The murder of Berta Cáceres, a prominent Honduran human rights defender, has shocked the human rights community. ARTICLE 19 offers its sincere condolences to her friends and family. We call on Honduras to guarantee a thorough and impartial investigation, recognising that impunity fuels further risks for defenders in the country.
Berta Cáceres, founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) was killed on 3 March. Fellow activist, Gustavo Castro Soto, director of the NGO Otros Mundos (Other Worlds) and coordinator of Friends of the Earth Mexico was present at the time, and was himself seriously injured.
The violent attack took place in a context of repeated threats, harassment and criminalisation of human rights defenders in Honduras. Both Castro Soto and Cáceres had been working to protect land rights and other fundamental rights of the indigenous Lenca community in Honduras. This tragic event is emblematic of the grave risks faced by defenders addressing economic, social, and cultural rights on a daily basis.
Castro Soto recently published a letter expressing his deep sadness at Cáceres’ death, and denouncing the lack of a thorough investigation of her murder. He goes on to explain in the letter that he has been detained in Honduras as a ‘protected witness’. He was stopped by the Honduran authorities on Sunday morning in the Tegucigalpa International Airport, and prevented from returning to Mexico. On 8 March, the migration alert was extended for another thirty days, meaning he will not be permitted to leave for at least another month.
Given the dangers that human rights defenders face in Honduras, Castro Soto has expressed continued fear for his safety while he remains unable to leave the country.
States bear particular responsibility for providing protection to human rights defenders at risk. State authorities must take steps to safeguard the lives, liberty, and personal integrity of human rights defenders. This includes effective emergency protection measures in situations of imminent threat or danger, in all cases of violations against human rights defenders. States must also ensure thorough and impartial investigations, and that those responsible for attacks against human rights defenders are held accountable.
The work of the human rights defenders is essential for the functioning of democracy and for the protection of fundamental rights. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Honduran government to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of human rights defenders, and remove administrative barriers to their seeking justice and accountability.
ARTICLE 19 also calls on Honduras to allow Gustavo Castro Soto to return to Mexico without delay, and reiterates the call for a thorough and transparent investigation of the murder of Berta Cáceres.