Dutch bank accused of complicity in Honduran activist's murder

A homage to Berta Caceres
A homage to Berta Caceres . (Photo: Chixoy / Wikimedia Commons)

Dutch development bank FMO is at least partly responsible for the death of Honduran activist Berta Caceres in March last year, according to the conclusions of an international team of human rights lawyers in an investigation report published on Tuesday. The Dutch bank helped fund the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in Honduras, protests around which ultimately resulted in the activist's murder, the Volkskrant reports.

"FMO's money was used to pay murderers", Miguel Angel Urbina, one of the investigators, said to the Volkskrant. "The bank is at least guilty of gross negligence."

The development bank vehemently denies these accusation. "FMO strongly denies any form of unlawful act in this or any other project", FMO spokesperson Paul Hartogsveld said in an email to the newspaper. "The authors of this report never consulted us, and we are considering steps relating to the allegations."

In 2014 FMO invested 15 million dollars into the hydroelectric power plant in Honduras, constructed by Honduran company DESA. The project was highly controversial - the dam was planned to be built on indigenous territory, and some of the Lenca Indian population opposed the plans, according to the newspaper. Fraud and irregularities were involved in the mandatory public consultation on the project. And the situation escalated into violent clashes between soldiers and activists. In March 2016, the conflict culminated in the murder of Berta Caceres, the coordinator of the Honduran association of native organizations COPINH.

The authorities initially tried to dismiss the murder as a crime of passion, but international organizations and the United Nations pressured the Honduran government to find the actual perpetrators. Eight suspects were arrested, including two DESA employees. Caceres' family had little faith in the authorities' investigation, and asked international human rights lawyers to look into the matter.

On Tuesday, the human rights lawyers published the results of their investigation, which was based on conversations with people involved, and email and telephone traffic from DESA employees and management. According to them, DESA had close ties with the Honduran authorities - the company had close contact with the security forces, who used violence against people who opposed the project, at DESA's request. According to the lawyers, DESA also planned Caceres' murder several months before it happened.

The human rights lawyers consider it proven that international financiers, including FMO, were aware of the way in which DESA handled opposition. "The financiers received alarming messages from, among others, Caceres", investigator Urbina said to the Volkskrant. "Human rights organizations repeatedly sounded the alarm. But the banks looked the other way, and continued to finance DESA's criminal activities." Urbina emphasized that DESA had no own capital, and solely relied on funding from foreign institutions. "FMO and the other banks thought to fund a hydroelectric power plant. But their money was also used to intimidate the local population, to pay violent private security officers and to plan and execute the murder of Caceres."

FMO can soon expect a summons, human rights lawyer Channa Samkalden of Amsterdam-based law firm Prakken d'Oliveira, who is representing Caceres' family in the Netherlands, said to the newspaper. "FMO knew that DESA used violence against opponents, but at the time it decided to continue the project", Samkalden said. "Partly because of this, people died."