Why we need to remember those who died fighting organised crime

Faces of Assassination 1

On March 2, 2016, environmental activist and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Berta Cáceres was murdered in Honduras. The motive: her leadership in the fight against illegal land-grabs by corporations and political elites — organised crime. Berta’s international acclaim wasn’t enough to protect her from powerful interests, but her legacy continues through the work of countless activists and the world’s collective memory. In fact, at SOAS’s JCR (Junior Common Room), her face can be spotted amongst the murals that decorate its walls — forever strong, determined, unbeaten.

Berta Cáceres is also featured in The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime’s latest campaign, #AssassinationWitness, which sheds light on our understanding of the impact that organised crime has in the daily lives of citizens who relentlessly fight against it. As part of this campaign, on 15 June the Global Initiative launched a new book, Faces of Assassination: Bearing witness to the victims of organized crime, which features the profiles of 50 people assassinated by criminal groups since the start of the millennium.

Berta Caceres; social justice campaigner

These profiles feature the stories of citizens spanning 40 countries who lost their lives due to their role as journalists, activists, police officers, community leaders and other work which exposed illegal activity or disrupted the political establishment.

One of these stories, for example, is that of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s most widely read investigative journalist who powerful forces wanted silenced and was killed by a car bomb minutes after leaving home on October 16, 2017. Another is the story of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian politician well known for his anti-corruption activism and fierce criticism of Vladimir Putin. He was shot on the night of February 27, 2015, while he was walking along Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge with his partner. In 2017, Edmore Ndou, a Zimbabwean wildlife ranger, was killed for protecting wildlife from poachers. Jacob Juma, a Nairobi businessman, was murdered in 2016 due to his tireless fight against corruption. Social activist Perween Rahman was shot to death in Pakistan in 2013. 

These stories and the rest of those in the book are just handpicked examples from the countless victims of organised crime. The human cost of illicit markets remains painfully high, and its impact on communities is devastating, instilling fear and silence. This campaign aims to heighten the visibility of these murders and pay tribute to the victims’ sacrifice. Hopefully, it will also inspire future global leaders like our SOAS students and alumni to create more resilient communities and to continue working against injustice and corruption and fight for environmental and human rights. As a slogan for Berta Cáceres’ legacy goes: “Berta is alive; the struggle thrives!”

Anna Rosenberg is a SOAS alumna, having graduated from CISD’s MA in International Studies and Diplomacy in 2019. She currently works as a Research Assistant for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. 

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