IACHR

Press Release

In Light of the Forthcoming Ruling on the Berta Cáceres Case, the OHCHR and the IACHR Express Concern over the Exclusion of Victims’ Legal Representatives and Unjustified Delays in the Trial

November 28, 2018

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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Tegucigalpa/Washington, DC - The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) express their concern over the exclusion of the private prosecution representing the victims from the Berta Cáceres trial and the unjustified delays in the trial process. The IACHR and OHCHR note that on October 19, the private prosecution filed a challenge against the court hearing the case and thus absented itself from the hearing until a final decision was reached on this matter. The court interpreted this as the prosecution abandoning the trial and appointed the Public Prosecutor’s Office to act as the victims’ legal representative.

Likewise, the OHCHR and IACHR note that over the course of the trial, there have been delays in the processing of three other writs of amparo that have yet to be ruled on. In addition to requesting the recusal of the court, these amparo actions relate to the inclusion of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) as a victim, the exclusion of the private prosecution on the grounds of abandonment of the trial, and the inclusion of one of the victims as part of the private prosecution.

In light of the fact that the Court of Judgment is soon to announce its ruling, the OHCHR and IACHR stress that the exclusion of the private prosecution from the public oral trial significantly undermines the victims' right to fair, effective access to justice and their right to the truth.1 This exclusion also has concrete effects on the use of evidence that had been put forward by the private prosecution, which was then unable to explain the purpose of this during the proceedings. As the OHCHR rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of nonrecurrence observed, “criminal prosecution is effective only if the victims and their families are actually involved in the trial,” and this involvement leads to and strengthens their right to the truth.2

With regard to the delays in processing the writs of amparo discussed above, the OHCHR and the IACHR stress that these are an essential guarantee for protecting human rights, including the right to due process and the right to an effective legal remedy, which are enshrined in article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 8 of the American Convention of Human Rights. The delay in ruling on the amparo applications thus diminishes the effectiveness of the protection they provide, especially in relation to irreparable acts and the duty of due diligence that it is incumbent on the state during hearings of this type. In this regard, the OHCHR and the IACHR wish to highlight the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s observation that expeditiousness is an important aspect of the fairness of a hearing. Consequently, “delays in civil proceedings that cannot be justified by the complexity of the case or the behaviour of the parties detract from the principle of a fair hearing.” 3

Justice for victims will be effective and comprehensive when all the material and intellectual authors of the crime are brought to justice and held accountable. In this sense, the Inter-American Court has stated that “this is an international right and it is the duty of states to guarantee compliance with the obligation to investigate cases ex officio, without delay, and to do so in a serious, impartial, effective manner such that those who are truly responsible for human rights violations can be brought to justice.”4

The OHCHR and IACHR note that the justice system must be able to guarantee absolute compliance with guarantees of due process and effective legal protection in this first trial over the murder of defender Berta Cáceres. In this paradigmatic case, ensuring that justice is delivered in a context of transparency and access to information is key to strengthening citizen confidence in the judiciary and legal rulings. It is also a vital part of seeking justice for the victim’s family and safeguarding the work of human and environmental rights defenders in Honduras.

The OHCHR is monitoring the human rights situation in Honduras, reporting to the UN Human Rights Council on this, and advising the Honduran authorities on creating and implementing policies, programs, and measures that play a part in promoting and protecting human rights in the country, guided by the principles of impartiality and independence. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is part of the United Nations Secretariat and coordinates global efforts to promote and protect human rights through cooperation and the strengthening of national state institutions and civil society organizations.

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 and to defend 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.

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 and to defend 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.

1 Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, article 2(b).
2 Pablo de Greiff, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Nonrecurrence. A/HRC/24/42, August 28, 2013.
3 Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 32, paragraph 27.
4 IA Court. Case of Pueblo Bello Massacre v. Colombia. Colombia. Judgment of January 31, 2006. Series C No. 140, para. 143; Case of Ibsen Cárdenas and Ibsen Peña v. Bolivia. Bolivia. Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of September 1, 2010. Series C no. 217, para. 65; Case of Gomes Lund and others (Guerrilha do Araguaia) v. Brazil. Brazil. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of November 24, 2010. Series C No. 219, para. 108.

No. 256/188