Members of Congress Urge Secretary Kerry to Push for Investigation of Murder of Honduran Human Rights Defender Berta Cáceres
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) – co-chair of a bipartisan Congressional human rights commission – and Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) are joined by 55 Members of Congress in calling for the involvement of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the investigation into the March 3, 2016 killing of Honduran human rights defender Berta Cáceres.
In an effort to ensure justice and accountability in the case, the Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, after the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office announced the arrests of four individuals in connection with the case. Click here to view the letter to Secretary Kerry.
“America has a responsibility to stand up for human rights at home and abroad. Berta Cáceres was a tireless champion for the most vulnerable in Honduras and her death in March was a terrible loss. Today, I am joining my colleagues in calling on the Honduran government to allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to examine the case,” Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) said. “By supporting a full and independent investigation, the Honduran government can send a strong message that they are committed to finding the truth and achieving justice for the family.”
“I am encouraged by the arrests made yesterday, but in high-profile human rights cases like this, we know that initial arrests do not always lead us to the true perpetrators,” said Congresswoman Norma J. Torres (D-CA), the founder and co-chair of the Central America Caucus. “Allowing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to look into this case would be a clear sign that the government is truly serious about getting to the bottom of what happened.”
“The loss of Berta Cáceres is felt not only in Honduras but around the globe,” said Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA). “The international community must do everything possible to bring her murderers to justice to demonstrate our commitment to human rights and the people she championed.”
“The Honduran government must urgently address the human rights crisis developing within that country. In the wake of the murder of Berta Caceres and the ongoing violence and threats facing activists, the Honduran government has refused to take meaningful action to address the lack of rule of law,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). “This is why I signed a letter calling for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to get involved in the investigation and ensure due process. The victims of this violence deserve justice and the Honduran government must respect the rights of all of their people.”
The letter is the latest expression of significant and sustained congressional interest in this emblematic human rights case. As Congress considers President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 request for more than $750 million in new assistance for Central America, the letter underscores the depth of concern about the human rights situation in Honduras. Click here to view the letter to Secretary Kerry.
The full text of the letter and list of cosigners can be found below.
Dear Secretary of State Kerry,
We write to urge the State Department to ensure the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is actively involved in the investigation into the murder of acclaimed Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres.
We continue to mourn the March 3, 2016 murder of Ms. Cáceres and, less than two weeks later, the murder of her colleague Nelson Garcia. We are acutely aware that skepticism abounds regarding the willingness and capacity of Honduran authorities to carry out an effective investigation in this case. Such skepticism has been expressed not only among Ms. Cáceres’ colleagues and family members, but also by members of the international community, including Members of the United States Congress.
In this context, the family of Ms. Cáceres and the organization that she led, COPINH, have requested the involvement of the IACHR. Given the high profile of this case and the degree of skepticism toward the official investigation, we believe that IACHR involvement is warranted. Therefore, we respectfully ask that you encourage the Government of Honduras to work with the IACHR and with the family and legal representatives of Ms. Cáceres to enter an agreement that would provide for active IACHR involvement in this case.
We know that U.S. authorities have been providing some technical assistance to Honduran authorities in this investigation. Furthermore, we understand that the government of Honduras has requested the assistance of the Honduras office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), as well as the Organization of American States-sponsored Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). However, neither the OHCHR Honduras office nor the MACCIH are fully operational yet. Moreover, while the Organization of American States has approved the MACCIH’s involvement in aspects of the case pertaining to corruption, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has made very clear that the human rights aspects of the case are within the jurisdiction of the IACHR.
Additionally, there is a compelling precedent for IACHR involvement in an active criminal investigation. Following the September 26, 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico, the Government of Mexico, along with the families and legal representatives of the disappeared students, entered into agreement with the IACHR to create a Group of Experts. That group, which consisted of internationally-recognized prosecutors and criminal justice experts, was tasked with assisting the Government of Mexico in searching for the students, investigating the circumstances of their disappearance, and assisting the Government of Mexico in developing policies related to enforced disappearance.
The work of the Group of Experts has been widely acclaimed, and Members of the United States Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, have been strongly supportive of the Group. Their work has also given hope to the families of the victims and to the human rights community in Mexico. While the circumstances of Ms. Cáceres’ murder are in many ways distinct from the circumstances of the disappearance of the 43 students in Mexico, we absolutely believe the U.S. government should press for robust IACHR involvement in the investigation of the Berta Cáceres case. Honduras deserves the same fidelity to the rule of law.
Thank you for your consideration of this important request.
[The letter was signed by Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-CA); Sam Farr (D-CA); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); James P. McGovern (D-MA); Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ); Barbara Lee (D-CA); Bobby L. Rush (D-IL); Donna F. Edwards (D-MD); Zoe Lofgren (D-CA); Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-VA); Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL); Betty McCollum (D-MN); Alan Lowenthal (D-CA); Jim McDermott (D-WA); Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Lloyd Doggett (D-TX); Marcy Kaptur (D-OH); Ron Kind (D-WI); Jared Polis (D-CO); Mark Pocan (D-WI); Charles B. Rangel (D-NY); Ruben Gallego (D-AZ); Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA); Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA); Jared Huffman (D-CA); José E. Serrano (D-NY); Beto O’Rourke (D-TX); Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA); John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI); Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA); Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA); Judy Chu (D-CA); Chellie Pingree (D-ME); Seth Moulton (D-MA); Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY); Tony Cárdenas (D-CA); Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY); Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ); Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA); Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY); Katherine Clark (D-MA); David N. Cicilline (D-RI); Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Paul D. Tonko (D-NY); Ted W. Lieu (D-CA); Kathleen M. Rice (D-NY); Keith Ellison (D-MN); Adam B. Schiff (D-CA); Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY); Michael M. Honda (D-CA); Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ); Bill Foster (D-IL); Richard M. Nolan (D-MN); Michael E. Capuano (D-MA); Matt Cartwright (D-PA); Karen Bass (D-CA); Joseph Kennedy, Jr. III (D-MA); Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX).]