American Jewish World Service Mourns the Death of Murdered Honduran Human Rights Activist Berta Cáceres

Leading Jewish international human rights organization calls for an immediate and thorough investigation into Cáceres’ murder

New York, NY – American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, mourns the tragic loss of Berta Cáceres, a veteran human rights advocate in Honduras whose work AJWS has supported. Cáceres was killed early this morning in her home. Cáceres was a champion of human and environmental rights in Honduras and fought bravely for the rights of indigenous communities. Cáceres persevered in her advocacy in the face of multiple threats to her life over the years as she decried the injustice and corruption in her country—much of it perpetrated by Honduran state security forces.

A globally-recognized human rights leader, Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her leadership in opposing one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, a multi-million-dollar dam, which would have devastated the surrounding areas that were home to indigenous communities. Cáceres was the co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), an organization dedicated to addressing threats to the collective rights of the indigenous Lenca communities in Honduras and to protecting their land from the negative effects of illegal logging and environmentally destructive mining and dam projects. To this day, COPINH fights for the Lenca communities’ territorial rights and for meaningful economic opportunities for the members of this community.

Statement of Ruth Messinger, President of AJWS, and Robert Bank, Incoming President of AJWS

“I am profoundly saddened by the brutal murder of Berta Cáceres, and I am proud to have supported her brave advocacy for human rights in Honduras. Berta was a truly inspirational leader, and I know with great certainty that activists throughout Latin America have been guided and motivated by Berta’s leadership and her contributions to defending human and environmental rights,” said Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service.

“We have long supported and worked with COPINH, the organization founded by Berta. Personally, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to build a relationship with Berta throughout her decades-long struggle to support the indigenous Lenca communities in Honduras. Just last year, we were all blessed to have Berta with us in New York as AJWS celebrated its 30th anniversary,” added Messinger.

“In Jewish tradition, we say that ‘to save a life is to save a world,’ and Berta, through her brave advocacy for the rights of people in Honduras, has saved the world many times over,” added Robert Bank, incoming president of AJWS. “We grieve her death and redouble our commitment to supporting people, like Berta, who take it upon themselves to defend the human rights of others, even in the face of threats, violence and murder.”

“The situation in Honduras has deteriorated since 2009, when the country’s democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office by the military. Since that time, the protection of human rights in the country has been gutted, while political instability and criminal activity have risen sharply,” added Bank.

“Human rights defenders, like Berta and her allies, have long been under threat in Honduras. The murder rate there is now the highest in the world, and many of these victims are human rights activists, journalists, judges and other legal professionals working to expose injustice, corruption and the refusal of the government and others to ensure justice. The threats of death, imprisonment, sexual violence and other harassment taking place against those working for justice are something that activists and partners of AJWS continually face in Honduras and around the world. We deplore this kind of brutality wherever it takes place,” added Bank.

“The assassination of such a high-profile, internationally-known advocate, whose situation was being closely monitored by the InterAmerican Commission, is a sign of a deeply troubling decline in the rule of law in Honduras and sends a chilling message to all human rights defenders in the country. While we do not yet know the exact facts about her murder, there is no question that it took place within a context of intimidation and violence by both state and private security forces in the country,” Bank said.

“We must do all we can, as Americans, to put pressure on the Honduran government to ensure justice for Berta and the people of Honduras. We demand an immediate, thorough international investigation to ensure justice for Berta and hold her killers accountable for their actions. We insist that witnesses to the murder and COPINH’s staff and activists must be protected. We call upon the U.S. government to consider a serious review of American security funding for Honduras, until there are significant improvements in the human rights situation there,” added Messinger.

“We stand in solidarity with the indigenous communities in Honduras who have lost a great leader today, and with environmental and indigenous rights activists across the world who are facing horrific threats daily because they are taking on powerful economic interests and repressive governments,” she said.

“This is an incredibly heartbreaking day. Berta’s loss will be mourned, not only all over Honduras and Latin America, but by her friends and admirers around the world, including the American Jewish community.”

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