The recent murder of Honduran human rights and environmental defender Berta Cáceres is a heartbreaking blow to all of us working to support and defend Indigenous Peoples’ rights around the world. Our global alliance on community land rights condemns the assassination, and calls on both governments and companies working in the energy and extractive sectors to do more to respect human rights and to protect those targeted for defending their territories and the environment.
For years, Berta Cáceres – a leader of the Lenca people – was threatened for her work in defense of indigenous rights, particularly in regards to land and natural resources. Cáceres was the co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas Populares-COPINH) and a key leader in the Lenca struggle against the Agua Zarca Dam project. Under her guidance, the Lenca people successfully pressured Chinese company Sinohydro to withdraw from the project in 2013. COPINH also filed a formal complaint to the World Bank’s private sector arm (IFC) on the grounds that the IFC’s client, The Central American Mezzanine Infrastructure Fund (CAMIF), had approved financing for the project. In December 2013 CAMIF confirmed that they had reversed their decision to invest in the project.
Cáceres was honored for her impressive achievements with the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, a prestigious award for environmental activism. Her work was not without dangerous repercussions, and she was granted precautionary measures for her protection by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Sadly, these efforts were not sufficient enough to protect her. Cáceres was shot in her home in La Esperanza, Intibuca on March 3, 2016.
The story of Berta Cáceres is the latest in a long and growing list of murders of environmental activists. Global Witness has catalogued almost 1,000 documented deaths since 2002 – a stark reminder of the huge challenge, and unspeakable violence, faced by so many all over the world.
In the wake of this tragedy, the Land Rights Now campaign echoes COPINH’s calls for a full independent and impartial investigation into Cáceres’ murder, for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, and for international investors to withdraw from the project. We also join COPINH in demanding protection for the sole surviving witness in the case, Gustavo Castro, who was also injured in the attack, and for the immediate suspension of the travel ban currently in place which is denying him the right to leave Honduras and seek sanctuary elsewhere.
Furthermore, we call on governments and companies around the world to prioritize the human rights of the communities who are affected by mining, hydroelectric, agricultural, or other large-scale projects – and who are too often displaced or denied a voice in the decisions which affect them.
Specifically, we call on all governments, companies and their investors to:
- Ensure clear human rights commitments, transparency, and accountability in any operation and investment that may affect the lands or livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This includes the adoption of high standards for compliance such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
- Demonstrate leadership by developing and implementing policies, and establishing accessible and effective grievance mechanisms, necessary to avoid, reduce, mitigate, and remedy any direct and indirect impact on the lands and natural resources of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and encouraging others in their sectors and regions, including subsidiaries and supply chains, to meet the same high standards and legal obligations; and,
- Respect the rights of citizens of their country, or in the countries in which they are operating, by declaring a zero tolerance on land grabbing and violence/criminalization, as well as supporting local governance structures, inclusion, and free prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples and local communities on projects that affect their lands and livelihoods.
We stand in solidarity with the family and community of Berta Cáceres, with all who were touched by her work, and with the global community of land rights and environmental activists. Enacting these changes would be a step not only toward justice for Cáceres, but also for the protection of all those who continue to bravely protest the illegal usurpation of their lands and resources.
Learn more about the Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights at landrightsnow.org.