The catalogue of failures in the investigation into the death of a prominent Indigenous leader last week exposes the Honduran government’s absolute lack of willingness to protect human rights defenders in the country, said Amnesty International after a visit to the Central American country.
“Authorities in Honduras are saying one thing and doing another. They have told us they are committed to finding those responsible for Berta Cáceres’ death yet they have failed to follow the most basic lines of investigation, including the fact that Berta had been receiving serious death threats related to her human rights work for a very long time,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“This shocking lack of action is sending the dangerous message that anyone can kill those who dare to confront the most powerful in society and get away with it. That authorities seem to be willing to trade lives for money.”
“The fact that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado is still refusing to meet with Berta Cáceres’ relatives, other human rights defenders and Amnesty International is simply inexcusable. Burying his head in the sand will only put the lives and safety of more activists in grave danger.”
Berta Cáceres, leader and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was shot dead on March 3 in her home in the town of La Esperanza, in the province of Intibucá, west Honduras. For years, she had vocally campaigned against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the community of Río Blanco.
So far, only members of COPINH were called to give testimony. Human rights activist Gustavo Castro, who was with Berta when she was killed, was prevented from leaving Honduras to his native Mexico even after giving testimony on several occasions and despite serious threats to his life.
None of the people who Berta denounced for their constant harassment and threats, including representatives of companies working in the area, have been called to give testimony.
According to Global Witness, Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world for activists working to defend Indigenous people’s right to land. Between 2002 and 2014, 111 human rights defenders were killed as punishment for their work – 12 in 2014 alone.
In May 2015, Honduras passed a new law to protect human rights defenders and journalists. The law created a national protection system but to date its implementation has been utterly insufficient. According to official figures, only six human rights defenders and four journalists have been signed up to the mechanism.
“Actions speak way louder than words. Having a program that barely benefits anyone is not going to resolve the human rights crisis Honduras is facing. Instead, authorities must ensure those who killed Berta Cáceres face justice and that all measures are put in place to protect human rights defenders across the country,” said Guevara-Rosas.
An Amnesty International delegation in Honduras met with the Minister of Human Rights, Justice, Interior and Decentralization, as well as with high-level representatives of the Ministry of Security, Foreign Affairs, Attorney General Office and the Prosecutor’s Office. The team also meet with representatives of civil society.