Audience for the Murder of Berta Cáceres Suspended due to the State’s Negligence

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Photo Credit: TeleSur
Photo Credit: TeleSur

Source: Movimiento Amplio / The Dawn News / April 19

Several human rights organizations of Honduras protested this morning since 9:30 am outside the Criminal Magistrates’ Courts at the time of the preliminary hearing of five of the eight suspects for the murder of Berta Cáceres, which occurred in March 2016.

At the hearing, the authorities presented the suspects: Sergio Rodríguez, Edilson Atilio Duarte Meza, Mariano Díaz Chávez, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, and Elvin Rápalo Orellana. There were also representatives of the diplomatic corps, members of the UN High Commissioner’s Office for Human Rights in Honduras (OACNUDH-Honduras), representatives of International organizations, members of the International Assistance Group of Expert Persons (GAIPE), and delegates of the National Commissioner on Human Rights in Honduras.

But a little while after being inaugurated, the audience was suspended due to the negligence of the Public Ministry, which didn’t provide the necessary information to the legal team of Berta Cáceres’ family and the COPINH (the organization she led), who are the private accusers in the case, despite them having requested the information properly and on time, according to Víctor Fernández, attorney-in-fact of the Cáceres family.

Fernández added that the hearing “was suspended because one of the parts (the private accuser) requested the court, since the initial hearing, that a copy of all relevant documents and electronic information was made available. Our request was accepted by the court, however the public ministry and the expert that was appointed for that matter didn’t make that information available to the court. We insisted on that matter in every subsequent audience, and on March 6 this year the court legally and formally required this to the expert. Finally, the information was made available to the court on March 8.

“We insisted, verbally and in written form, for that information to be shared with us, but the date for the audience has come and we still don’t have access to it. In consequence, we denounce that we can’t make a formal accusation for as long as we don’t have enough information on the facts to be certain of the position we ought to take. At the same time, don’t want to enable mechanisms for impunity, we are engaged with truth and integral justice in this process”, Fernández said.

The consequences of holding separate hearings for each of the accused are detrimental to the process, the lawyer affirmed, because the investigation is the same for all of the accused, and dividing the hearings would mean that the same legal proceedings would have to be repeated several times, which makes legal fees more expensive, and the process much longer. Witnesses and experts would have to show up at each hearing for each of the accused, and therefore for the sake of procedural economy and a responsible administration of the judiciary, hearings should be unified.

Honduran media outlets have reported that two of the accused might plead guilty for the murder of Berta Cáceres in order to obtain some of the benefits that the country’s law provides, but the defense of the Cáceres family doubts this.

The hearing was set for May and we hope there are no more delays caused by premeditated negligence by the state’s agents.

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