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Honduras: Amnesty mission slams investigation into activist's murder

A catalogue of failures in the investigation into the death of a prominent indigenous leader last week exposes the Honduran government’s absolute lack of willingness to protect human rights activists, said Amnesty International after a visit to the Central American country.

Berta Cáceres, leader and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), was shot dead last Thursday (3 March) in her home in the town of La Esperanza, in the province of Intibucá, west Honduras. For years, she had vocally campaigned against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the community of Río Blanco.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said:

“The authorities in Honduras are saying one thing and doing another. They have told us they are committed to finding those responsible for Berta Cáceres’ death yet they have failed to follow the most basic lines of investigation, including the fact that Berta had been receiving serious death threats related to her human rights work for a very long time.

“This shocking lack of action is sending the dangerous message that anyone can kill those who dare to confront the most powerful in society and get away with it. The authorities seem to be willing to trade lives for money.

“The fact that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado is still refusing to meet with Berta Cáceres’ relatives, other human rights defenders and Amnesty International is simply inexcusable. Burying his head in the sand will only put the lives and safety of more activists in grave danger.”

So far, only members of COPINH have been called to give evidence. Human rights activist Gustavo Castro,who was with Berta when she was killed, was prevented from leaving Honduras to return home to Mexico, even after providing testimony on several occasions and despite serious threats to his life.

None of the people who Berta denounced for their constant harassment and threats, including representatives of companies working in the area, have been called to give evidence.

According to Global Witness, Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world for activists working to defend indigenous people’s right to land. Between 2002 and 2014, 111 human rights defenders were killed as punishment for their work – 12 in 2014 alone.

In May last year, Honduras passed a new law to protect human rights activists and journalists. The law created a national protection system but to date its implementation has been utterly insufficient. According to official figures, only six human rights defenders and four journalists have been signed up to the mechanism.

An Amnesty delegation in Honduras this week met with the Minister of Human Rights, Justice, Interior and Decentralisation, as well as with high-level representatives of the Ministry of Security, Foreign Affairs, Attorney General Office and the Prosecutor’s Office. The team also meet with representatives of civil society organisations.

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