Monday, March 21, 2016

Honduran State Impeding Justice in Assassination of Berta Cáceres

Statement from Berta's daughters, son and COPINH

Tegucigalpa, March 17th, 2016. 15 days after the assassination of Berta Cáceres Flores, the Honduran authorities have yet to hear the voices of those of us who demand justice via an independent and impartial investigation.

This past March 6th, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) issued protective measures to safeguard our lives and well-being as Berta’s family members and members of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and also to guarantee us the right to defend human rights free from threats to our safety. At the same time, the IACHR asked for an effective investigation of the assassination of our leader, the defender of the Lenca people, the common good and our natural resources.

In search of consensus to implement the protective measures issued by the IACHR, we, Berta’s daughters and son, COPINH and our legal representatives, have participated in meetings with the Secretary of Public Safety, senior leadership of the National Civil Police and the secretary and subsecretaries of Human Rights, Justice, Government and Decentralization. We have presented written, concrete demands regarding the investigation of the assassination, our physical protection and the necessary measures to stop the ongoing violence against the Lenca people. Thus far we have not received any formal response from the authorities regarding our proposals.

Likewise, we asked for meetings with the President of the Republic, Juan Orlando Hernández, and with the Chief National Prosecutor, Oscar Fernando Chinchilla, neither of which has even responded to us.

Regarding the investigative process, we appeal to the Honduran government to request technical assistance from the IACHR, forming a group of people with experience and a recognized history of criminal investigation to provide technical support for internal investigations and be empowered to actively participate in all due dilligence, as well as suggest corrections and issue condemnations, among other functions. This, we believe, would guarantee a transparent, independent and impartial investigation that upholds the right to truth and justice.

On their end, the Secretary of Foreign Relations and International Cooperation, as well as the National Public Prosecutor, put out press releases about the counsel that will be provided by the United Nationals High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) through its representatives in Honduras. According to the Public Prosecutor, under the framework of said support, they would be asking for that body to “certify the transparency and strict adherence” of the prosecutor’s office to its constitutional and legal mandate during the investigative process. They also ask for its “accompaniment to confirm the objectivity and impartiality of the entire investigative process.”

In light of these public statements by the authorities, this past March 16th Berta’s daughters and COPINH representatives participated in a meeting with Ms. Silvia Lavagnoli, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) in Honduras and Mr. Félix Gómez, functionary of that same international body, in order to learn about the extent of their participation in the investigations. They expressed that their mandate does not include carrying out a criminal investigation and that they do not have the experience to do so and will not directly participate in the process. They clarified that they will be observing from a human rights perspective and from that lens will formulate recommendations to the State.

It is troubling that the Honduran government, nonetheless, seeks to confuse the national and international community about the nature of the UNHCR’s participation in this case. It is clear that this international body is not competent to participate actively in an independent and impartial investigation of Berta’s assassination but the State insists on diverting attention in order to avoid the arrival of an international presence that could in fact carry out that objective.

We also are aware that the participation of authorities linked to the U.S. government (the FBI) will be limited and, beyond that, we do not consider this a substitute for our demands of independence and impartiality.

The Honduran authorities are not listening to our demands for justice. Because of this, we denounce a lack of political will to guarantee an investigation that is transparent, independent and consistent with the highest of international standards. It is evident that the official discourse is detached from reality. Every day that passes we watch with pain and impotence as justice continues to lose the battle against impunity due to the State’s apathy.

We publiclly declare our lack of trust in the work being done by the Attorney General and we hold the authorities responsible for impeding our right to participate in the investigative process.

Finally, we reiterate our demand for #JusticeForBerta through the participation of a group of independent, experienced, international experts. 

Olivia, Bertha, Laura and Salvador Zúniga Cáceres
Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH)

With the accomaniment and legal representation of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

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