Defending the environment in Honduras

It's 3 years since Honduran indigenous and women's rights activist Berta Cáceres was murdered. Friends of the Earth Honduras continues its work in a difficult situation.
By alison dilworth    |      Published:  01 Mar 2019    |      4 minute read

In late 2018, seven people were convicted for the murder of Berta Cáceres.

The trial in Tegucigalpa shed light on the appalling human-rights situation faced by environmental activists and indigenous community in Honduras.

The late Berta Cáceres pictured in the Honduran wildnerness
Berta Cáceres, winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered in 2016
Credit: goldmanprize.org

The court ruled that the murder was ordered by executives of a dam-building company, Agua Zarca. The company is building a dam on the Gualcarque river in Honduras.

The court found that the murders were ordered because of delays and financial losses they attributed to protests led by Cáceres.

It also found that employees of the dam company colluded with the Honduran military in the attack.

Defending communities from dam-building

Cáceres, leader of Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was shot dead in 2016.

Her murder followed a long battle to stop construction of an internationally financed, hydroelectric dam. The Lenca people consider the Gualcarque river sacred.

Gustavo Castro from Friends of the Earth Mexico was also shot in the same attack, but survived. He was then prevented from leaving the country for a month. Thousands of people in Honduras and across the world took action to protect his life.

Between 2010 and 2017 at least 130 human rights defenders working on land and environmental issues have been killed in Honduras. The killings have coincided with a push for investment in mining, hydroelectric projects and agribusiness.

Impunity in Honduras

It’s thought that around 90% of attacks on human rights defenders are not investigated.

Although Friends of the Earth welcomes the Cáceres trial, we believe the real masterminds behind the attack are widely believed to be at liberty and not under investigation. We continue to call for justice in this and other cases.

People protesting the death of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres who was shot dead at her home in Honduras.
Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead at her home in Honduras.
Credit: Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos

Surveillance of activists

Despite these appalling human rights violations, in 2017 the UK Government granted licences for the export of over £320,000 telecommunications interception equipment and software to Honduras. The equipment was for use by law enforcement agencies.

The sale took place just before controversial general elections in Honduras in December 2017, when 23 protestors died in clashes with security forces.

The human rights violations in Honduras are well known. Numerous international organisations and UN bodies have extensively reported on killings and arbitrary arrests. A number of UK MPs have expressed concern.

The Department of International Trade was questioned in the UK parliament about the sales. It stated the granting of the licence “was consistent with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and remained so at the time of export”.

Under these regulations the government must not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression or other human rights violations.

In September 2018, Global Justice Now announced that it was considering taking the UK government to court. It stated that it has concerns over the legality of a number of export licences granted by the UK to states.

Friends of the Earth Honduras

The human rights situation in Honduras is especially concerning for Friends of the Earth’s sister organisation Madre Tierra.

Members of Madre Tierra have on many occasions been threatened or subject to intimidation or other interference.

Madre Tierra campaigns on the rights of indigenous communities, the protection of the environment and democracy.

The group works with a number of communities and social movements to stop damaging hydroelectric projects. For example the group is supporting 3 Lenca communities in their struggle to stop water privatisation and dirty energy.

Karin Nansen, Chairperson of Friends of the Earth International says:

“We must stand in solidarity with those campaigning against ecological destruction in Honduras. The murder of Berta Cáceres shows the dangers faced by human rights defenders all over the world, and especially in Honduras."

"We would like to raise awareness of the dangers associated with a new oil concession being developed by Shell which will affect the maritime and coastal zone of the Caribbean Sea and the Mosquitia and Garifuna areas."

What you can do

Follow #JusticeforBerta

Follow Friends of the Earth International’s campaign to hold corporations to account for human rights abuses.