Earlier this month, a Honduran court removed the lawyers representing both the family of Indigenous leader Berta Caceres and the only eyewitness of Berta’s assassination, Gustavo Castro, from the legal case against the first 8 people accused of the murder. The trial opened soon after this extreme and irregular decision, in complete violation of the victims’ rights. In the Honduran judicial system, not only is there a government prosecutor, but the victims have the right to lawyers that act as prosecutors.
The removal of the prosecutors representing Berta’s children and mother, as well as Gustavo Castro, is the latest in a series of systematic actions that maintain impunity for the criminal structure that assassinated Berta and deny the victims’ their right to truth and justice. The legal team for Berta’s family and COPINH, part of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), have been demanding all of the evidence for the case, which the government has systematically refused to turn over. In August — after well over a year of requests — government prosecutors admitted that they had not even analyzed the information for numerous computers, phones, and other electronic devices seized when the defendants were arrested over two years ago. In particular, the government prosecutors failed to perform a ballistics test on a gun seized from the home of SOA graduate Mariano Diaz. They also did not examine the information on a computer, phone, and other electronics from Diaz’s home. Additionally, they failed to examine the information on computers and other electronics seized from the offices of DESA — the hydroelectric company building the dam that Berta opposed at the time of her murder.
The government prosecutors failed to provide all of this information despite multiple court orders to do. Finally, at the request of the victim’s lawyers, experts were sworn in to analyze the information on numerous computers, phones, and other electronic devices in late August. However, with the Court’s ruling to remove the victims’ legal team, this information was not included as evidence in the case.
The Court’s removal of the victims’ lawyers came while they had a pending legal motion in a higher court related to their request to recuse the judges hearing the case – given that the judges have refused to enforce court orders. The Court opened the trial despite having stated the day earlier that it did not have the authority to do so due to the pending legal motions. Conveniently, with the victims’ legal teams no longer able to participate, only certain information has been presented as evidence.
The illegalities and irregularities that have marked the investigation and legal case serve to protect the intellectual authors and the criminal structure responsible for Berta’s murder and a series of attacks against COPINH. The United States also bears responsibility for propping up the Honduran government and financing its justice system as it constructs impunity through a farce of a legal process, which has repeatedly violated due process and the rights of the victims.