Will justice be served in the trial for the killing of Berta Cáceres?

On 2 March 2016, Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was shot dead just before midnight in the small town of La Esperanza, Honduras.

Berta led the opposition of the Lenca indigenous people to the installation of hydroelectric projects in their territory without free, prior and informed consent as demanded by international law.

More than two and a half years on, her loss is still felt deeply by her family, her community and the social movements in which she played a critical part.

Finally, this month, September 2018, nearly one thousand days after she was murdered, eight of the nine people arrested for her murder will go on trial in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. These include three former or current employees at the time of the murder of the company implementing one of the hydroelectric projects – Agua Zarca – opposed by Berta and her organization, COPINH.

Given that Honduras has one of the highest impunity rates in the world for all crimes – that is crimes that are neither investigated nor brought to trial – that those charged with her murder are even up before the court is significant. It is testament to the ongoing efforts of Berta’s family, COPINH and Honduran investigators in fighting for accountability for Berta’s murder. But Oxfam, like others, has serious concerns about whether justice will be served. 

Will justice for Berta be served?

First of all, the lawyers for Berta Cáceres´ family recently publicly shared a letter they had received from Public Ministry prosecutors confirming that the Ministry has not processed at least thirty items of evidence including computers, mobile phones, tablets, memory sticks, external hard drives and bank information. This is evidence seized over two years ago from the office of DESA – the company constructing the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project – and the homes of the eight suspects set to go on trial.  With the trial due to start on September 17th, all evidence should have been processed at this point.

Secondly, the Honduran public prosecutor has not shared the case file with the Cáceres family’s lawyers in their role as private prosecutors, or with the defendants.  While this may seem odd in a criminal case in the United States, this is required by the Inter American Court of Human Rights and has been reinforced by legal orders issued by the Honduran Courts.

If this trial is to have any legitimacy, all legal procedures must be followed as required by international and national law.

Berta Cáceres' daughter speaks to demonstrators gathered in Washington, DC, as part of a vigil in memory of her mother. Photo: Keith Lane/Oxfam, April 2016

Berta Cáceres' daughter speaks to demonstrators gathered in Washington, DC, as part of a vigil in memory of her mother. Photo: Keith Lane/Oxfam, April 2016

The fact that some evidence has not been processed nor critical legal procedures followed raises concern that the trial might be postponed or delayed. If this happens, under Honduran law the first four of the nine arrested could be released from prison if a verdict is not reached by November. Their release could cause additional complications to guaranteeing due process in this case.  Additionally, no date has been set yet for the trial of the ninth person charged with the murder of Berta Cáceres, who was general manager of DESA at the time of her murder.

Berta’s family is asking the international community to contact their diplomats in Honduras and ask that embassy representatives attend the trial as witnesses. This would also add pressure the Attorney General’s office to review the evidence so their case can be as solid as it can be to guarantee a fair trial. Berta’s family is also organizing an ongoing peaceful demonstration in front of the courthouse as silent witnesses.

Justice is so tenuous in Honduras.

Justice for Berta’s death is not only about bringing some peace to her family, it is critical to stemming the tide of violence against people speaking out against human rights abuses. Unless all those responsible in such a high-profile case are convicted, it will send a clear message that people can be killed with impunity.

The Honduran people deserve better; Berta deserves better.

This entry posted on 14 September 2018, by Vicki Gass, Senior Policy Advisor, Oxfam America.

Read more

  • "What I learned during my visit to La Esperanza, Honduras" - Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director, recounts her visit to Honduras to meet with Berta's family and her fellow human rights defenders
  • Sign up to the Global Call to Action for Land Rights Now

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