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Brief overview of the first week of the David Castillo Trial for the murder of Berta Cáceres

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

April 9, 2021

For a more complete judicial observation, see our preliminary reports here.

After more than three years of delays in preliminary hearings, the trial against David Castillo for the murder of Berta Cáceres finally began in Honduras this week. David Castillo is a former military intelligence officer and employee of the national electricity company who was serving as general manager of the hydroelectric company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) at the time of the defender's murder. (DESA) at the time of the murder of the Lenca indigenous defender and organizer on March 2, 2016. He was arrested two years later at the international airport in San Pedro Sula and has been in pre-trial detention ever since. According to the latest calculation by the Judiciary, his pre-trial detention will expire on May 25, 2021.

On Tuesday, April 6, outside the Supreme Court of Justice where the trial is taking place before Chamber 1 of the Sentencing Court, the Family of Berta Cáceres and the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which Cáceres co-founded and led at the time of her murder, called a press conference where they stressed, "The trial against David Castillo should be just the beginning of the process of trying the people involved in the crime." They ended by calling on the national and international community to continue strengthening alliances for the struggle for an independent justice system in Honduras and that, "The Berta Cáceres Cause should be a precedent of truth and reparation for the people."

Hours later, when the hearing was about to begin, the Court refused to allow Laura Zúniga, Berta Cáceres' youngest daughter, into the courtroom, failing to recognize her rights to effective participation and access to justice as a family member and also a victim of a grave human rights violation. The following day, Laura Zúniga addressed the Court through a letter, urging that the rights of the family as victims to participate in the judicial process with at least one member physically in the courtroom, respecting biosecurity protocols, be guaranteed.

"We understand that we are in the midst of a pandemic that has created objective limitations for the development of safe hearings, but this situation cannot serve to deepen the suffering of the victims and deny the place that corresponds to us in this process that should be reparative of the loss that this heinous crime has caused us. "

It is important to note that during the 2018 trial in relation to the murder of Berta Cáceres, the victims - Berta's daughters, son and mother - were expelled from participating as private prosecutors through their legal representation. Meanwhile, to date, COPINH has also been excluded from participating in the "Gualcarque Fraud" case, a separate but related case that reveals the corruption that Berta Cáceres denounced in the licensing of energy projects and the negotiation of a Power Purchase Agreement between DESA and the national power company, in which officials and ex-officials, including David Castillo, are involved.

At the beginning of the trial on April 6, the Court also announced that national and international observers would not be allowed into the courtroom. The OHCHR regretted the decision, which "limits the effective exercise of monitoring and technical assistance to national institutions," according to its mandate. The Qualified Observation Mission and the National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) were also restricted from entering the courtroom, although they have physically monitored the pre-trial hearings. The hearings were transmitted through the Judiciary's social media pages with unreliable audio and visuals.

David Castillo's legal process has been marked by judicial delays from the beginning and this week was no exception. At the beginning of the hearing, the technical defense, which also represents Castillo in the "Gualcarque Fraud" case, immediately asked the court to suspend it. It argued that pending legal actions before higher courts should be resolved before proceeding; they also alleged that their experts could not finish their reports in time for the trial for various reasons. The Court ruled against the suspension of the hearing, reasoning that they have not received instructions from either the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice or the Court of Appeals to suspend. At the same time, he pointed out to the defense team that they have had the necessary information in their hands in some cases for years.

In the Motions Phase, the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Private Attorneys representing the family proposed new evidence that they consider relevant for the development of the trial. For its part, the Defense of David Castillo filed a motion of recusal to the court, alleging its manifest enmity against David Castillo. This caused the trial to be suspended until the Court of Appeals rules, which, according to the Code of Criminal Procedure, should take three working days.

We call on the repeated delays in the case to prevent access to justice and the effective search for the truth for the victims. The State of Honduras must guarantee the application of international standards and national regulations that lead to truth, comprehensive justice and reparation in a case of global interest. Publicity is essential and the participation rights of Berta Cáceres' family, as victims, are fundamental.

Read more about the Observer Mission:

[1] I Trial begins against alleged murderer of Honduran Berta Caceres; COPINH statement at onset of the trial against David Castillo

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