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Berta Cáceres and Human Rights Defenders in Honduras


    The courageous, celebrated, beloved Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was shot dead by gunmen who entered her home in La Esperanza (Spanish for hope), Honduras on March 2. Wounded in the gunfire was Gustavo Castro Soto, an environmental activist from Mexico who had come to work with Berta and the organization she led, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

    It was a tragedy waiting to happen. Berta had repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people. 

    Concerned for her safety, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the government of Honduras to protect Berta. Her family holds the government responsible for failing to do so.


    • March 2, 2020: Join us for a Day of Action in Solidarity with COPINH and for Justice for Berta. Learn more in this activism blog.

    • December 2, 2019: Seven men were sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in jail for their roles in the killing of Berta. Four paid hitmen – Henry Javier Hernández, Edilson Duarte Meza, Elvin Rapalo and Óscar Torres - were each sentenced to 34 years for the murder of Berta, together with 16 years and four months for the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro. Sergio Ramón Rodríguez, a manager for Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA), the company building the Agua Zarca dam, and Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, a former security chief of the company, were sentenced to 30 years and six months for their role in the assassination. Mariano Díaz Chávez, an army major at the time, was sentenced to 30 years. Prosecutors submitted evidence that Díaz participated in reconnaissance missions with Bustillo. He had also provided a gun and logistical support for a 2015 plan to kill Berta that was called off. Outside the court, Berta’s family and her organization, COPINH, called the prison sentences “the first cracks in the wall of impunity”. But Berta's daughter Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres added: “Real justice requires ensuring that the masterminds who conspired, gave the orders and financed the assassination of my mother are also brought to justice. Prosecutors must stop making excuses for not acting on evidence in their possession.” For more, read our blog In Honduras, our efforts help achieve important advances towards Justice for Berta

    • March 2, 2019: Amnesty Canada supporters take part in a Day of Action in solidarity with COPINH on the third anniversary of the assassination of Berta Cáceres. Read our public statement: Authorities must bring all those suspected of responsibility for the murder of Berta Cáceres to justice. Read our call to the Ambassador of Honduras in Canada here.

    • February 27, 2019: Amnesty denounces the imprisonment of 12 human rights defenders and misuse of the justice system to criminalize their opposition to mining concessions that threaten water and a protected area vital to the community of Guapinol. Read our public statement here calling for due process and impartial justice. Days later, the defenders are released and the charges against them thrown out. Lawyers for the defenders believe the international outcry played an important role.

    • November 29, 2018: A tribunal of the National Criminal Court finds seven men guilty of involvement in the murder of Berta Cáceres. Convicted of premeditated conspiracy to commit murder are Sergio Rodríguez, a manager of Desarollos Energeticos S.A. (DESA), the company developing the Agua Zarca dam project, Douglas Bustillo, a retired military officer and the company’s former security chief, and former US-trained special forces major Mariano Díaz, who served in the army with Bustillo. Elvin Heriberto Rápalo, Henry Javier Hernández, a former special forces sergeant who served with Díaz, Óscar Haroldo Torres, and Edilson Duarte Meza were found guilty of carrying out the murder of Berta and attempt to murder Gustavo Castro, who was in Berta's house at the time of the contract killing. In a public statement titled Half-truths for Berta Cáceres and her family, Amnesty says the Honduran justice system has yet to uphold the right to full truth, justice and reparation and must identify all those who planned and ordered the murder of Berta Cáceres.

    • September 17, 2018: The trial of eight men accused of involvement in the murder of Berta Cáceres begins in Tegucigalpa but is immediately suspended after lawyers for Berta’s family and COPINH file a legal application requesting that the judges hearing the case be disqualified and replaced because they lack impartiality and have committed abuses of authority, including suppression of important evidence and witnesses. Amnesty Canada's campaigner Kathy Price, in the court house to observe proceedings, reports in this blog.

    • March 12, 2018: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) releases a highly critical report that concludes the Honduran State's response to post-electoral protests was characterized by excessive and lethal force, and led to serious human rights violations. Read Human Rights Violations in the Context of the 2017 Elections in Honduras

    • March 2, 2018: Honduran authorities arrest Roberto David Castillo, executive president of Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (the company building the Agua Zarca dam), bringing to nine the number of people who have now been charged with involvement in the killing of Berta Cáceres. Castillo, a former military intelligence officer, is alleged to have masterminded the murder to silence Berta’s powerful voice of opposition to the dam. COPINH credits the surprise arrest to sustained calls for justice by supporters in Honduras and around the world - and asks us to continue our efforts until all those responsible for the killing of Berta are brought to justice. Read Amnesty's statement here.

