News / 2 March 2021

5 years after her murder, Berta Cáceres’ family is still waiting for justice

Today it is 5 years ago that Berta Cáceres was shot in haar home in La Esperanza, Honduras, for defending the rights of indigenous people. The leader of indigenous organisation COPINH resisted the Agua-Zarca hydropower dam that was planned to be build in indigenous territory. The actual murderers have been convicted, but not so the intellectual authors of the murders.

Lawsuits in Honduras

Berta's family, COPINH and their lawyers have been fighting for justice for 5 years. In 2018, 7 suspects have been convicted, including the former communities and environmental manager of DESA, the company that built the dam. COPINH and Berta's daughter have been excluded from the process.

The intellectual authors who ordered the murder are still free. There are clear indications that the murderers followed orders from above. David Castillo, DESA's former manager, has been charged but the trial against him has been postponed repeatedly.

At the same time, the village of Rio Blanco, where the dam would be built, has filed a case with COPINH on the grounds that there is evidence that the environmental permits for the dam were issued under fraudulent circumstances. This legal process is also constantly being undermined.

International attention to these legal processes is crucial. Violence against human rights and environmental activists is commonplace in Honduras as well as in many other countries. To prevent this from happening in the future, it is important that all perpetrators of Berta's murder and the injustice done to indigenous communities are convicted.

Involvement of FMO in the case

One of the financiers of the Agua Zarca dam was the Dutch Development Bank FMO. Despite repeated warnings by COPINH, Both ENDS and other international NGOs that the project caused conflict and violence, FMO invested confidently in DESA.

At the time, FMO saw no indications that DESA would have anything to do with human rights violations and assumed that the environmental permits were in order. It was only a year after Berta's murder that FMO withdrew from the project, although according to FMO they still could not find a connection between DESA and alleged illegal actions.

Changes in FMO

Since the murder of Berta, FMO has made changes: the environmental and social governance team has been strengthened, FMO has issued various statements, including on human rights, and published a human rights annual report in 2018.

However, FMO's approach to "development" has not really changed. It is not clear how FMO ensures that communities, indigenous groups and others who should benefit from FMO's investments co-decide from the start of project design. FMO continues to rely largely on its customers for its information and does not seek enough dialogue with communities and civil society organizations before making an investment decision.

Both ENDS continues to press FMO for a different approach to development, in which the communities in project areas are put central. Only this way serious conflicts around FMO's projects, of which Agua Zarca is a very sad example, can be prevented in the future.

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