By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Court papers relating to the murder of high-profile Honduran land rights activist Berta Caceres have been stolen, the United Nations said, urging government officials to quickly recover the documents and investigate how the theft occurred.
Local media reported that the documents were stolen on Sept. 29 in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.
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Caceres, who had received death threats over her work campaigning against the encroachment of hydroelectric dams and mines on indigenous lands, was killed in March.
It is unclear how the theft of the documents will affect the prosecution of the case in the Central American country, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
"If this is how the state is handling evidence in the case, then how can we trust their final outcome?" said Candido Mezua Salazar, a colleague of the environmental rights activist.
"Immediate action is needed to safeguard the rights of communities living in Honduras," Salazar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email late on Monday following the release of the U.N. statement.
Caceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her struggle to prevent the construction of a $50 million dam that threatened to displace hundreds of indigenous people.
European lenders who had backed the dam project froze their investments following international outcry over the murder.
In May, Honduran officials arrested four people in connection with the activist's murder, including an employee of the company whose dam project she helped block.
More than 100 land rights activists and environmentalists have been murdered in Honduras since 2010, the U.K.-based campaign group Global Witness said in March.
"The general climate for land rights activists in Honduras is increasingly critical and feels worse now given the theft of Berta's case files," said Salazar from the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)