Global shock: Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous leader, assassinated

The murder, on March 3rd, of the environmental and human rights activist sparked violent clashes in Honduras amid anger over the authorities’ failure to protect the high-profile campaigner. Español

Verenice Bengtsson
7 March 2016

Locals attend murdered indigenous activist Berta Caceres' funeral in La Esperanza, 200 km northwest of Tegucigalpa, on March 5, 2016. Orlando Sierra/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Berta Cáceres could be seen raising many flags. She was a defender of human rights, of women rights, and the co-founder and coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

Her spirited fight in defense of the right of peoples to land and natural resources, and against the construction of hydroelectric projects awarded by the Honduran government to national and transnational corporations, crossed borders. In 2015, her work was recognized internationally when she won the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Indigenous and social movement leaders from around the world, artists, politicians and regional and international organizations have expressed their rejection and condemned the crime. Among them, the recently award-winning actor, Leonardo Di Caprio, and the Nobel Peace Prize, Rigoberta Menchú, have expressed their condemnation and distress at the assassination of the Lenca people’s leader. The Lenca are one of the most impoverished, exploited and excluded indigenous people in Honduras.

But the persecution and threats on Berta’s life were not recent. She was one of the women leaders of the indigenous resistance against the coup in 2009. Because of her struggle for the rights of peoples and her strong opposition to the civilian-military power that ousted Manuel Zelaya Rosales, she was targeted with serious threats, including rape and murder. This is why, from that year on, given the military harassment around her home, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) granted precautionary measures to protect her life and integrity.

Unfortunately, in Honduras, such measures were not taken seriously by the state. Berta is not the first person enjoying such protection to be killed.

Her case not only reflects the lack of political will to protect human rights defenders, but is also the result of the impunity in which the murders of dozens of indigenous people, peasants and social movement leaders remain in Honduras.

It would be frivolous to hastily attribute Berta’s crime to the government. The government, however, must show a public commitment to carry out serious investigations leading to find out those responsible for the crime, and prosecute them. Since Berta enjoyed precautionary measures, though, it is clear that even if the state investigates and convicts the murderers, it will not be able to elude its international responsibility as a state, for not having effectively guaranteed the right to life of the indigenous leader.

Although they managed to extinguish her life, Berta’s light will keep on shining. Although they killed the human being, her example as a courageous woman, her example of struggle and consistency, will live on.

This article was previously published by Asuntos del Sur.

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