In the wake of the March 3 assassination of Lenca activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras, her fellow Goldman Prize winner Marilyn Baptiste, Nits'il?in Yaz/Councillor, Xeni Gwet'in First Nations, wrote a letter supported and distributed by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), calling on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to demand a thorough investigation of the crime. No sooner had her letter been released on March 15 than Cáceres’s fellow activist Nelson Garcia was gunned down, shot in the face by a group accosting him as he returned home.
Both he and Cáceres were “outspoken members” of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras (COPINH), as the multimedia news site TeleSur described them. The letter penned by Baptiste, who is also a founding member of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining and president of the Denisiqi Services Society Board, carries even more resonance in light of recent events.
Berta Cáceres, our dear friend. A beautiful strong, courageous and amazing woman leader.
In our way as a people of the Earth, Berta will carry on in her courageous work to protect her land, people and future generations.
A year ago Berta stood side by side with her fellow prizewinners, including her friend Marilyn Baptiste, to receive the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Berta was honored as an environmental hero protecting the Gualcarque River, as the leader of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and on behalf of the Lenca Indigenous Peoples, against the destructive Agua Zarca Dam.
It is truly unbelievable this is possible in 2016! A woman, rightfully standing up as a voice of her people and Mother Earth, murdered in her own home. Days before International Women's Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. On that day many celebrated the memories of our beautiful friend Berta.
Honduras is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ILO Convention 169 both set international standards and processes for consent of Indigenous Peoples regarding projects like the Agua Zarca Dam. Berta, COPINH and the Lenca did not give their free, prior informed consent as they share a spiritual bond with the Gualcarque River.
The Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) have a responsibility to protect the indigenous rights—human rights—of the Lenca and must investigate the assassination of our friend Berta.
We share the responsibility to oppose violence against women and girls at the community, national and international levels. Is it right to murder an indigenous woman who spoke out for protection of a people, a land, water and all of life for her children and grandchildren?
We say to the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honorable Justin Trudeau, we are so very thankful for you and your government for taking responsible steps to undertake the long-standing task of establishing an inquiry into the missing and murdered women and girls across Canada. We now respectfully call on you to support the call for the IACHR and UNHRC to immediately investigate the murder of our courageous friend Berta Cáceres who stood for years to protect her people, children, lands, waters for future generations.
Berta proudly stated, “from the spirits of young girls, who teach us that giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet. Our commitment to continue protecting our waters, the rivers, our shared resources and nature in general as well as our rights as a people. Let us wake up, humankind! We're out of time!”
As a lasting tribute to Berta, let us build, come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of this Earth and of its spirits.
Photo: Courtesy Goldman Environmental Prize
Marilyn Baptiste, who led the Xeni Gwet'in community to help defeat the Prosperity Mine proposal in British Columbia and received the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America alongside Berta Cáceres, the recently slain Lenca activist in Honduras.