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Photo Mark Stedman

Access to Justice

‘I seek full justice for my mother’

Five years after Honduran human rights defender Berta Cáceres was shot dead, David Castillo, CEO of energy development company DESA, is standing trial for her murder. Berta was shot dead in 2016 after a long struggle against corporate abuse of her community’s rights. She led a campaign to stop construction of an internationally financed hydroelectric dam in Honduras. An outcome to the trial is expected this week and her daughter Bertha Zúniga Cáceres is calling for greater regulation of European companies to prevent human rights abuses like this from happening again.

My mother, Berta Cáceres, was born in La Esperanza, Honduras in 1971 in the territory of the indigenous Lenca people.

From a very young age, she was sensitive to the violence and discrimination experienced by Lenca women. At the age of 22 she co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), which has the aim of defending the territorial and fundamental rights of the Lenca people at its centre. Dozens of Lenca communities organised themselves to fight to obtain recognition of their property rights over their ancestral lands, and to fight for the demilitarisation of Honduras.

Berta Cáceres was always part of COPINH, but during the last years of her life she was appointed General Coordinator. As part of the resistance against the coup d’état that took place in 2009, COPINH actively campaigned against concessions granted by state bodies.

These illegal concessions enabled the exploitation of communal land and resources in indigenous territories throughout the country. The concessions violated the special rights of indigenous peoples to be consulted in a free, prior and informed manner as established in ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

One of the most active struggles was in Intibucá, where several communities organised themselves to defend the Gualcarque river, including the community of Río Blanco. On this river, the Honduran company DESA, headed by a former military intelligence officer, David Castillo, tried to impose the “Agua Zarca” hydroelectric project by force.

Following the Honduran State’s refusal to listen to the population’s complaints, on 1st April 2013, a road blockade was set up by the community, designed to prevent the passage of machinery to the hydroelectric project.

As this effectively prevented the construction of the project, the company, in alliance with the Honduran State, deployed repression, harassment and violence against the communities, COPINH and especially against Berta Cáceres.

From 2013 until the last days of her life, Berta condemned the financing and logistical support provided by European banks and companies to DESA. She wrote two letters to the Dutch Development Fund (FMO) that went unheeded.

After my mother’s murder in March 2016, these financial and business entities disassociated themselves from the crime. However, the impact of the crime and the public outcry was so great that they temporarily froze their funding. Following the arrests of members of DESA, and their prosecution for their involvement in the crime, the German company, the Dutch and Finnish banks ultimately withdrew from the project.

The life of Berta Cáceres is irreplaceable. One of the most important indigenous and social leaders of Honduras was vilely murdered by DESA. Now, together with COPINH, I seek full justice for my mother. Despite knowing that she will not return, I deeply wish that no one else has to live through the pain of such a crime.

The situation in Honduras is not unique, this type of crime can be seen repeatedly across several Latin America countries and in other regions of the world. Therefore, as Lenca people, we support the demand that there should be greater regulation of European companies, banks and investments, including those based in Ireland, to avoid the repetition of abuses like what happened to my mother.

Furthermore, these companies must apply the same human rights standards that are applied in Europe when they operate in countries such as Honduras, where the lives of those who defend their territories are seriously threatened.


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