Press release / 5 Apr 2016

US and Honduran governments must support an international investigation into murder of Berta Cáceres

The United States and Honduran governments must support an international, independent investigation into the killing of high-profile environmental activist Berta Cáceres say Global Witness (GW) and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) on the eve of a meeting between Honduras and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington DC. (1)

The investigation should be overseen by the IACHR which has established an effective model for investigating high profile killings through convening independent experts, as it has done, for example, in the notorious case of the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico in 2014.

Over 60 Members of the U.S. Congress, 11 U.S. Senators and more than 200 international organisations have called for the U.S. government to back an IACHR-led investigation into Cáceres murder. (2) (3) (4)

There is ample evidence showing that the Honduran state is unable and unwilling to carry out an impartial investigation into this emblematic case. Mexican activist Gustavo Castro - the sole witness to Cáceres’ killing – has claimed the murder scene was tampered with. (5) Colleagues at Ms. Cáceres’ organisation COPINH were accused of her killing despite no evidence linking them to the crime.

Ms. Cáceres’ family say they and their lawyers have been denied access to basic information regarding the investigation such as a complete autopsy report. (6) They also recently revealed an extraordinary conflict of interest where an official involved in the investigation had previously represented the Honduran dam company DESA against Cáceres and COPINH. (7) Ms. Cáceres actively campaigned against DESA which was accused of threats against her life.

 “An independent investigation is essential given the flaws and political interference in Honduras’ judicial system” said Billy Kyte, Senior Campaigner for Global Witness. “Any trust in an impartial investigation into Ms. Cáceres’ death has been completely eroded given the conflicts of interest that have recently come to light, and earlier efforts to pin the crime on other members of her organisation, COPINH” said Kyte.

The IACHR can only establish a commission of experts with the permission of the Honduran government which to date has refused to request such assistance from the IACHR. The IACHR is meeting representatives from the Honduran government in Washington on 6th April to discuss the possibility of establishing an independent committee.

The Honduran government has proposed oversight of the investigation by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights yet the office does not have the mandate or the ability to directly assist the Honduran state in criminal investigations. The Honduran state has also discussed the possibility of involving the Organization of American States’ Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, in the investigation. This body’s mandate, however, is limited to the investigation of corruption. It is not the appropriate actor for independent oversight of the Berta Cáceres murder investigation.

Ms. Cáceres was shot dead on March 2nd in her home town in Honduras, less than a year since she was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize - a prestigious award recognizing grassroots environmental activists from around the world. Cáceres had received multiple death threats, attempted kidnappings and threats of sexual assault because of her opposition to a hydro-electric dam being built on indigenous community land in Río Blanco.

“Berta Cáceres’ murder has sent shock waves around the world. The only way to find those who committed this brazen act is through an independent and impartial investigation, and the role of a committee of experts created by the IACHR is the single best route to ensuring such an investigation. The U.S. and Honduran governments must fully support an IACHR investigation into her death,” said Annalise Udall Romoser, Latin America Program Coordinator for the Environmental Investigation Agency.   

For interviews and other information please contact:

Billy Kyte, GW (London) +44 (0)7891 3603590 [email protected]  

Maggie Dewane, EIA (Washington), +1 (202) 483 6621 [email protected]

/ ENDS

Notes to editor:

1) La Prensa (30 March 2016), La Cidh estudia con el Gobierno una posible visita al país. Available at: 

http://www.laprensa.hn/honduras/944866-410/la-cidh-estudia-con-el-gobierno-una-posible-visita-al-pa%C3%ADs; Associated Press (30 March 2016), CIDH analizará caso Berta Cáceres con Estado hondureño. Available at: http://noticias.starmedia.com/24h/cidh-analizara-caso-berta-caceres-con-estado-hondureno.html

(2) Available at: http://www.foreign.senate.gov/press/ranking/release/11-us-senators-send-letter-to-secretary-kerry-calling-for-a-transparent-international-investigation-on-berta-cceres-death.

(3) Available at: http://www.world-psi.org/en/psi-and-other-200-organizations-call-john-kerry-support-independent-investigation-murder-berta

(4) Available at: http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/attached-files/03_2016_letter_honduras_berta_caceres.pdf 

(5) The Guardian (8 March 2016) Berta Cáceres murder: Honduras blocks sole witness from leaving country. Available at:

 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/08/berta-caceres-honduras-blocks-sole-witness-from-leaving-country

(6) Available at: http://bertacaceres.org/statement-from-the-family-of-berta-caceres-on-the-one-month-anniversary-of-her-assassination/

(7) According to her family one of those responsible for denying basic information around Cáceres’ case is Honduras’ Director of Public Attorneys, Jose Arturo Duarte, who represented the dam company DESA in past legal actions against Cáceres’ organisation COPINH. It was only after Cáceres’ family’s lawyers revealed this conflict of interest very recently that the public prosecutor stepped down from the case.  

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