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Another Activist Killed in Honduras, Ties to Slain Bertha Cáceres

Another Indigenous activist was murdered in Honduras last week, four months after the assassination of award-winning leader Bertha Cáceres.
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Another Indigenous activist was murdered in Honduras last week, four months after the assassination of award-winning leader Bertha Cáceres. Not long after the announcement of the latest killing, Honduran officials admitted publicly their failure to adequately protect Cáceres, despite official orders.

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According to Honduran police, Lesbia Yaneth, died from a severe blow to her head and her body was found in a trash heap in the Matamulas sector of Marcala on July 6. Authorities speculated that the motive for her murder may have been “the supposed robbery of her professional bicycle.”

Yaneth was a member of the group formerly lead by Caceres, the National Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations (COPINH), and she had been active in protests against the construction of the Aurora hydroelectric dam in the municipality of San Jose, in the La Paz province.

While Honduran police have said that her murder could have been committed as part of a robbery, a COPINH press statement pointed out that the vice-president of the National Congress, Gladys Aurora Lopez, has direct ties to the Aurora hydroelectric project. The COPINH statement asserted that Yaneth was murdered due to her political activism.

“The assassination of Lesbia Yaneth falls suspiciously on the beginning of the enforcement of the law of consultation carried out by government of Honduras...and that the government intended to enact the law in the municipality of Marcala [where Yaneth’s body was found] on the 4th and 5th,” according to COPINH.

“The death of Lesiba Yaneth constitutes a political femicide that seeks to silence the voices of brave and courageous women defending their rights against a patriarchal, racist and capitalist system that each time comes closer to destroying our planet,” COPINH stated.

COPINH also asserted that the Honduran government, military and police were responsible for Yaneth’s assassination as these institutions are charged with defending the lives of human rights defenders. While government officials have not responded to that allegation, on July 8 they did acknowledge their failure in protecting the life of Cáceres.

At a press conference in the capital city of Tegucigalpa Secretary of Security Julian Pacheco admitted the government’s responsibility.

“We had the obligation to protect her [Cáceres]. We failed in that protection,” Pacheco said and added that the security forces committed “various errors” including not providing 24-hour protection along with poor communications within the departments.

Two days after the official admission of responsibility for the Cáceres assassination, Hondura’s National Human Rights Commission (HNHRC) Director Roberto Herrera stated that the authorities must pursue an intensive investigation and that any potential suspect not receive impunity for the crime.

Pacheco noted that the HNHRC will also find out whether Yaneth had reported threats against her to the Public Ministry.

International pressure on the Honduran government has continued with recent press statements by officials at the United Nations and the European Union among others.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka saw connections between Yaneth and Cáceres’ deaths and that of British Parliament member Jo Cox.

“We mourn the death on July 7 of Lesbia Yaneth, environmental activist in Honduras and member of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras. Her murder closely follows that of her compatriot and colleague Bertha Cáceres, for her role as indigenous leader, environmentalist and defender of human rights and a fellow COPINH member, Nelson García,” Mlambo-Ngcuka stated.

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“They join the growing list of women and men attacked for their political beliefs and public profile across the world, including the recent deadly attack on Jo Cox, a British Member of Parliament who was shot and stabbed to death in the United Kingdom on June 16.”

On July 13, Honduran authorities announced the arrest and capture of three suspects in the assassination of Yaneth. They are Manuel Orlando López Ortiz, who is accused of the direct killing; José Adán Rivera Pérez and “a younger brother of Rivera Perez.”

One of the three men was identified as being Yaneth’s brother-in-law but was not named in the official statement. No further details about the suspects were available at press time.

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