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The legacy of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres lives on - as local campaigners call for justice

By Marianne Bertrand and Sergio Ortiz

On 2 March 2016, Berta Cáceres, a defender of the environment and indigenous rights, was shot dead by gunmen who entered her home in Intibucá, Honduras. Berta and the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), were campaigning against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca People. This struggle placed Berta at great risk and continues to threaten the lives of other members of COPINH.

In the two years since Berta was shot dead, Amnesty International has documented a pattern of threats against those seeking justice for her killing and those who report the actions of powerful companies against local indigenous or peasant farmers’ communities.

The Honduran Attorney General’s office has arrested eight people in connection to Berta’s murder, including some individuals linked to Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), the company building the Agua Zarca dam, and others with ties to the military. COPINH is concerned, however, that no high-ranking officials in the government or the company have been investigated for having allegedly ordered her murder.

With a trial tabled for June 2018, campaigners from COPINH haven’t given up the fight and they won’t stop until justice is served…

Pascuala Vázquez member of the NGO COPINH lighting a candle in the Berta Caceres Memorial in La Esperanza Pascuala Vázquez member of the NGO COPINH lighting a candle in the Berta Caceres Memorial in La Esperanza
Berta Cáceres, leader and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was shot dead on 2 March 2016 in her home in the province of Intibucá, western Honduras. © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
Portraits of Berta Caceres in the NGO COPINH in Honduras Portraits of Berta Caceres in the NGO COPINH in Honduras
For years, Berta vocally campaigned against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, because of the threat it would pose to the Indigenous Lenca people. © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
Landscape of La Esperanza Intibucá in Honduras Landscape of La Esperanza Intibucá in Honduras
Agua Zarca is a hydropower project on the Gualcarque river which is part of the ancestral land of the Lenca People and a strong spiritual site. Berta was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her campaigning work. © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
Poster of Berta Cáceres in the community La Esperanza, Intibucá in Honduras Poster of Berta Cáceres in the community La Esperanza, Intibucá in Honduras
Despite the investigation that has led to detention of eight suspected perpetrators, the question of who may have ordered the murder remains unanswered. “Two years on from Berta Cáceres’ tragic death, the failure to resolve this case and bring all those responsible to justice sends a chilling message that human rights defenders can be killed with impunity if they dare question those with power in Honduras,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. “Real justice for Berta also means going after those who ordered her killing, something that this outrageously flawed investigation has failed to do. By not taking action, Honduran authorities are also failing in their obligation to protect human rights defenders from further attacks.” © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
Portrait of Sotero Chavarría Portrait of Sotero Chavarría
Other members of COPINH continue to face threats for bravely campaigning for what they believe in. In June 2017, Sotero Chavarría and two other coordinators of COPINH were followed and harassed by a vehicle while they were returning from a community. The driver tried to force COPINH’s vehicle off the road. Sotero has reported several other threats since this attack. © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
Portrait of Berta Zuñiga Coordinator of the NGO COPINH Portrait of Berta Zuñiga Coordinator of the NGO COPINH
But Berta’s legacy remains vibrant through her daughter, Bertha Zúniga, who continues to bravely speak out. “Prior to my mother’s death, there was a clear alliance between business interests, private security agents, state officials and organised crime,” said Bertha. “As these parties were complicit in my mother’s death, a thorough investigation is proving more and more difficult. My mother [Berta Cáceres] deserves justice and it’s imperative we shed light on the conspiracy that took place. It’s fundamental if we are to prevent further killings.” © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
Liliam Esperanza López, member of the NGO COPINH with the solidarity messages from Amnesty International's sections Liliam Esperanza López, member of the NGO COPINH with the solidarity messages from Amnesty International's sections
Along with Bertha, members of COPINH continue to defend the environment, in whatever way they can. Campaigner Liliam Esperanza López receives solidarity messages from Canada, which she sorts and then shares with COPINH members in Indigenous communities. © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
COPINH is committed to empowering Lenca communities through a range of activities. Bertha, along with others, are speaking up against powerful companies through community radio owned by the COPINH. © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz
Utopia Utopia
The organisation often runs human rights trainings at their community centre, Utopia. COPINH makes decisions collectively, and the centre serves as an important meeting point for developing strategies or sharing information. © Amnesty International/Sergio Ortiz

Amnesty International is calling for the Honduran government to investigate those involved in ordering Berta’s murder and put protective measures for COPINH and other land and environmental rights defenders. To find out more about Amnesty International’s Brave Campaign, which advocates for the recognition and protection of human rights defenders around the world, visit www.amnesty.org/brave