    • January 18, 2018: Amnesty issues another urgent action regarding disturbing threats to the safety of human rights defenders amidst ongoing repression against those protesting actions by Honduran authorities.

    • December 12, 2017: Amnesty issues an urgent action in response to illegal raids, threats and persecution against human rights defenders and independent media monitoring repression by state security forces.

    • December 8, 2017: Amnesty expresses concern that the Honduran government is deploying "dangerous and illegal tactics" to silence dissenting voices in the aftermath of highly questioned elections. Read the full statement here.

    • November 10, 2017: Blog about Amnesty Canada's visit to COPINH - read Fear, courage and the perilous struggle for human rights in Honduras.

    • October 31, 2017: A group of highly respected international legal experts, formed at the request of the Cáceres' family and COPINH, releases the report of its investigation into the killing of Berta Cáceres. The report of the International Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE), concludes that a plan to assassinate Cáceres had been months in the making, was not an "isolated incident," and was the result of a conspiracy involving financial institutions, current and former power company executives and employees and members of the Honduran state security agency. Read GAIPE's report Dam Violence: The Plan that Killed Berta Cáceres.

    • July 6, 2017: Amnesty issues an urgent action following a terrifying attack on the vehicle carrying Bertita Isabel Zúniga Cáceres and other members of COPINH.

    • Feb 27, 2017: Ahead of first anniversary of the killing of Berta Cáceres, Amnesty issues a public statement calling the "scandalous lack of an effective investigation" to find those responsible for ordering the brutal killing "a terrifying message" to the hundreds of people who dare to speak out. Read the statement here.

    • February 2, 2017: Amnesty issues an urgent action in response to a dangerous smear campaign against Global Witness, and Honduran organizations COPINH, MILPAH and CEHPRODEC for their work defending land, territory and environmental rights. This increasing campaign puts them at risk of further harassment and physical attacks.

    • October 18, 2016: José Angel Flores, President of the Movimiento Unificado Campesino, was shot dead by a group of unidentified men in the department of Colón, northern Honduras. Another community leader, Silmer Dionisio George, was also shot in the incident and died at a local hospital hours later. Read our news release Activists' murders turn Honduras into a 'no-go zone' for environmental campaigners

    • September 29, 2016: Allegations of foul play surfaces once again following media reports that the case file of the investigation into the murder of Berta Cáceres was stolen from a car driven by Honduran Supreme Court of Justice Magistrate María Luisa Ramos. The case file reportedly included evidence supporting accusations against several suspects in the murder of Cáceres, as well as other documents related to the investigation. The OAS Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), called the theft “serious and unacceptable” and urged Honduran authorities to “carry out a swift and purposeful investigation”. 

    • July 13, 2016: Amnesty International issues an urgent action after the offices of the Broad Movement for Justice and Dignity (Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia, MADJ) were broken into and computers stolen with sensitive information about legal cases they work on, including the assassination of Berta Cáceres. Although MADJ immediately reported the incident in the early morning, police did not arrive on the scene until the mid-afternoon. MADJ also contacted the department in charge of human rights defenders’ protection but it has yet to issue any protection measures. In June 2016, MADJ reported several security incidents, including surveillance, threats and harassment, in particular against its General Coordinator Martín Fernández.

    • July 6, 2016: Lesbia Urquía, a supporter of Berta Cáceres’ organization, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and of the Independent Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz (MILPAH) is killed. 

    • May 2, 2016: Unknown individuals twice attempt to murder journalist Felix Molina, hours after he publishes information about potential intellectual authors of the murder of Berta Cáceres. Molina was injured but survived the attacks.

    • May 2, 2016: Four men, Douglas Bustillo, Mariano Chavez, Sergio Ramon Orellana and Edilson Duarte Meza, are arrested in connection with the murder of Berta Cáceres. According to the Honduran prosecutor's office, two have ties with Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), the company building the Agua Zarca dam that Berta had strongly opposed. Honduran press reports the other two are a former military officer and a member of the armed forces still on duty. Amnesty responds with a public statement, echoing concerns expressed by Berta's family and organization about the investigation, lack of transparency and failure to question high-ranking officials. 

    • April 22, 2016: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst calls on Honduras to set up an independent investigation into the murders of Berta Cáceres and Nelson Garcia. Said Mr Forst: “I strongly support calls by the victims’ families and civil society groups for an independent and interdisciplinary investigation of the murders of Berta Cáceres and Nelson Garcia, and encourage the Honduran authorities to seek support from regional and international organizations to carry out an independent investigation."

