Witness to Berta Caceres’ murder allowed to return home
New York, NY – American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, applauds the release of environmental activist Gustavo Castro, the sole witness to the internationally-reported murder of Berta Cáceres on March 3, 2016. Castro was detained by Honduran government officials immediately following the murder.
The Honduran Attorney General’s office issued a 30-day immigration alert against Castro to prevent him from leaving the country and returning home to Mexico, despite having made his statement to authorities in accordance with Honduran law. In response to his release, Timi Gerson, AJWS’s Director of Government Affairs, released the following statement:
"After a vigorous solidarity campaign, we at AJWS are able to breathe a little easier knowing that Gustavo Castro is able to safely return to his home in Mexico. We are eternally grateful for the voices of the numerous grassroots groups around the world who have spoken out in defense of human rights advocates and activists in the wake of Berta Cáceres’ murder.
"That being said, we are not satisfied with the handling of this case and will continue, with our allies, to push the Honduran government to ensure justice for Berta, her family and the members of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). We hope that Gustavo’s release represents a broader shift in the Honduran government’s approach in addressing Berta’s heinous murder.
"This strategy thus far has been riddled with problems, including the poor treatment that Gustavo endured for nearly a month while being wrongfully detained by the Honduran authorities. The total lack of access that Berta’s family has to the investigation and the Honduran government’s refusal to allow them to propose independent experts as per Honduran law is deeply troubling.
"It is with these facts in mind that we continue to demand that the Honduran government agree to an international investigation that is fully transparent – the only way in which justice for Berta can truly be realized. The Honduran government must:
1. Act in accordance with Honduran law by allowing Berta Cáceres’ family to have immediate access to the investigation into Berta’s murder, and allow independent experts chosen by the family to participate in this investigation;
2. Agree to an independent, international investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); and
3. Fulfill their legal duty to fully fund protection for the safety and security of members of Berta’s organization, COPINH, and her family.
"With Gustavo’s return to Mexico, the Mexican authorities must also guarantee protection for him and his organization, Otros Mundos. His environmental activism makes him a target there much like Berta’s work did in Honduras, and much like the work of environmental activists and human rights defenders across the globe.
"We cannot allow the governments and corporations that threaten, harass, imprison, assault and murder these advocates to act with impunity. As we approach the one-month anniversary of Berta’s death, the most appropriate way that we can honor her memory is to continue her struggle and stand in solidarity with the indigenous communities in Honduras, Mexico and across the world."
Gustavo Castro is the director of Otros Mundos, an organization funded by AJWS that works to address the severe poverty, social polarization and lack of access to electric energy and water suffered by the indigenous population in Chiapas, Mexico.
Castro was visiting his colleague and friend Berta Cáceres on the night of March 3, 2016, when armed men broke into her home in La Esperanza, Honduras and shot Cáceres in the head, shooting and injuring Castro in the process. It is widely believed that Cáceres was targeted and killed for her efforts to oppose one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, the multi-million-dollar Agua Zarca dam, which would devastate the surrounding areas that were home to indigenous communities.