Honduras: Human rights groups demand new investigation into Berta Caceres’ murder

November 21, 2016
Berta Caceres.

More than 100 Honduran and international human rights and social justice groups have thrown their support behind a newly launched independent investigation, led by international legal experts, into the murder of renowned indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceres.

In an open letter released on November 15, dozens of groups applauded the creation of the independent expert group as an “important initiative”. The letter said they hope it will lead to “an objective reading” of the official investigation and offer “greater rigour” in line with international standards.

The international expert advisory group Gaipe, made up of five lawyers from Guatemala, Colombia, and the United States, was formed earlier this month in response to a call from Caceres’ family for independent international support.

Caceres was shot dead in her home on March 2 after leading a years-long movement against unwanted corporate projects on indigenous land in western Honduras. A prominent leader of resistance in the fight against neoliberalism at the national level, Caceres received dozens of death threats and was reportedly on the top of a US-backed military hit list leading up to her assassination.

The expert legal group’s creation follows the Honduran government’s months-long refusal to convene an international advisory committee to participate in the official investigation. This is despite repeated calls from Caceres’ family members, fellow activists and national and international human rights groups to do so, and an offer from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) to set up a team.

The more than 100 groups backing Gaipe stressed that it is “worrying” that Honduran authorities have “stayed silent” under the pressure of such calls for a thorough investigation and have long blocked Caceres’ family from fully participating in the process.

Six suspects have been arrested in connection with Caceres’ murder, including an active military officer and a man who worked for the private hydroelectric company, known as DESA, behind the dam project that was the focus of Caceres’ resistance in recent years.

But despite the arrests, family members and Caceres’ colleagues have blasted the official investigation for failing to probe DESA’s role in the crime and identify not only the men who pulled the trigger, but those who ordered the killing.

“We hope that this team can provide recommendations, among other things, to overcome the causes that promote impunity in crimes against human rights defenders,” the signatories wrote.

Caceres’ family feared since day one that the protection of elite interests and corruption of state institutions would allow the murder to go unpunished. In a chilling sign of lawlessness, court files on Caceres’ case were stolen in September.

The team of lawyers is inspired by other similar initiatives, such as the IACHR-backed international group of experts dispatched to Mexico to assist in the investigation of the 43 students who disappeared in September 2014 from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college in Iguala, Guerrero.

That expert group proved essential in challenging the Mexican government’s official narrative on Ayotzinapa and pushing for new lines of investigation in the case.

In Honduras, the international lawyers will conduct an independent investigation of Caceres’ murder and the attempted assassination of Gustavo Castro, the sole witness to her killing, as well as the modus operandi behind the crime.

The group will also assess the government’s response and give recommendations to Honduran authorities with a “multicultural and gender focus”.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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