In an era of rapid change caused by rising global interdependence, the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at the UC Berkeley School of Law pursues a dual mission: promoting justice at home and abroad and training attorneys for a changing profession. IHRLC marshals the resources of the faculty and students of UC Berkeley to advance the struggle for human rights on behalf of individuals and marginalized communities. It clarifies complex issues, develops innovative policy solutions, and engages in vigorous advocacy. At the same time, IHRLC prepares graduates for an increasingly diverse, competitive, and international legal profession. One of the leading human rights clinics in the country, IHRLC takes advantage of its home in California, the largest and most diverse state in the nation, and builds on Berkeley Law’s commitment to international engagement. Since 1998, IHRLC has completed dozens of projects and trained over 300 students. Learn about the latest clinic news below or read our publications.
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We are delighted to share the 2017 IHRLC newsletter. Over the last year, IHRLC students investigated the murder of Honduran human rights defender Berta Cáceres, documented the World Bank’s failure to ensure its development projects meet social and environment standards, revealed the contours of a global trend of repression of women human rights activists, and evaluated anti-trafficking efforts in California. IHRLC faculty and students traveled to Geneva, Kampala, Los Angeles, Tegucigalpa, and Washington DC to interview victims and witnesses, consult with experts, and press policymakers. For more information about these and other exciting projects, please read our newsletter.
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Independent Investigation of the Murder of Berta Cáceres
On March 2, 2016, armed persons stormed into the home of human rights defender Berta Cáceres, shot her dead, and injured Gustavo Castro, a Mexican national. Before her death, Berta had mobilized indigenous Lenca communities in a grassroots campaign that prompted the world’s largest dam builder to withdraw from the Agua Zarca Dam project – one of dozens of dam projects approved by the Honduran government on Lenca land. In response to her activism over the years, Berta had achieved international acclaim and become the target of death threats and the victim of physical attacks and legal persecution. In 2013, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ordered the Honduran government to take action to protect her safety.
Honduran police have arrested eight suspects for the murder, including the manager of environmental issues for the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos, S.A. (DESA) that has government authorization to build the Agua Zarca Dam, the former deputy chief of security for DESA, and an active-duty major in the Honduran army. But the case has not progressed without serious problems. In late 2016, the criminal file was stolen from the vehicle of a judge. To date, the intellectual authors of the murder have not been fully identified.
According to international human rights experts, Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists. Members of the organization founded by Berta, the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), continue to be victims of threats and attacks. The vast majority of crimes against Honduran human rights and environmental activists are never investigated.
Immediately after the murder, the Cáceres family called for an independent investigation of the crime by international experts. The Honduran government, however, refused to reach an agreement with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to authorize an international investigation. In 2016, the International Expert Advisory Panel (GAIPE) was created at the request of the Cáceres family and with the support of national and international civil society organizations. GAIPE’s mandate is to carry out an impartial and independent examination of the criminal investigation, conduct an analysis of the context in which the attacks occurred, and issue recommendations.
Over the spring 2017 semester, Clinic students worked with GAIPE’S team of international experts to investigate the murder of Cáceres. Students investigated facts related to the case, including issues related to the state security forces and businesses tied to the murder, and provided their findings to the expert panel. GAIPE’s final report with recommendations was published on October 31, 2017. See full coverage of the report and its recommendations here.