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Indigenous Human Rights and Envirnonmental Defender Berta Cáceres Assassinated

IRTF sent several RRN letters to officials in Honduras and the US to protect the life and liberty of Berta Cáceres
IRTF’s team of Rapid Response Network (RRN) letter writers responds to six urgent human rights cases each month. Since the military coup in Honduras in June 2009, many of those letters have been in response to threats against (and assassinations of) human rights defenders there. Peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been targeted by private companies (some with World Bank funding) who try to forcibly expel them from their lands in order to establish mega projects like dams, mines and industrial agriculture.
Berta Cáceres was the general coordinator of the Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares y Indigenas de Honduras (COPINH), which, for the past two decades, has been fighting for higher standards of living for indigenous communities and defending their rights to territory, natural resources and the environment. Berta Cáceres and other indigenous and environmental defenders have been routinely criminalized for their legitmate activities in organizing nonviolent resistance.

Tragically, on March 2, 2016 Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibucá Department. At 11:45pm, two armed individuals broke down the door of the house, shot and killed here.

The courage and persistence of Berta Cáceres has been celebrated throughout Central America and across the globe. In 2015 she was awarded the Goldman Prize, the world’s leading environmental award. She is greatly missed, but her leadership lives on in the reslient people of Honduras.

Human Rights Solidarity Groups Organize Letter from Congress to US State Dept & Treasury Dept, Expressing Outrage, Demanding Investigation

Immediately after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, human rights groups organized to circulate a sign-on letter in the US House of Representatives to demand an investigation and suspend US military aid to Honduras.

On March 18, U.S. Reps Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew requesting support for an independent, international investigation into the murder of Cáceres. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-9) was among the 62 US House Members who signed the letter, calling on the State Department and Treasury to pressure Honduras to: support an independent international investigation, implement protection measures for the Cáceres family and COPINH members, ensure that US-funded international banks are not undermining land rights, and review the involvement of Honduran military and police in extrajudicial killings.

March 2016

Bertha Cáceres led protests, filed complaints and organized a local vote against the Agua Zarca dam, which would cut off hundreds of indigenous Lenca people from access to water and hunting grounds they consider sacred. She brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and lodged appeals with project financers. The government ignored her appeals, offered bribes to locals and doctored the minutes of community meetings to indicate unanimous support.

In 2013, Cáceres and the local Lenca community organized a blockade at the dam site, which continues today. Protesters have endured violent attacks with machetes, unlawful arrests and torture by security contractors and Honduran soldiers. One of the community leaders, Tomás García, was shot and killed.
The human rights abuses caused financial backers to back away. In late 2013, the project partner from China, Sinohydro, terminated the contract with Desa, the Honduran dam contractor. After public pressure in the US, the International Finance Corporation, a private sector arm of the World Bank, also withdrew from the project, citing concerns over human rights violations. The project continues at another site along the river.