María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001
Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemns the killing of Berta Cáceres, a famous human rights defender and indigenous leader, coordinator of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas) of Honduras (COPINH). Berta Cáceres was the beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in 2009. She had repeatedly denounced the situation of great risk and of harassment in which she found herself.
Co-founder of COPIHN in 1993, leader of the Lenca indigenous peoples and a prominent human rights defender, Berta Cáceres dedicated a great part of her life to defend the territory and the rights of the Lenca indigenous peoples. In this capacity, she actively took part in the campaign to defend the Gualcarque River, in the department of Santa Bárbara, in the Northeast of Honduras, where the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam was planned to be installed. The movement against the installation of the dam, of which she was an active member, denounced that there had been no free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples affected by the project. Berta Cáceres won international prizes for her work as a human rights defender and as an environmental activist.
According to the information received by the IACHR, at dawn on March 3, 2016, armed individuals entered into her house in La Esperanza, department of Intibucá, where they shot her, causing her immediate death. The week prior to her murder, Berta Cáceres denounced at a press conference the murders of four indigenous leaders of her community, as well as threats against her own life and that of other human rights defenders. In the last few years of her life, she and other COPINH members were victims of various acts of aggression, criminalization, threats and intimidation. The IACHR contacted the State in writing regarding this situation, pursuant to section 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Inter-American Commission expresses its consternation and preoccupation for the occurrence of this murder despite the precautionary measures granted in her favor, and despite the last working meeting held at the IACHR’s headquarters on October 21, 2015. In this meeting, the IACHR had drawn the State delegation’s attention on the situation of risk faced by Berta Cáceres and on the shortcomings in the implementation of protective measures in her favor. Furthermore, the IACHR inquired into why there had not yet been an investigation aimed at removing the risk factors which permitted the perpetuation of constant acts of violence and harassment against her. In monitoring the situation of risk in which Berta Cáceres found herself, the IACHR sent a letter to the State of Honduras on December 8, 2015 requesting information as to the protection and investigation measures that ought to have been implemented. According to information reported by the COPINH, acts of violence continued to occur and, on February 20, 2016, during a peaceful manifestation against the implementation of the hydroelectric dam Agua Zarca, over one hundred people, including Berta Cáceres, were presumably detained and harassed by security forces.
The Commission salutes the March 3, 2016 declarations of the President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvaro forcefully condemning the murder of the human rights defender and announcing efforts to investigate the facts leading to her death. The IACHR also recognizes the letter it received on behalf of the Permanent Mission of Honduras before the Organization of American States (OAS), expressing similar preoccupation.
As it has been acknowledged by the State authorities, the Honduran State has the obligation to investigate this deplorable murder in a serious, prompt and efficient manner, and to include lines of investigation which consider her work as a human rights defender as the motive of the crime. In addition to unveiling the truth, the investigation must establish responsibility and sanction the material and intellectual authors of this heinous crime. This murder must not go unpunished. As it has already observed in its recent Report on the situation of human rights in Honduras, the IACHR reiterates its recommendation to implement, as a priority, a comprehensive national policy to protect human rights defenders and to adopt an effective and exhaustive strategy of prevention with a view to avoiding any further acts of violence against human rights defenders.
The Commission reiterates that acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the basic guarantees owed to every human being, but also undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society. These types of acts also harm all of the individuals they are defending, leaving them in a situation of increased vulnerability and at times of absolute defenselessness. The Commission recalls in this regard that the work of human rights defenders is critical to building a solid, lasting democratic society, and to fully achieving the rule of law.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.