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This blog post was written by Shona Hawkes, Sustainable Food Advocacy Coordinator at Oxfam.
The recent assassinations of Berta Cáceres and Nelson García highlight the extreme violence and intimidation that many indigenous land rights activists face every day.
It also underscores the urgent need for companies in the Agua Zarca hydropower project in Honduras to fully and permanently withdraw their involvement.
On 2nd March, Honduran indigenous land rights defender, Berta Cáceres, was assassinated in the middle of the night. Her killers have yet to be identified, but her assassination comes after threats and intimidation against her work in the Lenca communities’ campaign against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric power project.
The project is taking place without the prior consultation of all local Indigenous people required by international law, and threatens a river of great spiritual importance to the Lenca community.
Berta provided incredible strength to her family, her community, and to Lenca communities’ movement for justice, and co-founded the indigenous rights organisation COPINH. In 2015, she was awarded the international Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the highest honours for environmental activism.
Berta is not the first activist to be killed in Honduras, and tragically, she was not the last.
Berta Cáceres' daughter speaks to demonstrators gathered in Washington, DC, as part of a vigil in memory of her mother. © Keith Lane/Oxfam
The situation for activists has deteriorated further
One month after Berta’s murder, her family members and colleagues remain under threat.
Just two weeks after her assassination, Nelson García, another indigenous leader from COPINH was also murdered. Despite the threats, harassment, and intimidation they face.
There needs to be an end to the impunity with which this violence and intimidation is taking place. The perpetrators, and those that support them, must be held to account.
Across the world, people are taking action in solidarity with the human rights defenders in Honduras. This includes a call for all companies linked to the Agua Zarca project pull out, and for there to be independent investigations into Berta and Nelson’s murders. Since Berta’s death, the three biggest investors – FMO in the Netherlands, FinnFund in Finland, and CABEI in Central America — have suspended funding to Agua Zarca. Yet even they haven’t pulled their support for the project definitively.
Leave No One Behind! Human rights are impacted on may levels
“Land grabbing” doesn’t just impact communities’ land and water rights; it impacts a much broader range of human rights, including freedom of speech.
Across the world we’re also seeing the criminalization of protest; where people are arrested and arbitrarily detained simply for peacefully exercising their civil and political rights such as freedom of speech.
Community protest is often used as a justification for brutalizing land rights defenders. And activists are targeted as “payback” for trying to protect their land, water and community. The struggle to restore these rights can take years, or even decades, to return.
Ending the indifference at home and abroad
Particularly shocking — after the murders of Berta and Nelson — is the continuing indifference displayed by many international investors and companies underpinning the Agua Zarca project.
Across the world, people are taking action in solidarity with the human rights defenders in Honduras. This includes a call for all companies linked to the Agua Zarca project to fully and permanently withdraw their funding, and for there to be independent investigations into Berta and Nelson’s murders.