Protecting the Earth Shouldn’t Be a Death Sentence

Protecting the earth should not be a death sentence.

But, Berta Cáceres, the Honduran Indigenous and environmental rights campaigner, was murdered last week for protecting the earth, in spite of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights mandating she receive protection.

Environmental and human rights activists around the world are calling for an independent inquiry into her death.

101 Campaigners Killed in Four Years

It’s particularly unsafe and particularly courageous to be an activist in Honduras, where 101 campaigners were killed between 2010 and 2014, according to NGO Global Witness.

Berta’s death “shows the high level of impunity in Honduras,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Rights, who met Cáceres last November.

If Berta, who received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 was murdered, no grass roots activist is safe in Honduras.

Berta Received Death Threats from Canadian Company

Before she died, Berta said she had received death threats from Blue Energy, a Canadian hydro developer that had its eye on another site near her home in western Honduras.

“I have received direct death threats, threats of kidnapping, or disappearance, of lynching, of pummeling the vehicle I use, threats of kidnapping my daughter, persecution, surveillance, sexual harassment, and also campaigns in the national media of powerful sectors,” she told Telesur last year.

The terrible human rights record in Berta’s home country is well known, but that didn’t stop a past federal government in Canada from proudly signing a free trade agreement with Honduras.

A Global Scourge

A map produced a couple of years ago by Global Witness reported that nearly 1,000 environmental defenders world-wide were murdered between 2002 and 2014, including 454 in Brazil, 111 in Honduras, 84 in Philippines, 80 in Colombia, 57 in Peru, and 45 in Mexico.

And the history of risk, mistreatment, and death for environmental activists goes back farther still. Think of Wangari Mathai, founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and the first person to win a Nobel Peace Prize for environment—who was beaten and threatened in the early years of her work. Or Chico Mendes, the Brazilian rubber tapper, trade union leader, and environmentalist who was killed by a rancher in December, 1988 for his work to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Remembering Berta

Earlier this week, I had the sad honour of spending International Women’s Day attending a noon-hour protest outside the Honduran embassy in Ottawa and an evening vigil to honour Berta. Our protest and vigil were peaceful, as Berta’s always were.

She stood up against gender stereotypes, supporting the women who fight on the front lines to protect the environment. That the events to honour her were on International Women's day was especially poignant.

We listened to speakers who knew and remembered her. They described someone you would have leapt at the chance to work with. Humble and powerful. An enchanted spirit who had a love and respect for the rivers, who called us all to fall in love with the breath of the earth.

She was dedicated.

She was brave.

She was remarkable.

She had every right to expect to be protected. Instead, she was murdered in her home.

Berta was a grass roots activist. Grass roots activism relies on the basic freedom of speech. She was denied that right.

More than 30,000 people attended her funeral.


Diane Beckett
Interim Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation


One Earth • One Chance

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