Expert Mission: Failure to Issue Sentence in Berta Cáceres Case Denies Access to Justice for Victims
June 2, 2022
Members of the Expert Observation Mission in the Berta Cáceres Case express their deep concern about the delay of justice in the case of the renowned Lenca leader Berta Cáceres in Honduras. A ruling declaring the criminal responsibility of Roberto David Castillo Mejia as co-perpetrator of the murder was issued on July 5, but the First Chamber of the Sentencing Court has not yet issued the sentence, further delaying the rights of the victims - including her family, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and Honduran society - to truth, justice and reparation.
According to the Honduran Code of Criminal Procedure, the aforementioned sentence should have been issued within 5 days after the oral judgment, but after almost a year, this is yet to happen. This is a violation of the right to due process, the right to a judgment within a reasonable time and the right to challenge the decision within the time limits provided by law.
The historic ruling confirmed that David Castillo played a decisive role as co-author of the murder of the Lenca leader and that he was part of a power structure that included Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) and its directors. Key actors of this structure have not yet been charged or prosecuted despite the fact that investigations have been open for more than 5 years. In addition, during the trial, testimonies were given in relation to several coadjutant crimes, but there has been no investigation. The sentence should encourage the diligent investigation of all the perpetrators of the crimes so that they are duly brought to justice.
In the same vein, the Mission recalls that the cassation appeals filed by those convicted in 2019 as perpetrators of the murder of Berta Cáceres, including a former military officer, middle managers of the hydroelectric company DESA and hired hitmen, have not yet been resolved by the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, so the case remains without legal finality.
This legal uncertainty jeopardizes due process and the victims' guarantees to dignified reparation and non-repetition, leaving them in a situation of vulnerability and without access to full justice.
The Mission emphasizes that respect for the principles and standards of a fair trial are essential, not only for the trial to represent a credible and sustainable advance in the process of obtaining truth and justice for the murder of Berta Cáceres, but also for the strengthening of the justice system as a tool for guaranteeing the human rights of the Honduran population. From this perspective, throughout the process, the Mission noted different circumstances that show structural weaknesses in the system and continue to represent limits and challenges the population's access to justice. These include:
Lack of timely resolution of judicial remedies.
Failure to investigate the intellectual authorship of the crime.
Limitation of victims' rights.
The assassination of Berta Cáceres represents a wound not only for her family, COPINH and the Indigenous communities of Río Blanco, but for the entire country and the international community. The lessons learned during these five years of judicial proceedings must serve to protect human rights defenders, the rights of Indigenous Peoples and communities in defense of their territories.
The Honduran State must guarantee comprehensive justice and thus advance towards the construction of a society based on respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and human rights. The prosecution, trial and conviction of those materially and intellectually responsible for the crime is an obligation and a necessity for the State in order to guarantee justice, the truth about the facts, as well as the guarantee of non-repetition of similar events. The member organizations of the Expert Observation Mission in the Berta Cáceres Case will continue to accompany this demand for justice for Berta.
Centro de Acción Legal para los Derechos Humanos (CALDH), Guatemala
Centro de Asistencia Legal a Pueblos Indigenas (CALPI), Nicaragua
Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH), Honduras
Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo" (CAJAR), Colombia
Equipo Jurídico por los Derechos Humanos (Legal Team for Human Rights), Honduras
Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC-sj), Honduras
FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, International
Fundación Abogacia Española, Spain
Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC-USA), USA
Impunity Watch, Guatemala
National Lawyer's Guild, International Committee, USA
Observatorio Internacional de la Abogacia en Riesgo (International Observatory of Lawyers at Risk), Europe
OMCT (World Organization Against Torture), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, International
International Platform Against Impunity, PICI, Honduras
Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA Law, USA
Protection International Mesoamerica
RF Kennedy Human Rights, USA