Merkley, Colleagues Urge State Department to Monitor Honduras Trial of David Castillo and Seek Justice for Berta Cáceres

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, alongside 34 of his colleagues, is urging the Department of State to closely monitor the ongoing trial of DESA hydroelectric company CEO and former military intelligence officer David Castillo, who is on trial in Honduras for the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres.

In their letter, the lawmakers express their great concern with reports of widespread collusion among government officials, state and private security forces, organized crime, and members of the private sector, and the failure of the Government of Honduras to protect the rights, interests, and physical security of indigenous peoples in land and natural resources disputes.

“Holding both material and intellectual authors accountable in Berta Cáceres’ case is essential for progress in addressing impunity in Honduras and ensuring the protection of activists. While related prosecutions and investigations indicate that others were involved in a range of crimes surrounding her murder, and even in her murder, five years later no further indictments have been made,” the lawmakers wrote. “The independence of the judiciary, crucial to the democratic process, remains a major challenge in Honduras.  Problems such as judicial delays, corruption, impunity, human rights violations, citizen insecurity and violence are some of the factors that have called into question the government’s commitment to justice in this and other human rights cases.”

“Berta Cáceres’ murder is an emblematic case.  It is essential that the final decision on the David Castillo trial and other ongoing investigations into Cáceres’ murder be monitored closely by the international community.  Progress in achieving accountability for her murder is a necessity for progress toward justice and protection for human rights defenders and other activists in Honduras,” they continued.

In February, Merkley authored the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act, legislation that lays out a comprehensive framework for combating corruption, impunity, and human rights violations in Honduras. The introduction followed a series of significant steps taken by the Government of Honduras to shield senior officials from accountability, including the Honduran government’s expulsion of the Mission of Support Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), an independent anti-corruption body backed by the Organization of American States (OAS). Merkley’s bill was also presented by U.S. federal prosecutors as an exhibit in support of the Southern District of New York’s sentencing motion concerning the Honduran President’s brother, who was subsequently sentenced to life-in-prison in a high-level drug-trafficking and corruption case.

In addition to Merkley, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Jack Reed (D-RI), and by U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA-04), Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), Jesus G. “Chuy” García (D-IL-04), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-09), Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA-08), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03), Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO-05), Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-AL), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Peter Welch (D-VT-AL).

Full text of the letter is available here.