Honduran environmentalist leader Berta Cáceres has been shot dead at her home in the town of La Esperanza. “Honduras has lost a brave and committed social activist,” fellow activist Tomas Membreno said in a statement.
Cáceres, a mother of four, was killed early on Thursday by two assailants who broke into her home. The winner of 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize had previously complained of receiving death threats from police, soldiers and local landowners because of her work. She led opposition to a proposed dam on the Gualcarque River, considered sacred by the Lencas.
Alluding to the death threats, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director for Amnesty International, said in a statement that “the cowardly killing of Berta is a tragedy that was waiting to happen”.
“For years, she had been the victim of a sustained campaign of harassment and threats to stop her from defending the rights of indigenous communities,” said Guevara-Rosas.
“Berta’s death will have a devastating impact on many human rights activists and organisations,” she said.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, wrote that “it is very likely that her assassination is linked with her work in protecting the human rights of the Lenca indigenous peoples to their lands and territories”. Activist Carlos Reyes described the murder “a political crime by the government”. Security Minister Julian Pacheco said police arrested a security guard at the compound where Cáceres lived and added that police had measures in place to protect Caceres, who recently won a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granting her special security measures.
A family member said they were “devastated” by the loss of “fearless Berta”.
“We ask the international community and human rights organisations around the world to put pressure on their leaders to bring about justice. Her murder is an act of cowardice that will only amplify Bertita’s message to bring about change in Honduras and make this a better, more humane world,” the family said in a statement.
“She was a fearless environmental hero. She understood the risks that came with her work, but continued to lead her community with amazing strength and conviction,” said John Goldman, President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation. “On behalf of my siblings Doug Goldman and Susie Gelman, Prize jury, and staff, I’d like to express my deepest condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues at COPINH and around the world.”
(Based on Agencies)