7 suspects of the murder of the Honduran Berta Cáceres were found guilty
On Thursday, November 29, seven suspects of the murder of Berta Cáceres (in March 2016) were found guilty. Members of the indigenous human rights organisation COPINH, of which Cáceres was the leader, and close relatives of Cáceres herself see the ruling as the first step towards justice for her murder and the recognition that the company DESA is co-responsible for this. They also point out, however, that the process was permeated with corruption, intimidation and other abuses from the very beginning, and that the masterminds behind the murder are still walking around freely.
Suspects affiliated with FMO’s client
This lawsuit was seen as an important signal for the status of the Honduran constitutional state. The ruling is also relevant for the trial against the Dutch development bank FMO, which is likely to begin next year in August. That process was filed by members of COPINH because FMO was co-financier of the controversial Agua Zarcadam. According to COPINH, FMO is partly responsible for the gross human rights violations and the violence surrounding the project. Of the seven suspects who were now convicted, two were affiliated to DESA, the company that executes the Agua Zarcaproject and to which FMO provided funding. Sergio Rodriguez was the social/environmental manager of DESA and Douglas Boustillo was head of security until 2015, as ex-lieutenant of the Honduran army. In the coming years, the trial against DESA’s director, David Castillo, will also take place.
Recognition by the judge
''For the victims and for COPINH, the most important thing is that today, after more than two years in which COPINH and Berta Cáceres family have said it time and again, it’s finally recognised that DESA, with the help of managerial staff and through the deployment of their workers, is responsible for devising, deciding on, and ensuring the murder of Cáceres. Today it has finally been said by the judge," says Victor Fernandez of Movimiento Amplio, one of the lawyers of the victims.
During the investigation prior to the trial and during the lawsuit against these suspects, there were major irregularities, among other things that the evidence gathered by the public prosecutor's office was to a large extent not analysed and therefore not included in the procedure. Evidence that demonstrates the relationship between the murder of Cáceres and her work as a defender of the rights of the Lenca communities in the Agua Zarca project, was not admitted. The victims and their lawyers were given very limited access to the evidence used by the prosecutor in the case. The request from Cáceres’ family to make the case public through a live video link was rejected.
As the victims had no confidence in the impartiality of the judges, they filed a challenge request. At the opening of the lawsuit (on October 19th) the challenge was still pending and according to the lawyers of the victims the process was therefore not allowed to start at all. They therefore informed the court in advance that they would not be present, after which the judges immediately stated that the victims would be represented by the Public Prosecution Service in the subsequent trial. The judges made this statement without the consent of the victims.
Human rights violations and violence fuelled by foreign activities
COPINH and the children of Berta Cáceres continue to take all the steps, both nationally and internationally, that may be necessary to find justice for the murder. They do this not only for themselves, but above all to create a precedent, to show how national and international forces have responsibility in the violence, and to ensure that such a thing will not happen again in the future.
Statement by COPINH and the family of Berta Cáceres (Spanish and English)
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Development banks should comply with strict environmental and human rights rules to ensure that their projects benefit and do not harm the poorest groups. Both ENDS monitors the banks to make sure they do.
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