On 7 March, one day before International Women’s Day, mourners gathered to pay their final respects to human rights defender Berta Cáceres, who was violently gunned down at her home in the early morning hours of 3 March. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS joins Honduran civil society and the international community in strongly condemning the assassination of this leading advocate for indigenous land rights, demanding justice for her and her community.
“Berta Cáceres’ death was not the result of a random crime, but part of a worrying trend of serious attacks in Honduras to silence activists who work to defend the rights of others,” said Inés Pousadela, Policy and Research Officer from CIVICUS.
A longtime environmental activist and the co-founder of the Civic Council of Indigenous and People's Organizations (COPINH), Cáceres was leading a struggle against a hydroelectric dam project that would have flooded indigenous people’s lands and displaced the local population. She repeatedly denounced the collusion between powerful economic and political interests, resulting in judicial harassment along with escalating intimidation and aggression from various fronts, eventually leading to her assassination.
As a woman human rights defender, Cáceres also faced additional risks associated with her gender, such as rape threats and intimidation of her family members, including her children, meant to discourage her from pursuing her work.
”Environmental and indigenous people’s rights activists in Honduras and Latin America are facing unprecedented threats as they challenge powerful and vested economic interests seeking access to finite natural resources,” added Pousadela. “This includes taking on energy companies, extractive industries, large-scale agriculture and property development firms, as well as illicit endeavours such as drug trafficking.”
In the past five years, scores of human rights defenders have been attacked and intimidated in Honduras for their work and beliefs, as attested by CIVICUS’ September 2014 submission to the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review. In its submission, CIVICUS recommended that the state ensure the National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) is able to carry out its work independently to enable prompt and impartial investigations into cases referred to it without fear of reprisals. Further, effective mechanisms – independent, operational and adequately resourced – should be implemented to protect of human rights defenders, in particular addressing the specific threats faced by women human rights defenders.
CIVICUS urges global civil society to call on the government of Honduras to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation through independent agencies into the circumstances surrounding Berta Cáceres’ death, while ensuring the safety of her family, colleagues, and community. Whether associated with the state or non-state actors, the perpetrators should be brought to justice and held accountable swiftly.