San José, May 29, 2019.- On the 29th of November of 2018, the First Chamber of the Court of Sentencing issued an oral judgment in the first trial for the murder of the indigenous Lenca leader and human rights defender, Berta Cáceres Flores. In it, the Court condemned seven people responsible for carrying out Cáceres’s murder and recognized the role of executives of the company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) in planning said murder.
From the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) we consider that this first ruling represents an advancement towards the recognition of the truth of the case and the demand for justice. However, because six months have elapsed since the perpetrators were convicted, we express a deep concern at the lack of a definite sentence against the perpetrators of the murder.
We remind that it is the duty of judges to direct judicial procedures in order to guarantee victims' access to justice within a reasonable timeframe. In this case the delay of 6 months in the issuance of the sentence has no justification, nor does it respond to a reasonable timeframe. This delay violates due process increasing the risk of impunity and negatively impacts other ongoing processes.
On the other hand, we denounce that, more than 3 years after the murder, only David Castillo, general manager of the company DESA, has been arrested for being the mastermind of the crime. The rest of the people who comprise the criminal structure responsible for planning and financing the murder remain unpunished, despite the existence of evidence that links them to the crime and that the Court recognizes this in its ruling.
As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has indicated “ensuring that justice is delivered in a context of transparency and access to information is key to strengthening citizen confidence in the judiciary and legal rulings in this paradigmatic case. It is also a vital part of seeking justice for the victim’s family and safeguarding the work of human and environmental rights defenders in Honduras”.
In this context, we call the Court to issue the ruling against the people responsible for carrying out Cáceres’s murder without delay and for the State to comply with its obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish all persons responsible for masterminding the murder.
The case of Berta Cáceres continues to represent the grave situation of violence and impunity faced by defenders of land and human rights when carrying out their work in the Latin American region. Guaranteeing justice and breaking impunity in this case is vital so that similar events do not repeat themselves.