UN Has a Duty to Independently Verify Berta Cáceres Trial Before Endorsing Unlawful Conviction, says DESA Lawyer

WASHINGTON DC, December 7, 2018 – In response to a statement released today by the office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz calling on the Government of Honduras to pursue further prosecutions in the case of the slain activist Berta Cáceres, lawyer for Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) Robert Amsterdam urges the institution to undertake a fulsome, independent assessment of the underlying facts and evidence of the trial before issuing guidance.

“It is deeply concerning to see the Rapporteurs rush to make such broad and sweeping statements without citing any supporting evidence, especially when the full transcript of the last trial has not yet been made public,” said Amsterdam. “We remind officials of the UN that up until the day of the ruling, both the private accusers and the defense both complained of serious procedural failings and violations of rights taking place in this trial – and now, for the rapporteurs to uncritically accept the outcome and presume legitimacy of the proceedings is both reckless and damaging to rule of law in Honduras.”

Amsterdam says that when the full court record is released, the case against DESA’s former environmental manager Sergio Rodríguez will be carefully examined by independent legal experts. “The ruling against Mr. Rodríguez was a travesty; a politically motivated wrongful conviction that failed to meet even the most basic international standards for a fair trial.”

Amsterdam emphasized that achieving justice for this crime must not be done by destroying rule of law and due process.

“I sympathize enormously with the family of Berta Cáceres, and they deserve justice,” said Amsterdam. “However their belief that DESA is in any way responsible is not only wrong, but it is completely unsupported by any conclusive evidence. As such, the UN has a duty to ensure that basic fair trial standards are upheld. They should not be in the business of endorsing guilty verdicts without evidence just because private interest groups say so.”

According to text message transcripts released in a white paper recently published by Amsterdam & Partners LLP on this case, Cáceres’ former organization, Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) sought to deceive and manipulate the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Text messages exchanged between Cáceres and another COPINH member on October 16, 2015, show that they organized a plan to bring in fake protesters from the departments of Lempira and La Paz to pose as locals opposing the Agua Zarca project.

“COPINH has been dishonest with the UN then, and they are being dishonest now. It is for this reason it is important that the special rapporteurs seek to independently verify the facts in this trial,” said Amsterdam.

The white paper and other documents relating to the unlawful conviction of Sergio Rodríguez are available for download at casocaceres.com.