The death of Honduran environmental and human rights activist Berta Cáceres, barely a week after she was threatened for opposing a hydroelectric project, is an unspeakable tragedy — but it’s not unique. She is the latest in a long line of victims in Honduras since a coup overthrew the reformist President Mel Zelaya in 2009. The co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh) was shot dead by gunmen who entered her home in La Esperanza at around 1am on Thursday. Some reports say there were two killers; others suggest 11. They escaped without being identified, after also wounding the Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto. Last year, Cáceres – who is a member of the Lenca indigenous group, the largest in Honduras – was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, the Agua Zarca cascade of four giant dams in the Gualcarque river basin.
Caceres’ murder highlights that environmentalists have historically been targeted for their actions, and for speaking out about environmental injustice. On April 2015, Global Witness published a report that demonstrated that killings of environmental activists are increasing, with indigenous communities hardest hit. The report characterised Honduras as the most dangerous country to be an environmental defender. The researchers found that in 2014, at least 116 environmental activists were murdered. Of these, the largest percentages were protesting the activities of hydropower, mining, and agribusiness companies. Global Witness compiled the killings into a map by country, giving a startling picture of the dangers facing environmentalists around the world. The map can be found here.
In contrast with the easy and glamorous environmentalism that dominates many western countries, grassroots environmental movements in the developing world are still facing lethal threats. This highlights, once more, that the right to a safe, healthy and ecologically-balanced environment is a human right in itself, a human right that is so frequently violated, especially for indigenous people. It’s time to consider sound waste management, that protects health and environment, as a human right too. It’s time to bring environmental justice at the top of decision – making procedures.