Murder of Berta Cáceres highlights the need for us all to fight for indigenous rights


Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner Berta Cáceres has been murdered in her home. The news comes barely a week after Cáceres was threatened for opposing a hydroelectric project and a day before her 46th birthday.

Cáceres was a hugely influential environmental activist and Indigenous leader and the news of her death has prompted international outrage at the treatment of campaigners in Honduras, as well as a of tributes from the supporters and admires of a courageous defender of the natural world.

According to local media, the police have said that the killings occurred during an attempted robbery, but the family of Cáceres have said they had no doubt it was an assassination prompted by her high-profile campaigns.

In 1993 Cáceres co-foundered the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Since its inception the group has fought for indigenous rights and against the widespread environmental damage in Honduras. In over two decades of work the group has been subject to discrimination, threats and violence.

For her work Cáceres was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. According to the website of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Cáceres “waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

It said the project threatened to “cut off the supply of water, food and medicine for hundreds of Lenca people and violate their right to sustainably manage and live off their land.”

According to NGO Global Witness, Honduras has become the deadliest country in the world for environmentalists. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental campaigners were killed in the country.  Tomás García, Cáceres’s fellow Copinh leader, was shot dead by a military officer during a peaceful protest in 2013.

Cáceres has previously said that she had received multiple warnings that she would face rape and murder if she continued her campaigns. Despite the danger, it is clear that Cáceres was always realistic about the risks she faced through her work and said she felt obliged to fight on and urged others to do so. In an interview with the Guardian at the time of her award she said:

“We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action.”

The murder of Berta Cáceres highlights the need for us all to fight for indigenous rights. The fact that she received one of the world’s most highly respected environmental prizes last year, only to be killed this year, is a poignant reminder of the risks many activists face during their work on a daily basis, particularly in Honduras. We must all learn from her example and like Cáceres we must do all that is necessary to protect our planet.

The story of Berta Cáceres serves as message to us all that protecting our planet and ensuring equality for all who reside on it can be dangerous task – dangerous but essential to our survival.

In the Goldman Environmental Prize film about Cáceres’ work the Journalist Melissa Cardoza said:

“They can attack her. They can even kill her. But her life transcends this moment in time.”


Photo Credit: Prachatai from flickr.

Video Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize