Berta Caceres: Seven men sentenced to jail in Honduras

A court sentenced seven men to prison terms of up to 50 years for murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres.

Berta Caceres
Berta Caceres was a veteran land rights activist who was shot and killed in her home [Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters]

A Honduras court sentenced seven men to prison for the 2016 murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, a killing that sparked international outrage.

Caceres, shot dead at her home in the town of La Esperanza, was a veteran land rights activist who set her sights on illegal logging starting in the early 1990s.

Since 2006, she organised opposition to the $50m Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, where construction came to a halt after completing about one-fifth of the project.

“Five of those accused of the murder … were sentenced to 50 years in jail and another two to a term of 30 years,” said court spokeswoman Lucia Villars.

Honduran law gives the men 20 days to appeal the sentences.

Activists criticised the dam on the Gualcarque River for what they said would probably cause significant disruptions to their water and food supply and faulted the project for a lack of required indigenous consultations.

“The river is like blood running through your veins. It’s unjust. Not only is it unjust, it’s a crime to attack a river that has life, that has spirits,” Caceres said.

Those already convicted include an employee of the Honduran project operator Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA), an active-duty military officer, and a retired army officer who was a DESA employee.

While DESA ran the project, Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, one of the world’s largest dam developers, was originally contracted to build it but eventually backed out in 2013.

The sentences announced on Monday, nearly a year after the seven men were convicted, were harshly criticised by Caceres’s daughter Olivia Zuniga, who alleged prosecutors sidestepped the main culprits.

“This is a day of pain because the intellectual authors of my mother’s murder are still enjoying impunity,” Zuniga told reporters. “We are not going to believe that there’s true justice until these people are in jail.”

Zuniga has in the past accused the Atala-Zablah family, a prominent Honduran business group and important DESA shareholders, of being behind the killing.

The family and representatives of the business group have denied the accusation.

Honduras is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental and land rights activists. At least 24 environmental and land defenders have been killed since March 2015. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies