[WHRD Alert] HONDURAS / Sentences against those responsible for the assassination of Berta Cáceres yet unconfirmed

Eight years after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, defender of the territory and rights of the Lenca people, the guilty verdicts against the perpetrators and co-author of the crime are not yet final.

Juan Carlos Sánchez and Ritza Antúnez, attorneys of David Castillo, who was found guilty as co-author of the assassination of Berta Caceres by the Trial Court on July 5, 2021, recently presented a complaint before the Public Prosecutor’s Office against the expert witness Brenda Barahona for the alleged falsification of documents in the case. In 2019 they had filed similar charges against her, which were rejected as groundless.

The statements made by the defense lawyers of David Castillo denouncing supposed anomalies  in the process and specifically aimed at the conduct of the expert witness and state attorneys, have sought to delegitimize their action. Yet these allegations have been disproved in documents of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and accompanying organizations. 

These organizations point out that telephone extractions by the technological expert Brenda Barahona, decisive factors for the conviction of Castillo, coincide with those of the expert witness in Castillo’s defense, Sean Bodde. The information extracted from telephone devices proves that David Castillo participated in the planning, coordination, implementation, and payment for the assassination of Berta Cáceres.

This attack and effort to criminalize the expert witness before the Public Prosecutor’s Office seeks to thwart the duty of the Court’s Judicial Chamber of Criminal Cases to ratify the guilty verdict against David Castillo and other assassins of Berta Cáceres.

It is important to note that the claim was presented before the Public Prosecutor’s Office on Monday, April 8th, one week after the appointment of Juan Carlos Sánchez Villalobos as Director of Attorneys in the Office.  Sánchez Villalobos is well known for defending accused persons in emblematic cases of corruption, some of which were handled by the extinct Mission of Support against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH).  He helped to defend Carolina Castillo in the Fraud against the Gualcarque River trial. This case proved that corruption in granting licenses for the use of the Gualcarque River fostered violations of the right of the Lenca indigenous people in Intibucá and Santa Barbara by imposing an energy project on a river considered sacred.  In addition to having been convicted for the assassination of the Lenca leader Berta Cáceres, David Castillo faces charges in the case of the Fraud against the Gualcarque River case and is awaiting sentence.  

The foregoing information is relevant because it reveals the possible influence trafficking that could allow this terrible assassination to go unpunished and also because the crime against Berta Cáceres is related to the Fraud against the Gualcarque case. 

We of the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras and IM-Defensoras condemn these maneuvers by David Castillo’s defense attorneys that jeopardize the scarce results offered by the system of justice in this case. Furthermore, the case itself undermines a process that has been the outcome of the demand for justice by the family, by COPINH, and by the struggle against impunity and for the preservation of the State of Law. 

Likewise, we demand of the Supreme Court of Justice, presided over by the magistrate Rebeca Ráquel, and the Criminal Division of the High Court made up of the magistrates Walter Raúl Miranda Sabio, Mario Rolando Díaz, and Nelson Danilo Mairena Franco, the immediate confirmation of the sentence dictated against the seven men responsible for  perpetrating the assassination of Berta Cáceres and the sentence against David Castillo, the co-perpetrator of this crime.  

Women defenders sustain life in their communities. For this reason, every action against them by enforcers of an extractivist, capitalist, and predatory model of development  means an  attack against the community as a whole that is deeply patriarchal and thus attacks women in specific and distinctive ways. 

We join in the response to the call from COPINH for the national and international community to stay on the alert with vigilance of the functioning of the system of justice in Honduras in order to guarantee effective access for the Lenca people to truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetitive measures. 

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