Indigenous Honduran leader Bertha Cáceres, Director of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was acquitted on possession of an illegal weapons charge on Tuesday, February 11 at the First Court of Law in Santa Barbara, Honduras.
The Honduran government had charged Cáceres with illegal possession of a weapon as a threat to the internal security of the state on May 24 of last year; on the previous day, May 23, police had removed protestors from the site of the contested Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project. Cáceres was one of the leaders of the protest, and they noted that the government had not consulted with the indigenous community before selling the property to Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA), which made the sale illegal. COPINH had also released a press statement at the time saying that they considered the hydroelectric dam to be a threat to the environment as well as an attack against indigenous rights to control of their territory.
In this recent case COPINH noted that, “The Honduran government has recognized its error, and has abandoned judicial persecution in this case and accepts…the obligation of the Government of Honduras to respect international treaties that protect this activity and the right to culture and defense of indigenous territories.”
The rights of the indigenous communities that are spelled out in international treaties was a very important aspect of this case said Paola Limon, an attorney with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). CEJIL attorneys were part of the legal team that represented Cáceres in her precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Limon stated that the measures were granted by the IACHR immediately following the Coup in 2009 and have been maintained since that time in order to protect her life, “given the dangerous context in which environmental and human rights defenders carry out their activities in Honduras.”
“Although the criminal charges recently brought against her are not a direct threat to her life and personal integrity – and, therefore, not subject to consideration by the IACHR through the precautionary measures mechanism – we believe these types of actions constitute a new, more subtle form of persecution of human rights defenders that does, in fact, represent an obstacle for the free development of their activities,” she said.
“In this sense,” Limon continued, “it is of crucial importance that the Honduran State has recognized (regarding the charge of illegal possession of a commercial weapon as a threat to the internal security of the State) not only her innocence, but also that defending the human rights of indigenous peoples is an activity protected by international treaties that Honduras has committed to comply with, specifically with regard to the defense and protection of their territories and the enjoyment of their culture.”
Limon asserted that in the other case where the DESA Corporation is charging Cáceres and her colleagues Víctor Fernández and Aureliano Molina, of usurpation, coercion and damages caused by a roadblock erected by protestors, the international protections will be recognized by the government and those charges will be dropped as well.