Justice for Indigenous Land Defenders
We work in concert with community, activist and advocate partners engaged in the struggle for justice and human rights in Honduras. We strategically support their work, assisting on a wide portfolio of cases defending their land, ecosystems and human rights in both Honduran and international fora.
Image Courtesy of Caribbean Central American Research Council
Berta Cáceres – International Observer Mission
Berta Cácares was a leading Indigenous environmental activist in Honduras, leading her Lenca community to fight the construction of a hydroelectric dam on their life-sustaining and sacred river: the Gualcarque.
In March 2016, not long after being honored with the 2015 Goldman Environmental prize, Cácares was assassinated in her home.
The outpouring of support for her family and community led in part to the creation of the International Observer Mission – a coalition of 17 organizations from North and South America and Europe actively monitoring accountability efforts by the Honduran government. The Promise Institute’s Joseph Berra is a part of the International Observer Mission, helping to ensure legal norms are maintained and justice is pursued in the Cause of Berta Cáceres.
From October to December of 2018, eight defendants stood trial for the murder of Berta Cáceres. Seven were found guilty: four as material authors of the assassination and three who organized them. The latter group includes a mid-level manager and a former security guard for the dam-building company, DESA, as well as an active duty military intelligence officer.
In July of 2021 Roberto David Castillo, the president of DESA, was found guilty as co-author of the assassination. He was linked to a criminal structure that ordered, planned and carried out the crime. Cáceres’ family and the Lenca organization COPINH continue to demand the investigation and prosecution of the intellectual authors implicated in the crime: powerful individuals in Honduran society.
Berra and Amy Kimbel (UCLA Law Alum ’19) were observers during the first trial. The Mission’s final report and other information on the trial can be found here.
The Mission found irregularities and serious deficiencies in the Honduran justice system in the course of the trial, and made recommendations to help overcome endemic structures of impunity.
Berra is a frequent spokesperson for the Mission due to his expertise on Honduras and work in collaboration with COPINH on Indigenous rights issues.
On December 1, 2020 he participated in the forum Access to Justice, Truth and Judicial Guarantees in the Cause of Berta Cáceres on the second anniversary of the conviction and on the eve of the prosecution of DESA president David Castillo.
Berra continues monitoring the trial of David Castillo and eight other former government officials for illegally granting the concession and permits for the dam construction, in the case known as the “Fraud Over the Gualcarque River.”
Images of Berta Courtesy the Goldman Environmental Prize
COPINH / Rio Blanco
COPINH, the Lenca Indigenous organization founded by Berta Cáceres, continues the work of defending the sacred Gualcarque River and the Lenca Community of Rio Blanco. The Human Rights in Action Clinic has submitted an expert brief on the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent as it relates to the case of the hydroelectric project in Rio Blanco and an analysis of their territorial rights. We are working with COPINH on developing model legislation on the rights of Indigenous peoples in Honduras.
In August 2020 the Human Rights in Action Clinic, joined by our partners in Honduras, filed a new petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The petition was against the state of Honduras on behalf of assassinated women’s and land rights leader Margarita Murillo.
Images of Margarita Courtesy Radio Progresso HondurasRead Report (En Español)
Nery Geremías was a journalist and director of Radio Joconguera, a community radio station in Lempira, Honduras. He was assassinated after exposing the corruption of local officials in the administration of funds destined for community health clinics. Nery left behind a small child who was later orphaned when his mother passed away.
With our partner ERIC in Honduras, we filed a petition at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for failure to protect his life and investigate the crime, and for the violation of the personal integrity of his son.
All Images Courtesy of Radio Progresso Honduras
Tolupán Tribe of San Francisco Locomapa
The Tolupán Tribe of San Francisco Locomapa has for generations resisted settler-colonial logics of dispossession, marginalization and violence. Their most recent iteration began in the 1980s with their resistance to efforts by state and third-party actors to appropriate the rich forestry resources in their territory.
The Human Rights in Action Clinic is preparing a report documenting this history and analyzing it under the legal framework of genocide.
José Isabel Morales
José Isabel Morales is a campesino leader who defended his community’s land against a high-ranking military official seeking to appropriate it for his personal ranch in the highly volatile region of the Aguán River Valley in Honduras. The ensuing social conflict saw José falsely accused of murder. Despite there never being any credible evidence brought against him, José was imprisoned for seven years before finally being exonerated.
During his false imprisonment, José lost a daughter and his father, and missed the birth and early childhood of his youngest son. His family was plunged into poverty and suffered psychological trauma. Inside the prison, José was subjected to inhumane conditions and ongoing threats against his life, including suffering a disfiguring injury while performing work for the prison but for which he received inadequate medical care.
We have joined Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC) as co-counsel on this emblematic case of peasant land struggles in the Aguán River valley of Honduras. José’s case is now before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for violations of due process, deprivation of liberty, and violation of the personal integrity of him and his family.
Image of Jose Courtesy of Radio Progresso Honduras