OHCHR and IACHR Call for Effective and Impartial Access to Justice in the Berta Cáceres Murder Trial

July 1, 2021

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Tegucigalpa/Washington, D.C. — The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on Honduran authorities to guarantee effective access to justice, establish the truth of events, and punish those responsible for planning and executing the murder of Berta Cáceres so as to prevent impunity.

Berta Cáceres, a well-known human rights defender, indigenous leader, and the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was murdered in March 2016. She was a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in 2009. Since her murder, both the IACHR and the OHCHR have monitored the investigation and the trial and have voiced their concern over the repeated delays, limitations to the rights of the victim's relatives, obstacles to due process, and other circumstances that potentially jeopardized judicial independence.

In this sense, OHCHR and the IACHR have observed that the victim's relatives, COPINH, and other organizations working with them have reported a number of obstacles at different stages of the trial, including a lack of recognition and effective participation in the judicial process, the exclusion of these individuals and organizations from various criminal proceedings, limitations on access to information, revictimization, stigmatization, and threats.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these pre-existing problems in the judicial system. The absence of clear protocols regarding the transmission of hearings via videoconferencing has affected the transparency and public nature of trials in Honduras, which has raised concerns about the right to a fair trial and due process. In this sense, the OHCHR and other national organizations and international missions were not allowed to observe in person the hearings at the public oral trial that is currently taking place against one of the individuals accused of masterminding the murder.

OHCHR and the IACHR acknowledge the efforts made by the Public Prosecutor's Office and the team of prosecutors who are responsible for the case. Likewise, they called on the authorities to continue their investigations to prosecute those who may have been responsible for the crime, which are part of their due diligence obligations, thus guaranteeing effective access to justice for the victims and the right to truth for Honduran society as a whole. According to public information, the National Sentencing Court is close to issuing a sentence.

OHCHR and the IACHR acknowledged the progress that has been made on the Fraud on the Gualcarque case, which is related to the alleged acts of corruption that had been reported by Berta Cáceres at the time of her murder, and thus encouraged progress to be made on all investigations and legal proceedings that relate to this case, and for this to involve effective victim participation.

OHCHR and the IACHR emphasized that total or partial impunity affects victims' right of access to justice and also tends to hinder progress on the causes that human rights defenders are working to defend and promote, due to fear of further reprisals and the latent danger generated by lack of knowledge of the true motives behind attacks and, frequently, the lack of punishment of those responsible for planning or carrying out the crimes in question.

Furthermore, impunity encourages the repetition of human rights violations and prevents victims and their families from accessing adequate reparation, including knowing the truth of events. For this reason, five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, the two organizations called once more on the State to guarantee effective access to justice, clarify all events, establish the truth regarding these, and punish all those responsible for planning and perpetrating this crime. Finally, OHCHR and the IACHR once again expressed their commitment to contributing to guaranteeing a safe environment for the defense of human rights, the earth, and the environment, and to encourage and protect judicial independence in the country. In Honduras, human rights defenders play a fundamental role in the construction and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 163/21