Who murdered Berta Cáceres?
After 20 months without justice, on the 31st of October, five international lawyers presented an independent report on the murder of the Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres. "The report is strong. It is no longer possible to deny the involvement of important actors in the planning and execution of the murder", says Roxanna Altholz, one of the experts behind the report.
It was on the 2nd of March in 2016 at midnight when two armed men broke into Berta Cáceres house and ended her life. The Mexican human rights defender Gustavo Castro, who was also in Berta's residence at the time, was seriously injured.
Requested an independent investigation
Berta was known as an important leader in the fight for the indigenous community Lenca's right to land. At the time of the murder, she was the front figure of a remarkable campaign against Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA), a company that threatened the right to land and access to water of the Lenca community, through the construction of a water installation (that violated several environmental laws).
The relatives of Castro and Cáceres and the organization that Berta Cáceres worked for, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) immediately requested an independent investigation due to concerns that Honduran authorities would not identify the intellectual authors of the crime.
Nevertheless, no independent investigation came about. Thus, after over six months without development in the case, the group, El Grupo Asesor Internacional de Personas Expertas (GAIPE) initiated an independent and objective analysis of the facts and evidence of the case. GAIPE consists of five specialists in international law on human rights, international criminal law, and comparative criminal law.
Clear evidence of involvement
More than 30 people were interviewed, 10 criminal cases were investigated and nearly 40,000 pages of text messages were analyzed. The investigated material shows clear evidence that representatives of the state, employees of the company DESA and private security guards were involved in the plan to silence Berta and her organization.
On October 31, the final report was presented in Tegucigalpa.
– The content of the report is very strong and scary because through the text messages the reader is able to hear the voices of the people involved in the planning of the murder of Berta. Therefore, it is no longer possible to deny the involvement of these important actors says, Roxanna Altholz, a professor from the Faculty of Law at University of California and participant of GAIPE.
Four members killed in 2013-2014
Honduras is one of the world's most dangerous countries for people who defend human rights; especially environmentalists. Many activists live under constant threats of violent repression and the impunity of violations against human rights defenders is incredibly high. Between 2013 and 2014, four members of Berta's organization COPINH were killed.
– The information about the murder has been available for the attorney general's office for more than one and a half years and yet there has been no response. It is very likely that those who ordered the murder of Berta will never be condemned. The evidence shows that the assassination was planned in detail during months, but the impunity is very high in Honduras, says Roxanna Altholz.
European banks aware of violations
The report also shows that two international banks, FMO from the Netherlands and the Finnish bank, Finnfond, which had investments in the building of the water installation, were aware of the human rights violations that occurred. The banks received a series of letters from COPINH where the organization informed about the situation, but they chose not to withdraw their fundings. The two banks didn't leave the project until after the murder of Berta.
– There are very worrying loopholes in the international banks' control mechanisms for investments. These two banks were aware of the fact that they were supporting a criminal structure that used violence against the community, explains Roxanna Altholz.
On November 2, the report will be presented to the Congress of the United States in Washington. The researchers hope that the presentation will make the international community act on the information.
– The hope is that the report will create effects both nationally and internationally and that the international community will put pressure on the prosecutor's office in Honduras to investigate Berta's murder and condemn the guilty, concludes Roxanna Altholz.