bank FMO and Finnfund from Finland finance the project and Voith-Hydro (Siemens) supply the project’s equipment. Following this and other murders and violent attacks, FMO and Finnfund have announced their intention to withdraw from Agua Zarca project.
This political assassination is intended to silence the people’s opposition to a destructive and profit-driven model of development that has been violently imposed by corporate and state authorities. Berta was murdered because she confronted the country’s economic and political elites in the struggle for life, justice and the environment. She was constantly attacked due to her human rights work and also for being an indigenous woman.
Berta’s life was in grave danger for a long time and she has received countless death threats. She was subjected to attacks, threats and sexual harassment from people associated with DESA as well as arbitrary arrests and criminalization by Honduran State officers and entities. For this reason, Berta was granted precautionary protection measures by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) in 2009.
“They have threatened me with death. I have received threats by cell phone. Sexual harassment from the security guards of these companies. I have received threats against my family, against my daughters, against my son.” (Berta Cáceres, May 2014, Jacobin)
The WHRDIC warns that Berta’s assassination is symptomatic of the global backlash against WHRDs. Struggles for land and territory entail particular risks due to confronting powerful corporate actors. Indigenous women worldwide lead struggles to protect their territories and to counter the exploitation and abuse of people and nature. They confront “profit over people” paradigms as well as ingrained social structures of patriarchy and white supremacy.
“I think it may be easier to confront the transnationals and the army than it is to confront the patriarchy, because that we encounter everywhere.”
When women take leadership, they challenge gender norms and often contest the patriarchal culture perpetuated by communities, states and corporations. As a result, WHRDs are subjected to gender-specific and sexual violence and intimidation. Threats against their families and loved ones are intended to force them to abandon their critical work for rights and justice.
With lethal violence is on the rise worldwide, states have the responsibility to act for the gender-specific integrated security and safety of WHRDs. States have the opportunity today to express true commitment to WHRDs in two key processes in the United Nations. Member States of the United Nations can endorse and fulfil their obligations on protection measures, currently debated in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and negotiated at the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council around the Resolution on Human Rights Defenders.
The WHRD IC reiterates that protection measures for Human Rights Defenders cannot be detached from gender-specific analysis, informed by an intersectional framework of race, ethnicity, class and sexual identity.
“We (compañeras from COPIHN) have not accepted the notion that we first had to fight against transnationals, and later against racism, and lastly against violence against women. We all experience multiple forms of domination – women being the most affected – so the fight must also be multiple and diverse, recognizing these multiple forms of domination”
We celebrate the clarity and coherence of Berta’s voice and political action; her enormous generosity towards people and nature; her rebellious integrity to resist powerful institutions and the profit-driven, patriarchal and racist ideologies that justify them. We stand together in creating alternatives to global systems of economic and patriarchal domination and exploitation of human lives and natural resources. In the spirit of feminist solidarity, we reaffirm our commitment to Berta’s vision that ties together human life, social equality and environmental justice.
We call on the Government of Honduras
1. To ensure an impartial and transparent investigation with the collaboration and oversight from regional and international human rights mechanisms, primarily the IACHR;
2. To immediately assume responsibility to end repression and lethal violence against the members of COPINH and all women and men Human Rights Defenders; to fully comply with the precautionary measures provided by the IACHR to Berta’s family, COPINH and the Honduran WHRD Network;
3. To acknowledge its responsibility in failing to provide adequate protection measures to Berta Cáceres and to investigate previous attacks and threats against Berta and COPINH;
4. To take measures to end to the murder, persecution, and criminalization of all Human Rights Defenders and environmental activists, to commit to their individual and organizational safety and security, and to develop gender-specific measures of protection for Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs);
5. To immediately remove all movement restrictions for the witness to Berta’s murder - Gustavo Castro Soto, the Coordinator of Other Worlds/Friends of the Earth Mexico – and to immediately ensure his safe return to Mexico.
We call on DESA, FMO and Finnfund
1. To definitively withdraw from the Gualcarque River and put an end to the death and destruction that the Agua Zarca project brings upon the local communities;
2. To consult indigenous communities and women prior to commencement of any project, and to withdraw from projects imposed on communities undemocratically and against their will;
3. To take pro-active measures to prevent violations against HRDs by personnel, including security personnel.
We call on the Governments of the Netherlands and of Finland
1. To direct FMO and the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation (Finnfund) respectively to completely divest from the Agua Zarca project and to monitor this process.
We call upon civil society organizations worldwide
1. To continue monitoring the progress towards an independent and transparent investigation;
2. To raise awareness about the gender-specific risks that Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) face, and promote adequate protection measures;
3. To acknowledge and pay respect to the critical work of WHRDs resisting patriarchy, racism, sexism and homophobia, among other important causes of their human rights work and struggles for justice.
For more information about the WHRD International Coalition, our work and coalition members please visit our website.