Honduras: Conviction in Berta Cáceres’ case: a landmark ruling

© Jackie McVicar

FIDH welcomes the conviction on 5 July 2021 of military intelligence officer and former executive of hydroelectric company Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA), David Castillo, for the 2 March 2016 murder of Lenca leader and indigenous, land and environmental rights defender Berta Cáceres. In its ruling, the court convicted David Castillo as co-perpetrator of the crime, and considered that the motive for the murder was to stamp out opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project by the indigenous communities of Río Blanco, led by Berta Cáceres, as coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH).

FIDH had denounced the harassment against Berta Cáceres before she was murdered and never stopped mobilising, demonstrating the strength of the unity and constancy of the different organisations that participated and accompanied the search for justice and truth in this case. Within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), it participated, together with other international and Latin American human rights organisations — including FIDH member organisations such as CAJAR, CALDH and CIPRODEH — in the Qualified Observation Mission in the Case of Berta Cáceres. This body observed the hearings in the case, published analyses of the hearings and reports on the progress of the process, and issued numerous open letters to the Honduran authorities calling for due process to be respected.

The Observatory participated in a field mission to Honduras in June 2021 in advocacy meetings in the framework of the Qualified Observation Mission and issued several urgent appeals, press releases and published a series of articles analysing the hearings. The Observatory was also a driving part of this Qualified Observation Mission, during the first trial in 2018 against the material authors of Berta’s murder in 2018, for which seven people were convicted in January 2019. Throughout the more than five years since Berta’s murder, we have accompanied her family and COPINH in demanding justice for Berta.

This conviction is a historic ruling in the fight against impunity for the murder of land and environmental defenders in Honduras and highlights the value of defending nature and the rights of indigenous peoples and peasants. It is a precedent that will have to be taken into account when rendering justice in other cases, starting with the corruption case in which David Castillo is implicated and which is expected to begin at the end of July 2021.

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