Sentence expected today in Berta Cáceres case despite irregular proceedings

The victims have denounced nationally and internationally the irregularities committed by the courts and the Attorney General in Honduras throughout this trial and last month their legal representation was even excluded from the proceedings

November 29, 2018 by Zoe Alexandra
Mística during "The truth in the Berta Cáceres case" Forum held in the National Autonomous University of Honduras on November 13, 2018.

After more than two and a half years since the assassination of Berta Cáceres and the attempted assassination of Gustavo Castro, today, the Honduran court hearing the case will issue sentences for the eight people currently on trial for being involved in the assassination, the trial concluded last Saturday November 24. Cáceres’ family and the organization which Cáceres was general coordinator of, the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras Honduras (COPINH) have denounced the current proceedings as being illegal as it has violated due process, excluded crucial evidence and most recently even excluded the legal representation of the victims from participating.

They have condemned what they describe as a subtle strategy of impunity of the Honduran state that seeks to convict weak subjects and guarantee impunity to all of the actors with economic and political power who are responsible for the crime. “There will be sentences,” they have stated, “but there will be no justice”.

They have insisted that the assassination of Cáceres must not be seen as a random crime committed by hit-men, but rather that it be considered as a calculated and planned crime which implied years of illegal surveillance, infiltration and persecution of Cáceres herself and the organization; all of which was orchestrated and carried out by a criminal structure involving members of the DESA company and the Honduran state.

Despite that the victims’ legal team presented evidence which sought to show this larger context and also implicated members of this criminal structure, the evidence was dismissed, also dismissed was their request for an expert analysis of the context. The appeal that COPINH have participation in the legal process as a victim in the case was also rejected. They also presented a legal action to disqualify the judges hearing the case because of the systematic irregularities committed, and while awaiting a resolution, the court resumed the trial illegally and removed the victims’ legal team from the process for supposedly abandoning the trial.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (OACNUDH) and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) released a statement yesterday November 28 expressing their worry ahead of the sentencing because of the “exclusion of the private prosecution that represents the victims and the unjustified delays in the Berta Cáceres process”.

Laura Zúniga Cáceres, one of Berta’s daughters and a member of COPINH, exercised her right to present her victim’s impact statement in the last day of the illegitimate trial:

“Today it’s up to me to speak, something I don’t want to do because no one wants to talk after their mother has been murdered, it’s up to me to speak because this justice system didn’t allow us to participate in this process, it expelled us.

The private accusation should be here, our lawyers, the people who have accompanied us, who investigated, who formulated a complimentary theory for this case – complimentary. They should be here making the closing arguments, explaining the context in which this murder occurred, which is so important. How they hunted her, how they even persecuted international accompaniers because this was a DESA policy.

Our lawyers aren’t here because you threw us out of this process and we are here to speak about that too. We don’t agree with it. From the moment my mom was murdered, we were excluded from the process, and we don’t agree with it. We don’t agree with being denied the possibility of having an observer present during my mom’s autopsy, of not receiving information. We’ve had to fight for information at every moment, every step of the way. We didn’t do it on a whim, we did it because we are prepared to do everything necessary to get to the truth because we understand that it’s our right, because we understand that it’s the right of the Honduran people, because we want to establish precedents for justice.”

In COPINH’s conclusions of the trial (presented in a forum held in the National Autonomous University of Honduras as they have been excluded from the legal proceedings) they stated: “The Berta Cáceres case, establishes the clash between the economic and institutional model of the criminal elites of the region and the resistance of the people.”

COPINH has called on organizations and individuals in Honduras and across the world to join them tomorrow on the streets and on the internet to demand true justice. They will be using the hashtags #JusticiaParaBerta (#JusticeForBerta) #FaltanLosAtala (#MissingTheAtalas -the Atalas are the most powerful family in Honduras and there is hard evidence to show their involvement in the assassination) and #CapturaALosAutoresIntelectuales (#ArrestTheOnesWhoPlannedIt).