Berta Caceres, a Lenca indigenous woman who has been on the front lines defending the territory and the rights of the indigenous people for the last 20 years, is one of six finalists for the Front Line Defenders Award. Nominated for the award by Grassroots International, Berta is one of the founding directors of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), a Grassroots grantee and ally.
The Front Line Defenders Award was founded in 2005 to pay tribute to one human rights defender who has made an exceptional contribution to the promotion and protection of Human Rights in the face of considerable personal risk. This year a total of 110 human rights defenders from 51 countries were nominated.
Berta’s dedication to defending the rights of indigenous peoples and territory rights at great personal cost makes her critical leader in the social justice movement in Honduras.
She is one of the leaders of the resistance that has been blocking a proposed hydroelectric dam project for two years. As a result, Berta has been part of judicial lynching by the Honduran government. The repression and persecution of Berta Caceres is part of an ongoing offensive against indigenous peoples in an attempt to usurp their ancestral lands for the construction of hydropower dams, mines, mega tourism projects, and other investment-centered businesses. The projects are instigated by foreign investors, financial institutions and the regional power elite. In recent months, there has been an escalation of state repression against social movement leaders, including indigenous peoples’ organizations, peasants, environmentalists, and political dissenters who stand in the way of these projects.
Being recognized as a finalist of the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk has bolstered Berta and COPINH to keep denouncing all the human rights violations and injustices happening in Honduras. Berta’s call for the Honduras government to respect the Lenca people’s decisions to protect their territory from mega-projects is being heard around the world – and Berta and her resistance movement are hoping more people will take action.
Likewise activists in the U.S. can take this opportunity to call upon the US government to stop aid for Honduras security forces, which have been linked to human rights abuses. Instead of writing a blank check to the military, activists demand that the Honduran government guarantee the physical integrity and freedom of human rights defenders like Berta, and call for respect and safety for every person in Honduras, specially the Rio Blanco communities.
And just as importantly – this award provides a platform to call for broad support to stop the criminalization of the peoples movements, evictions, displacements, violence and false accusations against the Lenca leaders defending their rights. Berta and other leaders of COPINH emphasize the importance of the enforcement of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which requires that Governments provide indigenous peoples with advance information about any proposed projects on their territories, and can only move forward with the project with community consent. The Lenca community has not provided such consent to the multilateral economic institutions funding mega projects, agribusiness and charter cities in Honduras.
Berta’s life is an inspiration that another world is possible. Through this award process, the voices of the Lenca people, indigenous women and peasants in Honduras will resonate for others to join Berta on the journey for justice and the defense of human rights.