David Castillo, former manager of the company Desarrollos Energéticos, and the person in charge of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, was found guilty of participating as co-author in the 2016 murder of Honduran human rights defender Berta Cáceres.
“The long-awaited prosecution of David Castillo, convicted as co-author of the murder of Berta Cáceres, is an important step towards justice and the result of her family and COPINH’s tireless efforts to secure truth, justice and reparation. However, justice for Berta will never be truly complete until everyone who took part in the crime, including those who planned it, is brought to justice,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“We urge the prosecutors to keep uncovering the truth. Until all those responsible are held accountable, other human rights defenders in Honduras will continue to lose their lives, for raising their voices and defending the most vulnerable. The Honduran authorities must put an end to impunity.”
The Sentencing Court has yet to decide on David Castillo’s sentence, pending the resolution of previous appeals filed by his lawyers. According to COPINH, the defence has adopted delay tactics on multiple occasions, slowing the judicial process to date. It took the justice system nearly a year to sentence the seven individuals found guilty of Berta’s murder on 28 November 2018.
During Castillo’s trial, the court did not consider evidence that Berta’s family lawyers submitted against other people allegedly involved in ordering her murder. The GAIPE, an independent team of international lawyers hired by Berta’s family, exposed serious flaws in the official investigation in 2017. Their report included evidence that would implicate high-level business executives and agents of the state in the crime.
Human rights defenders in Honduras continue to face attacks with impunity. For instance, four Garífuna activists, members of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), were victims of an enforced disappearance at the hands of five individuals wearing Police Investigations Directorate (DPI) vests on 18 July 2020. Their whereabouts remain unknown. With 20 killings last year, Honduras is the third world’s deadliest country for human rights defenders, according to Frontline Defenders’ latest report. It is also the most dangerous country for defenders of land, territory, and the environment. Fourteen environmental defenders were killed there in 2019, giving Honduras the highest per capita rate of killings of environmental defenders in the world, according to the 2020 Global Witness report.
Despite this context, Honduras has not signed the Escazú Agreement, the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean, which requires signatory states to protect environmental defenders and entered into force on 22 April 2021.
“The Honduras government seems to look the other way when human rights defenders are attacked instead of fulfilling its obligation to protect them. Authorities must take this seriously and do whatever is necessary to keep human rights defenders safe from harm, so that a crime like the murder of Berta Cáceres is never repeated,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
On 2 March 2016, Berta Cáceres, a courageous defender of the environment and Indigenous rights, was shot dead by gunmen in her home in Intibucá, Honduras. She was the coordinator of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project and the impact it would have on the territory of the Indigenous Lenca People.
Berta Cáceres and other members of COPINH had faced threats and aggressions before she was killed and were beneficiaries of precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR since 29 June 2009. More recently, on 3 April 2021, COPINH denounced the detention of Bertha and Laura Zúniga, daughters of Berta Cáceres, and Camilo Bermúdez by the Honduran National Police in Santa Rosa de Copan, three days before the trial of David Castillo began.