News / 4 March 2016

Brave human rights defender Berta Cáceres murdered!

We are deeply shocked and saddened by the death of Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in her own home last week. Berta was the driving force behind the ‘Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras’ (COPINH), a network of Honduran civil society organisations standing up for the rights of indigenous communities in the country. This attack once again proves that these rights are virtually non-existent in Honduras. We share the fear of many in and outside the region that this assassination will further worsen the situation of local communities.

Dutch involvement in Agua Zarca

The Agua Zarca dam, which is owned by the Honduran company DESA, is being built in cooperation with the German company Voith Hydro and the Central American COPRECA, among others. The project is partly financed by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), which provided DESA with a loan of 24.4 million US dollars. But, in addition, also the Dutch development bank FMO and the Finnish 'Finn Fund' have invested in the project.



No water
The indigenous Lenca population fears that the Gualcarque river will run dry as a result of the construction of the dam. This would mean that the residents will no longer have access to water and, moreover, a large part of their communal land will dry out. They fear that the Agua Zarca dam will make life impossible for them. Despite the protests, largely led by Cáceres and COPINH, the project is pushed through, thereby seriously violating the rights of the indigenous communities in the region.


Reconsider Dutch engagement
This is yet another assassination of a courageous human rights defender. The Dutch government has an obligation under human rights law to ensure that its state-owned enterprises respect human rights in their operations. As a majority shareholder, it is responsible for the impacts of FMO’s investments and must exercise its authority to prevent further adverse impacts from occurring. The assassination of Berta Cáceres is yet another signal that our Dutch policy does not sufficiently guarantee that local stakeholders can decide about their own future in a timely manner and without danger. There can and should be a time to discuss what policy changes are needed at FMO to ensure that future investments fully respect the rights of those affected, in particular the rights of indigenous peoples.



But now, we call on the Dutch government to take the following immediate actions to ensure that it is no longer contributing to the conflict and violation of rights in Honduras:

* Direct FMO to divest from the Agua Zarca project;

* Direct FMO to conduct a portfolio review to determine whether it is directly or indirectly investing in any other project on Lenca territory;

* Use all diplomatic means at its disposal to ensure the safe return of Gustavo Castro, witness to Berta’s murder, to Mexico, as recommended by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders;

* Urge the Honduran authorities to support a full and impartial independent investigation, one that involves international human rights organizations, that is coordinated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and pursues both material and intellectual authors of the crime.


A selection of articles, letters and other background information:


Joint letter to Dutch Minister of Trade and Development Cooperation, requesting her to direct FMO to divest from Agua Zarca. (14 March 2016)


Joint letter that  was sent by FCAM, MamaCash en Both ENDS to Dutch ministers Koenders and Ploumen (4 March 2016)


About Berta Cáceres:

Video en article about Berta Cáceres who won the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize

Message in Spanish of COPINH on news site 


The FMO:

Page of Dutch Development bank FMO about the Agua Zarca project

Statement of the FMO after the assassination of Berta Cáceres


Dutch media:

Column Marc Broere in Vice Versa (in Dutch) 

Open letter of our partners of TNI


International media: 

Article on news site in Nicaragua

Press release Oxfam International

Article The Guardian

International Rives: the mortal danger of opposing a dam


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