Honduras: Defender's Berta Cáceres' murder trial results in convictions - but politicians & masterminds escape justice

On 2 March 2016, the well-known Honduran human rights and environmental rights defender Berta Cáceres was killed in the town of La Esperanza, Honduras. The trial of those charged with her murder, which opened in September 2018, was monitored by an international group of lawyers and marked by allegations of negligence and cover-ups - but the verdict, reached on the 29th of November 2018, was clear: the killers were paid to shoot Cáceres, and the order came from executives at Desa, a company building an internationally backed hydroelectric project on a river considered sacred by the indigenous Lenca people. 

The most senior executive implicated - Roberto David Castillo, who was executive president of Desa at the time of the killing, is still awaiting trial. He and Desa denied any wrongdoing. Senior politicians and powerful families who were involved in the construction of the dam have not been called to account. Cáceres’s family and others also insist there has been inadequate focus on the international financial institutions who initially refused Cáceres’s request to stop providing loans to a dam that was opposed by local people. 

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Article
3 December 2018

Honduras: Berta Cáceres case sends message to powerful interests behind killings of defenders they can no longer rely on impunity

Author: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian (UK)

"Berta Cáceres case: a warning for those who would kill activists", 30 Nov 2018

The sentencing on Thursday of seven men accused of murdering the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres is only partial justice, but it should inspire anyone committed to ending the slaughter of... defenders around the globe. A court... handed down guilty verdicts on all but one of the eight accused, including two employees of the hydro-electric dam company... [Cáceres’s family] are convinced the masterminds are still at large... The trial has been tainted by highly dubious procedures... Senior politicians and powerful families who were involved in the construction of the dam have not been called to account... There has also been inadequate focus on the international financial institutions, [including]... FMO,... Finnfund... and... Cabei... Yet there has been progress of a sort. It is unlikely that anyone would have gone to prison without the huge domestic and international outcry that followed Cáceres’s murder. The vast majority of the 200-plus defender killings in the world each year go unpunished and uninvestigated. A trial of this prominence is almost unheard of and should make those in power think twice in the future about approving assassinations...Honduras has been one of the world’s deadliest countries for land and environmental defenders... But there has been a marked decrease in the past year. One reason may be that the powerful interests behind the killings have been given notice that they can no longer rely on impunity... This shows global public opinion can make a difference, particularly when focused through international institutions and NGOs. 

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Article
3 December 2018

Honduras: Seven found guilty in Berta Cáceres' murder were paid by DESA co. - but masterminds & politicians escape justice so far

Author: Nina Lakhani, The Guardian (UK)

"Berta Cáceres: conviction of killers brings some justice, but questions remain", 01 Dec 2018

Berta Cáceres spent the final hours of her life being tailed by contract killers. On 2 March 2016, at least four men were following the Honduran activist in the town of La Esperanza. They shadowed her... Cáceres was scared, and asked Gustavo Castro,...old friend, to stay with her... Just after 11.30pm, at least two men broke into the house. “Who’s there?” shouted Cáceres, before Elvin Rapalo shot her three times... He stamped on her torso to stop her fighting back... The trial was mired by allegations of negligence and cover-ups, but the verdict was clear: the killers were paid to shoot Cáceres, and the order came from executives at Desa, a company building an internationally backed hydroelectric project on a river considered sacred by the indigenous Lenca people. Cáceres had led opposition to the Agua Zarca dam and the protests were causing costly delays, so an elaborate plan was drawn up to kill her. Surveillance, planning and logistics were handled by... Desa’s communities and environment manager,... company’s former security chief and a... US trained special forces major... Company president David Castillo, a former intelligence officer, is accused of masterminding the murder... Desa’s international lawyer dismissed the verdict as a “politically motivated farce”... [M]any questions remain unanswered. 

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Article
17 September 2018

Honduras: Berta Cáceres murder trial begins in presence of int’l observers; co. DESA denies any link with murder

Author: Nina Lakhani, The Guardian (UK)

"Berta Cáceres murder trial to be monitored by international lawyers", 17 Sep 2018

The trial of those charged with the murder of the indigenous leader Berta Cáceres Flores, which opens on Monday in Honduras, will be monitored by an international group of lawyers for possible violations of national and international standards... Cáceres, the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, was best known for her defence of indigenous territory and natural resources, but was also a respected political analyst, women’s rights defender and anti-capitalist campaigner... Cáceres led community opposition to the 21MW Agua Zarca dam, licensed to the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (Desa)... Desa denies any link with the murder and claims the company and its personnel have been wrongly targeted as a result of smear campaigns. “Slandering individuals before a trial in the name of human rights is a complete violation of their human rights,” said Robert Amsterdam, Desa’s lawyer. In contrast, Cáceres’ family claim prosecutors have withheld crucial evidence to conceal a wider criminal conspiracy... Two of the defendants are directly linked to Desa: Sergio Rodríguez Orellana.. and...Douglas Bustillo... The case will be heard by three judges and is scheduled to run in Tegucigalpa until 19 October.

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Article
30 July 2018

Honduras: NGOs denounce lack of transparency & access to information in Berta Caceres' murder trial

Author: TeleSur (Venezuela)

“Honduras: Prosecutors 'Withhold Evidence' In Berta Caceres Case”, 27 of July, 2018

A Honduran tribunal is deciding what evidence to admit in the trial of eight men accused of murdering environmental activist Berta Caceres, as human rights organizations and the victim's family accuse prosecutors of withholding evidence. Among the evidence are computers, smart phones, tablets, hard drives, cameras and other electronic devices confiscated during raids at the offices of Energy Developments (DESA) – the firm behind a hydroelectric dam Caceres had been opposing before her assassination – and Army Major Mariano Diaz. "With its acts, the Honduran investigative institute is not only violating internal law, but also international standards and the order from an internal tribunal," said Marcia Aquiluz, director of the Center for Justice and International Law's Central American chapter…The Civic Council of Peoples' and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) and Caceres' family have denounced the lack of transparency regarding the evidence confiscated by the Public Ministry. In a public letter… Central and North American human rights and social organizations demanded that the Public Ministry comply with the tribunal's petition regarding evidence, insisting enough evidence already exists to secure a conviction…The trial is scheduled to take place between September 10 and 28, 2018.

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