ACTiON ALERT: Stop Killing Environmental Leaders
March 13, 2016
Rainforest Action Network & TeleSUR
"Our hearts are broken. We just lost a powerful woman who dedicated her life to defend the Lenca Indigenous peoples' rights, territory and their sacred Gualcarque River." International human rights organizations have condemned the assassination of Indigenous leader Berta Caceres in Honduras, and called on Secretary of State John Kerry to acknowledge the US's own role in the violence that continues to take innocent lives in the Central American country.
ACTION ALERT: Sign the Petition to US Secretary of State John Kerry
Ginger Cassady / Rainforest Action Network
SAN FRANCISCO (March 10, 2016) -- RAN and the environmental and social justice movements at large mourn the tragic assassination of Honduran Indigenous and environmental organizer Berta Caceres. She was one of the leading organizers for Indigenous land rights in Honduras and a 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner.
ACTION: Today, we are calling on US Secretary of State John Kerry to take immediate action by calling for an international investigation, pressing Honduran authorities to swiftly investigate this crime, and to call for protection of the witnesses in this case.
Add your voice now -- call for immediate action by Secretary Kerry.
Goldman Environmental Prizewinner Berta Caceres
Berta Caceres cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods. Berta had elevated her efforts to protect people and fight dams across Honduras in recent years, which led to threats against her life.
Berta Caceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign against the Agua Zarca Dam, pressuring local company Desa along with a consortium of international dam builders including China's Sinohydro, the World Bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation and other foreign partners, including the Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and German companies Siemens and Voith Hydro to abandon the project.
When asked about the risks she faced for standing up to powerful landowners, a US-funded police force, and a mercenary army of private security guards in the most murderous country in the world for environmental campaigners, Berta said she felt obliged to fight on and urged others to do the same.
"We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action," she said.
Berta's work was highlighted in the 2014 report by Global Greengrants and the International Network of Women's Funds, Climate Justice & Women's Rights, as an example of the increasing violence against women activists. The report called on the international philanthropic community to analyze violence and address institutions that perpetuate it.
According to Global Witness, and as described in this Democracy Now! article about Berta's assassination, Honduras is the deadliest country in the world for environmentalists. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental campaigners were killed in the country.
The work of COPINH and many other front line Indigenous organizations around the world to defend the basic human rights of people forced off their land and denied access to water and natural resources is violently threatened.
The inability of governments to provide security makes it increasingly dangerous and difficult for communities to protect their rights and environments.
The perpetrators of this violent crime must be held accountable. We call on the international community to support community organizations to ensure their safety as they work to protect community rights to lands, forests, water, and natural resources, and we specifically call on Secretary Kerry to use his position as Secretary of State by calling for an international investigation, pressing Honduran authorities to swiftly investigate this crime, and to call for protection of the witnesses in this case.
We honor Berta, and will continue to be inspired by her bravery and actions as we continue the fight to secure Indigenous Peoples rights.
In defense of Berta, COPINH, and the other Indigenous activists fighting around the world, it is now time for Secretary of State John Kerry to take action. Join us in calling for justice today.
Ginger Cassady is the Forest Program Director at the Rainforest Action Network
Dear Secretary of State Kerry,
We write in shock and deep sorrow regarding the murder of Honduran human rights and environmental defender Berta Caceres, founder and general secretary of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). We urge a response from the State Department that is not business as usual but a profound change of direction towards improving the abysmal situation of human rights in Honduras.
Berta Caceres, winner of the prestigious 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was a visionary indigenous and environmental rights leader. She championed efforts to protect indigenous peoples from large-scale development projects that are being advanced in Honduras without consultation of communities and without concern for the environment.
She organized communities in Honduras and across the world against the unconsented extraction of natural resources and in defense of the Gualcarque River, a sacred site of the Lenca people and an essential water source, against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam.
Berta Caceres was a much-loved leader of the diverse social movements in her country. Members of Honduran civil society are united in sorrow and anger about her death -- as are so many in the international community.
Berta Caceres was killed on March 3, 2016 by armed men who broke into her home in La Esperanza, department of Intibuca, Honduras. Mexican environmentalist and journalist Gustavo Castro Soto of Otros Mundos Chiapas/Friends of the Earth Mexico and the Mesoamerican Movement against the Extractive Mining Movement was also wounded in the attack. We urge that Mr. Castro immediately be permitted to return safely to his country.
