San José, March 3rd 2016.- Berta Cáceres was was killed in her home last night. The prominent indigenous leader and general coordinator of the Consejo Indígena de Organizaciones Populares de Honduras (COPIHN) was a beneficiary of protection measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) since 2009.
We strongly condemn the killing of Berta Cáceres and demand a thorough and immediate investigation of her murder. Moreover, in lieu of the statements made by the head of the Ministry of Security Julian Pacheco Tinoco, CEJIL would like to point out that Berta Caceres never renounced these protective measures and protection provided to her was inadequate, as demonstrated by these recent events.
Berta dedicated her life to the defense of human rights of the Lenca people. She advocated for the respect of their territories and their right to self-determination. In 2015, her work was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize. In the last years of her life, she was subjected to numerous acts of aggression, threats and intimidation. Furthermore, she was criminalized and subjected to criminal proceedings which prevented her from continuing her work.
As part of her work as a human rights defender, Berta led the opposition to the construction of the "Agua Zarca" hydroelectric project on the Gualcarque river which resulted from a concession granted by Congress to the Honduran company Energy Development S.A. (DESA). This company did not respect the right to free, prior and informed consultation with affected communities. Within this context, Berta and other members of COPIHN were constantly assaulted and threatened by people who worked at the project site.
"Honduran authorities were aware of the risks Berta faced. However, the actions taken to protect her were insufficient. Her murder shows that the State cannot guarantee the right to defend human rights and further underscores the lack of protection human rights defenders who risk their lives daily, like Berta, live with, "said Marcia Aguiluz, Director for Central America CEJIL and Mexico.
As the national and international human rights community mourns this unfortunate event, CEJIL demands that all necessary resources are made available to identify and prosecute those responsible for the murder of Berta Caceres, including both material and intellectual authors. Specifically, the investigation must take into consideration the context of insecurity in which Berta's murder occured and the events leading up to her death. Furthermore, the State must urgently implement the necessary measures to protect witnesses of the murder, as well as for the members of the COPIHN.
Finally, in response to the danger experienced by the Lenca people and the murder of Berta Caceres, the State of Honduras must address the structural causes that have generated violence in the Rio Blanco region and diligently conduct an investigation.