Berta Cáceres and Human Rights Defenders in Honduras
The courageous, celebrated, beloved Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was shot dead by gunmen who entered her home in La Esperanza (Spanish for hope), Honduras on March 3. Wounded in the gunfire was Gustavo Castro Soto, an environmental activist from Mexico who had come to work with Berta and the organization she led, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).
It was a tragedy waiting to happen. Berta had repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.
Concerned for her safety, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the government of Honduras to protect Berta. Her family holds the government responsible for failing to do so.
September 29: Allegations of foul play surfaces once again following media reports that the case file of the investigation into the murder of Berta Cáceres was stolen from a car driven by Honduran Supreme Court of Justice Magistrate María Luisa Ramos. The case file reportedly included evidence supporting accusations against several suspects in the murder of Cáceres, as well as other documents related to the investigation. The OAS Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), called the theft “serious and unacceptable” and urged Honduran authorities to “carry out a swift and purposeful investigation”.
July 13: Amnesty International issues an urgent action after the offices of the Broad Movement for Justice and Dignity (Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia, MADJ) were broken into and computers stolen with sensitive information about legal cases they work on, including the assassination of Berta Cáceres. Although MADJ immediately reported the incident in the early morning, police did not arrive on the scene until the mid-afternoon. MADJ also contacted the department in charge of human rights defenders’ protection but it has yet to issue any protection measures. In June 2016, MADJ reported several security incidents, including surveillance, threats and harassment, in particular against its General Coordinator Martín Fernández.
July 6: Another activist is murdered. Lesbia Urquía, a supporter of Berta Cáceres’ organization, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and of the Independent Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz (MILPAH) is killed.
May 2: Unknown individuals twice attempt to murder journalist Felix Molina, hours after he publishes information about potential intellectual authors of the murder of Berta Cáceres. Molina was injured but survived the attacks.
May 2: Four men are arrested in connection with the murder of Berta Cáceres. According to the Honduran prosecutor's office, two have ties with Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), the company building the Agua Zarca dam that Berta had strongly opposed. Honduran press reports the other two are a former military officer and a member of the armed forces still on duty. Amnesty responds with a public statement, echoing concerns expressed by Berta's family and organization about the investigation, lack of transparency and failure to question high-ranking officials.
April 22: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst calls on Honduras to set up an independent investigation into the murders of Berta Cáceres and Nelson Garcia. Said Mr Forst: “I strongly support calls by the victims’ families and civil society groups for an independent and interdisciplinary investigation of the murders of Berta Cáceres and Nelson Garcia, and encourage the Honduran authorities to seek support from regional and international organizations to carry out an independent investigation."
April 21: Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve joins a delegation of Indigenous and human rights advocates for a press conference on Parliament Hill to make public our concerns about the ongoing crisis of human rights violations and impunity in Honduras. At the press conference: Bev Sellars, Counsellor and Former Chief Xat’sull/Soda Creek First Nation in British Columbia; Mary Hannaburg Quebec Native Women, Mohawk Nation Director; Catherine Morris, Research Director, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada; Amelia Orellana, Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine. See our live tweets from the event
- April 15: A Canadian delegation of Indigenous leaders and human rights advocates are amidst a peaceful gathering of COPINH supporters when they're threatened and attacked by dozens of armed men, as police look on but do nothing. At least eight people are injured in the attack. The police finally escort COPINH members out of the area after the international witnesses convince them to react. For more, see our Urgent Action
- April 1: Honduras lifts controversial ban that had prohibited environmentalist Gustavo Castro Soto from leaving the country, which had been in place since March 7. Gustavo, who had come to Honduras from Mexico to work with Berta Caceres, was in her house when gunmen entered and opened fire, killing the Indigenous leader. He was wounded but survived by playing dead. He voluntarily gave his testimony on repeated occasions to investigators but when he arrived at the airport to return home to recover from his wounds, authorities prevented him from leaving. As a Mexican citizen, and as a witness and victim of attempted murder in Honduras, Gustavo had the right all along to collaborate with the Honduran authorities from his own country, in accord with the Treaty for Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in effect between Honduras and Mexico. Amnesty International expressed grave concerns for Gustavo’s safety in Honduras and denounced the travel ban that had been imposed by Honduran authorities. Thanks to all who spoke out!
- March 30: Amnesty International Canada’s Secretary General Alex Neve asks “How Many More Must Die in Honduras?” in a commentary published by Embassy, an influential Ottawa weekly that focuses on international affairs and Canadian policy. “Environmentalists’ deaths should be wake-up call to investor countries like Canada,” writes Alex. See more at
- March 22: Amnesty International and 150 international NGOs release an open letter to the member states of the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a vital resolution on the protection of human rights defenders amidst increasing danger.
- March 18: Bertha Isabel Zuniga Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres, addresses the plenary of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Ms Zuniga Caceres called for the involvement of independent investigators to ensure her mother’s killers are brought to justice and drew attention to a campaign of intimidation against the Lenca Indigenous People in Honduras. Read the full speech
- March 15: Nelson Garcia, another member of COPINH, is killed and Berta Caceres´ relatives are harassed by authorities and unidentified armed men.
- March 5: Two days after the murder of Berta, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights calls on Honduras yet again to implement protection measures, this time for survivor Gustavo Castro, the sole eye witness who has been prevented from leaving Honduras after voluntarily providing testimony about what he saw. The Commission also calls for protection of Berta’s family and other members of COPINH.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1. Share this action on social media.
Send a tweet to the President of Honduras:
eg. From Winnipeg, Canada I call for #JusticeforBerta, #SeguridadParaGustavo, as well as Berta's family & @COPINHHONDURAS .@JuanOrlandoH.
2. Send a letter of concern to Canada’s Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion.
Calling on him to use Canada’s relationship with Honduras to press for:
- An impartial, exhaustive, credible investigation to find the killers of Berta Cáceres by complying with the request of her relatives and colleagues for technical assistance by a team of independent, international experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The investigation must examine the connection between the murder and Berta’s work as a human rights defender and follow up on denunciations she made about threats against her by people connected to the Agua Zarca dam project, amongst others.
- Implementation of protection measures requested by the IACHR for Berta’s relatives, members of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and for Gustavo Castro Soto, survivor and eye-witness to the deadly attack that killed Berta.
- Guarantees that no development project advances without meaningful consultation and the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples whose lands and rights will be affected, in compliance with international standards including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169.
Make a financial gift to help Amnesty International’s work for the protection of activists defending the rights and lands of Indigenous peoples at home and around the world.
4. Follow this story:
Follow updates as events unfold in Honduras on Twitter @KPriceAmnesty