In the course of her work, Berta Caceres suffered constant death threats against herself and her family, threats of sexual violence and assault, attacks and harassment. She was also the subject of continual legal harassment by judicial authorities and intimidation by security forces and local government officials for her work.
In the six months before her murder, according to COPINH, the threats against her escalated and included shots fired at her car and verbal threats and messages, by members of the military, police, local authorities and representatives of the hydroelectric company.
Ms. Caceres had precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) since 2009 but never received the full protection she needed. We are outraged by statements from Security Minister Julian Pacheco that, in effect, blame Caceres for the failure of the Honduran government to comply with its obligation to protect her.
She is one of 15 human rights defenders who have been killed in Honduras while beneficiaries of IACHR precautionary measures, as reported by the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). On March 5, 2016, the IACHR granted precautionary measures for COPINH, Berta Caceres' family and Gustavo Castro Soto, given the risk to their safety.
Berta Caceres' death confirms what a 2015 report by Global Witness has shown:
Honduras is one of the world's most dangerous countries for environmental activists. At least 109 environmental activists were murdered between 2010 and 2015.
Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has become one of the world's most dangerous places to be a human rights defender of any kind. Indigenous and Garifuna leaders, LGBTI activists, union leaders, women's rights activists, human rights activists, justice operators, and journalists reporting on human rights and corruption issues are among those who, like environmental activists, are at risk.
The murder of Berta Caceres sends a devastating message to all Hondurans trying to exercise their rights.
We urge you:
To support an independent international investigation led by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights into Ms. Caceres' murder and to urge that the Honduran government invite and fully cooperate with such an investigation.
Such an independent investigation is essential given the lack of confidence in the judicial system; reigning impunity, including for cases involving human rights defenders; and the emblematic nature of this case.
To insist that Honduran judicial authorities carry out their duties to effectively and promptly investigate Caceres' murder, in cooperation with the international investigation, and following lines of inquiry that take into account the context of Caceres' work and situation of risk and pursue the intellectual as well as material authors, guaranteeing due process and access to justice.
To press the Honduran government to comply with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR on March 5 and provide immediate, effective, and carefully consulted protection to members of COPINH, members of Ms. Caceres' family, Mr. Castro and all witnesses in the case.
With this tragic loss, we join together to call for more systemic change. We ask that the State Department make clear to the Honduran government that future partnership and funding depends on demonstrating the political will to investigate and prosecute this crime and all crimes against human rights defenders.
The Honduran government must make the mechanism for protection of human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and justice operators fully operational and adequately funded, with protection measures consulted with beneficiaries.
It must guarantee freedom of expression, including by ending harsh, constant repression of social protests, ensuring an immediate end to intimidating public statements by government officials and members of the military and police that place human rights defenders and journalists in danger, and ending specious prosecution of human rights defenders.
It is crucial that the Honduran government meet, as the IACHR has said, its "obligation of carrying out the prior, free, and informed consultation of indigenous people regarding projects underway on their land and territories and that affect their natural resources."
We support Senator Patrick Leahy's call to abandon the Agua Zarca dam project and to protect the territory that Berta devoted her life to defending. The Honduran government should recognize that the pace and process by which it is facilitating the extraction and trade of natural resources by national and international investors is contributing to social conflict and human rights violations.
We ask the US government:
To urge the Honduran government to meet its obligation to ensure prior, free, and informed consent of indigenous communities and to greatly improve transparency regarding existing and proposed concessions of natural resources.
This should include making public project information regarding the nearly 50 hydropower concessions granted since the start of 2010.
To ensure that no US assistance and support for multilateral bank projects promote or permit development projects without meeting the obligation for ensuring prior, free and informed consent of indigenous communities, nor without ensuring meaningful consultation of all affected communities and that strong human rights, labor rights and environmental safeguards are in place.
Finally, we urge the State Department to suspend all assistance and training to Honduran security forces, with the exception of investigatory and forensic assistance to the police, so long as the murders of Berta Caceres and scores of other Honduran activists remain in impunity.
In addition, we urge the State Department to implement transparently and fully the conditions in the FY2016 State, Foreign Operations bill which link 50 percent of aid to the central government of Honduras to progress on addressing human rights abuses and corruption.
The US government must stand with those who are putting their lives on the line for the protection of human rights and the environment in Honduras.
Human Rights Groups
'Heartbroken' After Berta Caceres' Murder
(March 3, 2016) -- A Washington-based organization said that the US must acknowledge its own involvement in the violence.
