With the Slaying of Berta Caceres, It's Time to Turn Our Grief Into Action
Murder of Honduran Human Rights Defender Berta Caceres Must Not End in Impunity
In the early morning hours of Thursday March 3, 2016 Berta Cáceres, a world renowned human rights and environmental rights activist, founder and general secretary of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was slain by two male assailants in her home in Western Honduras. Today, we ask for you to act. Join us in appealing to the US government to deploy a strong response to Berta’s murder and the continued threats facing her human rights defender colleagues in Honduras.
Berta was a close friend of Jesuit Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, SJ, and a frequent collaborator with the Jesuit-run radio station and think-tank Radio Progreso/ERIC, whose death has sent reverberations not only throughout our Jesuit network in Central America, but around the world. Berta was a high-profile leader of the Lenca indigenous group of Honduras, who had spent years defending Lenca lands and water rights against encroachment by multinational companies. She organized her community and communities across the world in defense of the Gualcarque River, a sacred site of the Lenca people and an essential water source which would have been destroyed by the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam project. Berta is another in a growing list of casualties of violence and targeted killing in Honduras, another friend and companion of our Jesuit works gunned down before her time.
In recent years, Berta had 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. Two of her children were forced to seek refuge abroad due to the constant persecution. In the six months before she was slain, threats against her had 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.
Berta’s untimely 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, social 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.
Today the Jesuit Conference and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, along with over 200 other faith, labor, human rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice organizations joined together to appeal to the State Department to take urgent steps to ensure that a fair, independent and thorough investigation into Berta’s death along with the protection of witnesses and the communities and lands to whom Berta dedicated her life. Please join with us to urge Congress and the State Department to stand with Berta Caceres and all those who are putting their lives on the line for the protection of human rights and the environment in Honduras.
As Fr. Melo wrote in an email to friends and allies in the hours after Berta was gunned down, the struggle for justice and human rights in Honduras continues, “from today on with loyalty to Berta Caceres, our sister and traveling companion.”
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