Oxfam urges Honduran Government to protect rights and autonomy of indigenous people

Published: 5th March 2019

Three years after the murder of Honduran rights activist Berta Caceres for her leadership in the campaign against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, indigenous people are still being excluded from any consultative process in the extractives industry. 

As a result, violence and conflict is still happening in Honduras. Oxfam urges the Honduras government to put in place transparent and effective measures that guarantee the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights and that respect their culture and social structures. 

Berta Caceres was murdered in March 2016 after she highlighted illegalities in in the Agua Zarca project run by Desarrollos Energéticos Sociedad Anónima (DESA). Seven people have since been sentenced for her murder in the Supreme Justice Court, including two employees of DESA. Roberto David Castillo, a former president of DESA, was also arrested. Oxfam says authorities should expand their investigation to bring all the intellectual authors, accomplices and accessories to Berta’s murder to justice.

In March 2018 Berta’s daughter, Olivia Zúniga Caceres, introduced a bill to the Honduran National Congress proposing to annul DESA’s 50-year concession contracts and stop the exploitation of the Gualcarque River where the Agua Zarca dam is being built.

Olivia states that the terms of the concession, including the increase in the volume of water use, were modified in DESA’s favour but were never discussed and approved by the National Congress, as required by the country’s constitution. “Berta Caceres law” also argues that the concession violated the International Labour Organization convention requirement that indigenous people affected by projects be consulted. 

A year later, “Berta’s Law” has still not been accepted for debate.

The Mission of Support Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH-OAS) and the Special Prosecutor's Unit against Impunity and Corruption (UFECIC-MP) have filed an injunction against 16 people who allegedly committed crimes against the public administration. The organizations allege these people ensured that DESA benefited from contracts from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (SERNA) and the National Electric Energy Company (ENEE). The case is named "Fraud on the Gualcarque".

In March 2017, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) filed a constitutionality appeal against the Agua Zarca project. This appeal alleges violations against indigenous peoples’ right to collective ownership of lands they have traditionally occupied and used and the State’s obligation to obtain their free, prior and informed consent to projects that would affect them. 

Seven months after the appeal, the Supreme Court declared it inadmissible.

For Olivia, who is also the Congressional Deputy for the department of Intibucá, the annulment of the concession would mean justice would be served to her and Berta’s family. It would offer the indigenous community of Río Blanco compensation for years of damage and exclusion. And it would assure the Lenca community that its sacred Gualcarque River would be protected.
"My mother presented legal arguments and evidence of all the irregularities during the granting of the contract. Her murder is a proof in itself of the lack of legality and legitimacy of this hydroelectric project", said Zúniga.

In 2017, Berta’s mother Austraberta Flores, Olivia and her children presented the Public Prosecutor and the MACCIH-OAS findings of an investigation into the circumstances of Berta Caceres murder. Oxfam supported this investigation that highlighted Berta’s struggle to expose flaws in the project and how that eventually led to her murder.

Contact information

Karen Arita in Tegucigalpa, Honduras | karen.arita@oxfam.org | + 504 3373 5772

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