International human rights organizations have condemned the assassination of Indigenous leader Berta Caceres in Honduras, and called on the US to recognize its own role in the violence in the Central American country.
"Our hearts are broken. We just lost a powerful woman who dedicated her life to defend the Lenca Indigenous peoples' rights, territory and their sacred Gualcarque River, and one of the strongest voices in Mesoamerica and beyond for the defense of Indigenous peoples' rights and the Mother Earth," Boston-based Grassroots International said in a statement.
"Despite our sorrow, the struggle continues and it is vital for the Lenca people to resist and keep fighting against the extractive projects that want to privatize and destroy territories, rivers and lives. The international solidarity is critical to protect the defenders and continue the struggle."
The Center for Economic and Policy Research noted that pressure on human rights defenders in Honduras is intensifying, and their situation is becoming intolerably dangerous. Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said that the US must acknowledge its own involvement in the violence.
"Caceres' murder represents an escalation in the targeting of human rights defenders and dissidents in Honduras," Weisbrot said. "It is a tragic and disturbing development showing how vulnerable anyone in Honduras is, and demands a strong international response."
"The Obama administration must stop white-washing the human rights abuses being committed and perpetuated in near-total impunity in Honduras, and stop ignoring the involvement of US-backed Honduran security forces in many of these abuses."
Weisbrot added that political repression, including targeted killings of activists, had spiked after the 2009 military coup, as Honduras' post-coup governments and the US government turned a blind eye. Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state during the coup, "did her best to help the coup government succeed and legitimate itself," said Weisbrot.
Caceres, the coordinator and co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras, or COPIHN, was killed by unknown assailants early Thursday morning at 1:00 a.m. local time inside her home in La Esperanza in the western province of Intibuca.
Caceres was the leader of the Lenca Indigenous community and was a staunch human rights defender. She won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. Her assassination has rapidly sent shock waves across the country and sparked outrage over her death.
Also injured in the attack, according to local news sources, was Mexican activist Gustavo Soto. Soto is a member of various resistance groups, like the Mexican Movement of those Affected by Imprisonments and the Latin American Network against Imprisonments. He also belongs to the Mexican Network of those Affected by Mining. . . .
The brother and mother of Caceres called on the Honduran government to protect witnesses of the murder and prevent evidence from being contaminated. "We ask that they give guarantees to the witnesses," her brother, Gustavo Caceres, told teleSUR.
Honduran Activist Berta Caceres Died in Gustavo Castro Soto's Arms;
Now His Life is in Danger
Demand the Safe Release of
Assassination Survivor Gustavo Castro Soto
TO: Secretary of State; Undersecretary for Political Affairs, over Western Hemisphere;
TO: The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico/Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores de México;
To: The National Commission on Human Rights of Mexico/ Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos de México
I am writing out of grave concern regarding the safety of Mexican environmental activist, Sr. Gustavo Castro Soto, the sole eyewitness to the assassination of Indigenous community leader, Berta Caceres in La Esperanza, Honduras, at which time he himself was wounded.
On March 7th, Sr. Castro was illegally prevented from leaving Honduras and returning home to Mexico by Honduran government authorities. I was initially pleased to hear of the rightful intervention by Mexican authorities who took Sr. Castro into protective custody at the Mexican Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
However, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that subsequently, the Mexican government relinquished Sr. Castro, handing him over to Honduran authorities who subsequently took him back to La Esperanza, the village where he was previously injured in the murder of internationally reknowned Indigenous community leader, Berta Caceres.
ACTION: The release by Mexican authorities of Sr. Castro into the hands of Honduran authorities has put Sr. Castro in severe personal, physical and psychological danger.
Sign a petition demanding Sr. Castro's protection here.
Sr. Castro has already cooperated fully in giving his statement about the events surrounding Berta Caceres' assassination. If further elaboration of his statement was in fact desired, this could and should have taken place within the Mexican Embassy, with Sr. Castro remaining under protective custody.
At this point, there is no reason at all for the Honduran government to continue to block his return home. It is absolutely essential that Mexican authorities intervene swiftly and decisively with Honduran authorities to regain protective custody of Sr. Castro and secure his safe passage home to Mexico. Once in Mexico, his life may continue to be in danger, and he should receive full protection and security.
I urge you to do everything within your offices' powers to regain protective custody of Sr. Castro immediately, and to secure his free and safe passage home to Mexico.
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