Early on 3 March, WILPF was shocked by the news that Berta Cáceres, one of the leaders and founders of the National Council of Peoples and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), had been murdered. She was an active member of the women’s resistance against the coup d’etat in Honduras a few years ago, and a very known human rights defender. She denounced the repression against human rights defenders and their criminalisation, and the killing of more than 110 human rights defenders, indigenous peoples and environmentalists.
In more recent years, Berta Cáceres joined the struggle of indigenous peoples and her activism focused on the defense of indigenous land resources, their rivers and forests, their lives and survival. She fought for women’s human rights, for democracy and social justice in her country. Because of all the death threats she received, Berta Cáceres had protective measures requested by the Inter American Human Rights Commission. In 2015, she received the Environment Goldman Prize for her defense of the Lenka people affected by the hydroelectric dam in Agua Zarca and her fight against the privatisation of the River Río Gualcarqueque.
The leadership of indigenous women in many places around the world is notorious. In Canada and in Latin America women are becoming more and more visible and they are speaking up about the protection of their lands and the survival of their peoples. Many years of forced silent in Guatemala have been broken and some justice has been done recently, after years of consistent work by many human rights defenders and significant international support.
Killing a leader like Berta Cáceres is a cowardly but brutal message to intimidate those leaders that attempt other ways of development. The rights to consultation of indigenous peoples when development plans affect their land is guaranteed in international law, yet, there is little or no accountability for international companies with the complicity of local governments who allow for weak enforcement of laws. The funding of many such large and aggressive projects come from developed countries, where pressure should focus to stop them, amongst other measures, to ensure respect of international law, including the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ILO 169 Convention, which emphasise their right to consultation.
WILPF condemns the repression of women who exercise their right to participate in public affairs of their communities, that exercise democracy and are willing to lead their causes. Today we grieve with the people of Berta Cáceres and demand a full investigation by the government of Honduras into her killing, a government which was aware of her death threats and had the obligation to protect her.
Her memory, her achievements and her courage will not be forgotten.
Read the open letter to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade, regarding the murder of Berta Cáceres.