Press Release

UN Human Rights and IACHR Urge Honduras to Investigate Crimes against Human Rights Defenders

November 7, 2017

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Tegucigalpa, Honduras/Washington, D.C.—The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urge the State of Honduras to comply with its obligation to ensure that attacks on human rights defenders are investigated promptly, thoroughly, independently, and impartially and that the perpetrators are brought to justice and duly punished in accordance with the gravity of the offense, as the Committee on Human Rights recommended in its observations on Honduras in July 2017. Under international human rights standards, the obligation to investigate implies that the State has a duty to establish who is responsible and punish the perpetrators and masterminds of the crimes.

On October 31, 2017, the International Advisory Group of Experts released its report on the killing of human rights defender Berta Cáceres and the Honduran State’s investigation. The report raises troubling questions about the ability of victims to participate in the process, as well as about the conduct of the official investigation and its effectiveness in identifying and prosecuting everyone involved in Berta Cáceres’ murder, including the masterminds.

Moreover, the IACHR and the OHCHR observe with concern the continued secrecy with respect to the case file and the impact of this procedural situation on the rights of the victims and the accused. The OHCHR and the IACHR remind Honduras that victims’ family members have the right to be heard during the investigation and judicial proceedings, as well as the right to participate extensively in these proceedings, based on the rights of due process and access to justice established in international human rights treaties ratified by Honduras. Given these obligations, the OHCHR and the IACHR urge Honduras to reevaluate the necessity and proportionality of keeping the case file closed.

As the OHCHR and the IACHR have indicated in their various statements about the case, the killing of Berta Cáceres constitutes a dramatic example of the context of harassment and intimidation in which human rights defenders do their work in Honduras. Effectively investigating the murder of Berta Cáceres and punishing those responsible would set an important precedent to prevent these types of attacks from recurring. Nevertheless, a comprehensive response to this situation should include the design and implementation of an overall policy to protect human rights defenders. This should include adopting an effective, thorough strategy to prevent attacks against human rights defenders, as well as appropriate investigative protocols and mechanisms. The OHCHR and the IACHR encourage the Public Prosecutor’s Office to intensify the efforts it has pledged to carry out in this regard.

Finally, the OHCHR and the IACHR call on the State of Honduras to take any timely actions necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the precautionary measures the IACHR granted to the family members of Berta Cáceres, the members of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras [Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, COPINH], and their legal representatives. This includes, should it be necessary, reevaluating and revising the precautionary measures based on any new risks that may arise in this context.

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 the respect for and defense of 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.

No. 176/17