Honduras: justice on the tightrope

By Por Ariadna Tovar, Investigadora sobre defensores de derechos humanos en las Américas

In Honduras, justice is now not even a distant mirage.

On 23 May, for the third time, the Tegucigalpa Criminal Court postponed the preliminary hearing into the murder of the human rights defender and Lenca leader, Berta Cáceres.

The court accepted the request of the lawyers of the family and defender Gustavo Castro, the only survivor of the attack in which Berta Cáceres was killed on 2 March 2016, to postpone the preliminary hearing in the trial of four of the eight people accused of involvement in the crime to 7 June.

Why? It was only on Friday 19 May that the Public Prosecutor made available the evidence that the lawyers of the family and the Mexican human rights defender and counsel for the accused have been requesting for months. Just a few days was clearly not enough time for the lawyers to review the information and prepare satisfactorily for the hearing scheduled for 24 May.

The hearing was originally scheduled for 19 April but was postponed at the request of the lawyers of the accused and the legal representatives of Berta’s family, on the grounds that the Public Prosecutor had not made all the evidence for the prosecution available. The hearing was rescheduled for 28 April but was again postponed due to the unavailability of the required information

The repeated postponement of the hearing that marks the formal start of the proceedings, due to the Public Prosecutor’s repeated failure, first, to make the evidence available, and second, to do so in a timely fashion, raises a lot of questions about the political will of the Honduran authorities to conduct a full and independent investigation into the killing of Berta Cáceres.

More than a year after the killing, which was a turning point for human rights defenders in Honduras, the possibility that those responsible will be brought to justice is fading.

More than a year after the killing, which was a turning point for human rights defenders in Honduras, the possibility that those responsible will be brought to justice is fading
Ariadna Tovar, Amnesty International researcher on human rights defenders in the Americas

But this is nothing new.

Honduras is one of the countries where impunity is the norm when human rights defenders are attacked. This encourages the killing of more people, who are seen as “enemies of progress” and therefore legitimate targets when they dare to defend the environment.

In one more demonstration that the Public Prosecutor does not feel the need to be accountable in the fight against impunity, he did not send a representative to the meeting of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission convened to review compliance with the preventive measures granted to Berta Cáceres’ family and COPINH. It is also worth noting that Berta Cáceres was killed even though she had also been granted such preventive measures and the Honduran authorities had the duty to protect her.

There is a danger that justice will never be done and that the name of Berta Cáceres will be added to the long list of activists killed for their work.
Ariadna Tovar, Amnesty International researcher on human rights defenders in the Americas

There is a danger that justice will never be done and that the name of Berta Cáceres will be added to the long list of people who were killed because they protected the natural resources that we all depend on for our existence.

For years now, the Honduran authorities have turned a deaf ear to the countless voices raised in every corner of the planet questioning the predicament of those who dedicate their life to defending human rights.

Liliana María Uribe Tirado, a member of the International Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE) (https://translate.google.com/translate?u=https%3A%2F%2Fgaipehonduras.org&hl=es&ie=UTF8&sl=es&tl=en), which is conducting an independent investigation into the killing of Berta, is one of these voices.

“We are very concerned about the secret nature of the investigation and the failure to pursue all possible lines of inquiry. The authorities should focus on the systematic nature of the attacks against COPINH. The crime against Berta has to be understood in this context. More than twelve members of COPINH have been killed, which shows the extent of the attacks against the organization. The investigation should take all this into account,” she said.

More than 13 months after the murder of Berta Cáceres, the questions are mounting up but there is no sign of any replies as yet.

One thing is clear: justice is on the tight rope and Hondurans are and will continue to be the main victims.

This article was originally published in Newsweek