A judgment without justice
Recently the first conviction came in the case of Berta Cáceres, the human rights defender who was murdered in her home in Honduras nearly three years ago. Seven people were convicted, but Cáceres’ family and the organization she founded say that the people ultimately responsible are still free.
It was at midnight on 3 March 2016 that armed men broke into Berta Cáceres’ house and fired six shots that ended her life. The Mexican human rights defender Gustavo Castro, who was also in Cáceres’ house, was seriously injured.
At the time of her death, Berta Cáceres was known as a leading figure in the fight for the rights of the Honduran indigenous peoples. In the early 1990s she founded the organization COPINH, which at the time of her murder was leading a highlighted campaign against the company Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA). The company was threatening the Lenca community’s land and access to water through the construction of a hydroelectric installation that violated several environmental laws and lacked approval from the population.
Seven people convicted
The legal proceedings in this case have been protracted and postponed several times. After 20 months without justice, in October 2017 five international lawyers presented an independent report on the murder with clear evidence of how it had been planned for a long time with the involvement of extremely influential individuals.
Seven people were finally convicted on 29 November 2018. They include two former militaries and two former employees of the DESA company. The court established that Berta’s murder had been committed by a criminal network in collaboration with high-ranking managers at DESA. The aim was to silence Cáceres and COPINH’s protests against the hydroelectric installation.
Major shortcomings in the trial
But there has been stern criticism of the judgment because those who planned the murder are still free. The legal proceedings have been criticised for a lack of transparency. The negotiations also took place behind closed doors, and Berta’s family and members of COPINH were denied access to the courtroom.
A week after the judgment, on 6 December, COPINH presented the trial’s errors and shortcomings to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In this, Cáceres’ daughter Laura Zúñiga clarified that the threat to COPINH remains, and that a judgment is not the same as justice. For as long as there is no justice, the members of the organization are not safe.
Margarette May Macaulay, President of the commission, explained that the right to truth is a fundamental right, and that the commission expects the Honduran state to show political will to continue searching for the truth.