Berta Caceres' suspected murderers will be sentenced today. Her Relatives and international organizations say the trial was a sham and call for a retrial.
The federal Honduran tribunal hearing the case of murdered Indigenous and environmental activist Berta Caceres will issue its ruling Thursday. Eight men, including military officials, stand accused of orchestrating and carrying out her assassination in March 2016.
Caceres's family and the rights group that she lead for years, the Civic Council of Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh), continue to call the trial a sham, saying the public defenders abused their authority and concealed at least 35 pieces of important evidence against the accused, violating their responsibilities as civil servants.
Copinh is calling for demonstrations outside of the Tegucigalpa courtroom to await the ruling, expected for 4 p.m. local time.
Caceres’ lawyers and her family, including daughter Berta Zuñiga, were excluded from the trial which restarted in late October after they filed an appeal against three of the participant judges, whom they accuse of refusing to demand pertinent evidence from the Public Ministry.
The plaintiff team claims the state is withholding key evidence, such as digital documents obtained during raids of the homes of the accused to protect high-level staff from the Energetic Development (DESA) company, which was building the hydroelectric dam Caceres organized against.
Berta Caceres, coordinator and co-founder of Copinh was killed on March 2, 2016, in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. She was a leader among the Lenca Indigenous and fought tirelessly against the unlawful construction of a DESA hydroelectric dam in Lenca territory. She won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize a year prior to her murder, which sparked international outrage.
A statement released last week by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) warned that the “CEJIL will remain vigilant of the process until the end and we will continue to denounce the serious irregularities that the Public Ministry and the Court have committed in this process.”
CEJIL says that among the court’s irregularities was its failure to indict those who “planned and financed the murder,” only charging those who carried it out: Emerson Duarte Meza, Edilson Atilio Duarte Meza, Elvin Heriberto Rapalo Orellana, Henry Javier Hernandez, Oscar Aroldo Torres Velasquez, Mariano Diaz Chavez, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo and Sergio Ramon Rodriguez Orellana. Some are former DESA employees, others are military officers.
Marcia Aguiluz Soto of CEJIL is demanding Honduran officials to “immediately identify, arrest, and put to trial the intellectual authors of the murder."
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) added in its own statement that it is “imperative that the (Honduran) justice system … follow due process and effective protection in this first trial for the murder of Berta Caceres," saying that the rule of law must be adhered to in order to rebuild public confidence in state institutions.
"Justice is key to strengthening public confidence in the institutions (and) for the safeguarding of the work of human rights defenders in Honduras,” said the UNHCR.
Honduras is ranked as one of the most dangerous country in the world for environment and land rights activists and has one of Latin America's highest murder, femicide and impunity rates.