Tuesday, September 4, marked the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing of the first judicial process that will try eight people accused of perpetrating the assassination of Berta Cáceres. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) condemned the fact that the court rejected evidence presented by their legal team that sought to contextualize the attacks on Berta due to her role as coordinator of COPINH that eventually ended in her assassination.
This evidence indicated the role of individuals (Pedro Atala Zablah, José Eduardo Atala Zablah, Jacobo Nicolas Atala Zablah and Daniel Atala Midence) who hold or held positions of power and authority within the DESA company. Their testimonies were also sought. These individuals and the company, which got the contract for the Agua Zarca dam project, are behind the systematic attacks on COPINH, which resisted the project. They are also suspected of planning and financing Berta Cáceres’ assassination. These individuals are also part of one of the most powerful and wealthy families in Honduras, the Atala family.
The move by the court affirms the position of the Honduran government that seeks to decontextualize and depoliticize Berta’s assassination. The government hopes that by sentencing those who carried out the assassination itself, the case, which roused unprecedented levels of international outrage, solidarity and pressure, will finally be closed.
The organization also denounced the hostile climate within which the legal proceedings are taking place. “Outside the courts, the acts of racism and stigma towards the organization make it seems that COPINH and Berta are the ones on trial and not the eight who are being accused.” Throughout this preliminary hearing, the police and the private security at the court consistently tried to bar access to the members of COPINH, often making racist insults. When such acts were condemned before the court, the judge stated that they had no authority over the actions of the security.”
On another occasion, the court denied a request for intervention by Berta Zúniga Cáceres, who is the current general coordinator of COPINH and is the daughter of Berta Cáceres, and who is thus legally considered a victim. Zúniga sought to denounce the irregularities in the legal process, specifically with regards to the negligence of the public prosecutor’s office in revising the evidence that has been in their possession for over two-and-a-half years, and in handing over the results to the victim’s private defense. Responding to this, COPINH rightly asked “What kind of justice is this that denies the victims, those who the process is for, the possibility of exercising their right to be listened to? The Honduran justice system, with everyone of its irregularities in investigation, and particularly the Public Prosecutor’s office has subjected the daughters, son and mother of Berta Cáceres to permanent revictimization.”
Following the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the legal team appealed the decision made by the court on July 27, when it denied the status of victimhood to COPINH in the case. The court’s decision has great symbolic impact as it formalizes the systematic lack of recognition of the root causes and context of Berta’s assassination, which is within COPINH’s struggle against DESA’s hydroelectric dam project.
The court also announced that the starting date for the trial will be changed yet again, this time to September 17. COPINH called on Honduran and international organizations to stand in solidarity and accompany them throughout the legal process, as it is because of this solidarity that the Honduran government has been forced to respond in the first place.
Despite an important door being closed by the court to reach the “intellectual authors,” COPINH has vowed that they will continue their struggle for truth and true justice. On Wednesday September 5, COPINH launched the #DESACulpable (#DESAisGuilty) campaign to highlight the fact that the company “created a criminal structure, with support from the Honduran state to systematically attack COPINH and assassinate our general coordinator on March 2, 2016” and that for there to be true justice, they must be brought to trial.