The brother of Mexican activist Gustavo Castro, witness to Berta Caceres’ murder and victim in the attack, slammed Honduran authorities Thursday alongside local human rights defenders for arbitrarily detaining Castro in the country, denying him the right to legal defense, and attempting to criminalize him as he fears for his life after being left for dead at the crime scene.
“We reiterate that the judicial process has been characterized by violations of human rights and procedural safeguards of Gustavo Castro and his family,” Oscar Castro said in a press conference in Tegucigalpa.
He added that mistreatment of his brother has included barring him from returning to Mexico and limiting his access to legal documents for his defense, medical attention, and psychological support after suffering two gunshot wounds in Caceres’ home during the attack. He also added that long days waiting to be questioned and lack of breaks during lengthy investigative interviews is also taking a toll on Castro.
Authorities ordered this week that Gustavo Castro stay in Honduras for 30 days. His appeal against the ruling was denied.
The judge also suspended Castro’s lawyer from practicing law for 15 days, requesting a copy of his file. Human rights defenders have interpreted the move as an attempt to intimidate lawyers working on the case, while highlighting Castro’s inability to access case documents compromises his physical and psychological well-being.
Oscar Castro called for redoubled efforts to protect his brother in the face of his “arbitrary detention and danger of criminalization” in Honduras.
Meanwhile, one of Caceres’ daughters added that the family’s demands have not been met. Relatives have called for independent experts to participate in the investigation, similar to the model of the investigation into the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students in Mexico.
Members of COPINH and other human rights defenders reported an increase in criminalization against the organization, community leaders, and members of Caceres' family. They also raised concerns that the investigation is being carried out without attention to the larger context of systematic repression of human rights defenders.
The judge in the case of Gustavo suspended the defense lawyer after she demanded more transparency pic.twitter.com/ZyxLom1KGe— Gerardo T teleSUR (@GerardoTteleSUR) March 10, 2016
Honduran lawyer Wilfredo Mendez explicitly called on the Mexican Embassy to ensure Castro’s safety and avoid transferring him to a hotel given the grave threats he could face as a survivor of an assassination attempt.
Activist and politician Juan Almendares emphasized that Castro is a “victim of psychological torture and of the perverse cruelty of the judicial system” in Honduras, adding that local social movements together with international organizations will build solidarity to reject the violation of international treaties and continue to fight for human rights guarantees.
Given the widespread human rights crisis in Honduras in the wake of the 2009 coup, in which the U.S. and Canada have been complicit, and the nearly complete impunity for abuses, human rights defenders have reason to be highly skeptical of the Honduran judicial system and official investigation.
Family members released a statement Wednesday holding the Honduran state responsible for Caceres’ death and demanding an independent investigation, led by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, over 220 organizations have signed a letter urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to support calls for an independent expert probe into the case.
The organizations also called on Kerry to pressure the Honduran government to comply with the IACHR precautionary measures for the protection of Gustavo Castro and other witnesses, as well as members of COPINH and Caceres’ family.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has also called the Foreign Ministry to issue precautionary measures for Castro and urged officials to negotiate with Honduran authorities to ensure Castro’s safe return to Honduras as soon as possible, the Mexican daily La Jornada reported.
Caceres was shot dead in her home in the early hours of March 3 when assailants broke into her home where Castro, a Mexican sociologist and activist with Other World Chiapas and other organizations, was staying. Caceres was shot dead, and Castro suffered two gunshot wounds.
Castro wrote in a statement that Caceres died in his arms. He has vowed that despite fearing for his life and being mistreated in the investigative process, he will continue to fight for justice for Caceres and her legacy.