Honduras: Letter from the Observation Mission in the case of Berta Cáceres to the Ombudsman (CONADEH)

Open Letter
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The Honourable Rolando Edgardo Argueta Pérez, President, Supreme Court of Justice Judicial Branch of Honduras
Tegucigalpa MDC, Honduras, CA
Sent via: reargueta@poderjudicial.gob.hn CC: Judge Lisseth Vallecillo
Roberto Herrera Cáceres, National Commissioner for Human Rights (CONADEH) Alice Harding Shackelford, Resident Coordinator of the UNS in Honduras
Isabel Albaladejo Escribano, ad interim Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (OHCHR)
Thomas Wriessnig, Ambassador of Germany James Hill, Ambassador of Canada
Colleen Hoey, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States Nick Whitting, Ambassador of the United Kingdom
Hans-Ruedi Bortis, Ambassador of Switzerland
Alessandro Palmero, Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union
19 August 2020
The Honourable Rolando Edgardo Argueta Pérez,

Best regards in these difficult and uncertain times, wishing you a full recovery and good health. The Observation Mission in the Case of Berta Cáceres continues to monitor the ongoing trial of David Castillo, the only executive of the dam company, DESA, prosecuted for the murder of Ms. Cáceres, having observed the previous hearings since Mr. Castillo’s capture in March 2018.
We have been notified that after the Court of Appeals ruled without place on the last appeal presented by the Defence, the preliminary hearing will resume on Monday 17 August before the Judge of the Criminal Court of First Instance with National Territorial Jurisdiction, Lisseth Vallecillo. We understand that the Court has not yet notified the time or the format of the hearing. We trust that, despite this, the Court will make provisions for the hearing to be transparently observed.

As you are aware, the objective of our mission is to monitor procedures to assess the respect of national, regional and international legal standards applicable to the right to a fair trial, the right to redress for victims of human rights violations and the fight against impunity. Affirming the basis in the fundamental right to a fair trial enshrined in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and noting UN Resolution 60/147 on the right of victims of serious violations of international human rights standards to redress and reparations; we invoke, Article 9 (3) (b) of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders that recognises the right of trial observers: "[to] attend public hearings, proceedings and trials to form an opinion on their compliance with national legislation and applicable international obligations and commitments ".

The proper administration of justice is an essential component of the rule of law, and a functioning legal system that demonstrates its ability to act independently and impartially is essential for a democratic society based on respect for fundamental human rights.

As announced and in order to effectively monitor the trial of David Castillo, we request that the Court extend the usual facilities and provide the agreed cooperation to the observation missions. As a result of the protocols established to ensure health and biosafety due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand that virtual hearings are becoming a frequent procedure in Honduras. Article 4 of Agreement No. CSJ-02-2019, which issues the "Regulations for the Conduct of Virtual Hearings in Criminal Proceedings," establishes that hearings must be conducted respecting the rights of the parties and respecting and guaranteeing the procedural principles in criminal matters, including the principle of transparency.

Furthermore, we respectfully request that Judiciary ensures the hearing is public so that nationals and international persons can observe the hearing as part of their monitoring of the Cause; in this regard, we recall the hearing that took place on 2 December 2018, during which an oral conviction was handed down against 7 people responsible for the murder of Berta Cáceres and the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro. This virtual hearing was transmitted live through the Official Account of the Official Judiciary, and we consider that the same format would be an excellent option that would allow for a wide broadcast to interested persons and the follow-up of the case given the current national and international mobility restrictions.

As we discussed during our conversation in February 2020 when we presented our report and findings from the 2018 trial, public access to this case is critical. We were pleased to learn that the Judiciary has implemented a number of mechanisms to ensure that virtual hearings are possible, accessible and public. We are confident that these developments will ensure that the observation will be fully open to the public, given the national and international symbolic nature of this case.

In accordance with the principle of transparency of the trial, reflected in Article 8.5 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 308 of the Honduran Code of Criminal Procedure, we request, with due respect to the Court, that the hearing be made public, due to the significant social and media impact of the proceedings and the fact that none of the grounds for exception to this principle apply.

Kind regards, yours faithfully,

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  • Co-signatories

    Members of the Observation Mission for the Berta Cáceres Case:

    Centro de Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos CALDH, Guatemala Comisión Internacional de Juristas CIJ, Oficina Regional
    FIDH, en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Internacional Fundación para el Debido Proceso, Estados Unidos
    Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicaciones ERIC-sj, Honduras Guatemala Human Rights Commission GHRC-USA, Estados Unidos Impunity Watch, Guatemala
    National Lawyers Guild International Committee, Estados Unidos Observatorio para la Abogacía en Riesgo, Internacional
    Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT), en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Internacional
    Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA School of Law, Estados Unidos
    Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” (CAJAR)
    Protection International Mesoamérica
    Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad

  • Member organisations - Honduras
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