On March 3, human rights activists denounced the assassination of Berta Cáceres, a leader for indigenous rights and environmental justice with the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The Ides of March in Honduras demonstrated once again that the shocking level of violence against activists since the 2009 coup—with some 200 murdered—has reached crisis proportions.
A second COPINH leader, Nelson Noé García, was murdered after a forceful eviction on March 15. That same day, the president of Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán, another indigenous group, was briefly arrested on questionable charges; Cristián Alegría, a campesino activist, was shot at; and David Romero, a journalist critical of the government, was sentenced to 10 years in prison—all while Gustavo Castro, a Mexican activist who witnessed Cáceres’ murder, has been prevented from leaving the country.
Targeted murders of activists and dissidents are not unusual in Honduras, though the international indignation recent assassinations have spurred may mark a new moment for civil society demands for justice and an end to impunity for those committing violence. Trade unionists also are often targeted for organizing and exercising their basic rights. Over the past 12 months, the Solidarity Center has documented 15 incidents of threats or violence against union activists.
To support the struggle in Honduras, the AFL-CIO joins the National Workers Union of Mexico and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas in seeking accountability from the government of Honduras for the assassination of Cáceres and others. The U.S. government must play a key role in pressuring the government of Honduras. The United States must recognize the broad significance of this assassination and call for:
- An independent international investigation of Cáceres’ murder;
- Rapid and effective protection measures for Cáceres’ family, members of COPINH and Castro;
- A review of U.S. assistance to Honduran security forces and rigorous use of human rights standards;
- A full and immediate stop to the Agua Zarca dam project Cáceres fought against; and
- Support for a protection system for Honduran activists and human rights defenders.
In its February 2016 report (English/Spanish), the AFL-CIO made clear its deep concerns with human rights and sustainable development in Honduras after an October 2014 labor delegation met with a broad range of labor and community organizations, the Honduran government and the U.S. Embassy. In the report, the delegation made a broad range of recommendations to improve the security and labor rights environment in the country.