    • April 21, 2016: Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve joins a delegation of Indigenous and human rights advocates for a press conference on Parliament Hill to make public our concerns about the ongoing crisis of human rights violations and impunity in Honduras. At the press conference: Bev Sellars, Counsellor and Former Chief Xat’sull/Soda Creek First Nation in British Columbia; Mary Hannaburg Quebec Native Women, Mohawk Nation Director; Catherine Morris, Research Director, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada; Amelia Orellana, Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine. See our live tweets from the event

    • April 15, 2016: A Canadian delegation of Indigenous leaders and human rights advocates are amidst a peaceful gathering of COPINH supporters when they're threatened and attacked by dozens of armed men, as police look on but do nothing. At least eight people are injured in the attack. The police finally escort COPINH members out of the area after the international witnesses convince them to react. For more, see our Urgent Action

    • April 1, 2016: Honduras lifts controversial ban that had prohibited environmentalist Gustavo Castro Soto from leaving the country, which had been in place since March 7. Gustavo, who had come to Honduras from Mexico to work with Berta Caceres, was in her house when gunmen entered and opened fire, killing the Indigenous leader. He was wounded but survived by playing dead. He voluntarily gave his testimony on repeated occasions to investigators but when he arrived at the airport to return home to recover from his wounds, authorities prevented him from leaving. As a Mexican citizen, and as a witness and victim of attempted murder in Honduras, Gustavo had the right all along to collaborate with the Honduran authorities from his own country, in accordance with the Treaty for Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in effect between Honduras and Mexico. Amnesty International expressed grave concerns for Gustavo’s safety in Honduras and denounced the travel ban that had been imposed by Honduran authorities. Thanks to all who spoke out!

    • March 30, 2016: Amnesty International Canada’s Secretary General Alex Neve asks “How Many More Must Die in Honduras?” in a commentary published by Embassy, an influential Ottawa weekly that focuses on international affairs and Canadian policy. “Environmentalists’ deaths should be wake-up call to investor countries like Canada,” writes Alex. See more at 

    • March 22, 2016: Amnesty International and 150 international NGOs release an open letter to the member states of the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a vital resolution on the protection of human rights defenders amidst increasing danger.

    • March 18, 2016: Bertha Isabel Zuniga Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres, addresses the plenary of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Ms Zuniga Caceres called for the involvement of independent investigators to ensure her mother’s killers are brought to justice and drew attention to a campaign of intimidation against the Lenca Indigenous People in Honduras. Read the full speech

    • March 15, 2016: Nelson Garcia, another member of COPINH, is killed and Berta Caceres´ relatives are harassed by authorities and unidentified armed men.  

    • March 5, 2016: Two days after the murder of Berta, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights calls on Honduras yet again to implement protection measures, this time for survivor Gustavo Castro, the sole eye witness who has been prevented from leaving Honduras after voluntarily providing testimony about what he saw. The Commission also calls for protection of Berta’s family and other members of COPINH. 


    1. Share this action on social media.

    Send a tweet to the President of Honduras:

    eg. From Winnipeg, Canada I call for #JusticeforBerta, including those who gave the orders to kill her. I call for protection of @COPINHHONDURAS and all threatened human rights rights defenders in #Honduras @Presidencia_HN @cafreeland


    2. Send a letter of concern to Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

    Calling on her to use Canada’s relationship with Honduras to press for:

    • Further impartial investigation and due diligence to identify and bring to justice all those responsible for the killing of Berta Cáceres, including the masterminds. The investigation must follow up on denunciations she made about threats against her by people connected to the Agua Zarca dam project, as well as evidence and lines of investigation presented by lawyers for Berta's family.
    • Implementation of protection measures requested by the IACHR for Berta’s relatives, members of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and other threatened Lenca indigenous rights organizations.
    • Guarantees that no development project advances without meaningful consultation and the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples whose territory and rights will be affected, in compliance with international standards including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169.
    Send your letter to:
    Hon. Chrystia Freeland
    Minister of Foreign Affairs
    House of Commons
    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
    Fax: 613-996-9607


    3. Donate:

    Make a financial gift to help Amnesty International’s work for the protection of activists defending the rights and lands of Indigenous peoples at home and around the world.

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    4. Follow this story:

    Follow updates as events unfold in Honduras on Twitter @KPriceAmnesty

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