Big agri, logging, oil, gas and mining industries murdered 212 environmental activists in 2019
More than 200 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019 – an average of more than four people a week, according to a new report by Global Witness. This is the highest number to date that have been murdered in a single year. Countless more have been silenced by violent attacks, arrests, death threats, sexual violence or lawsuits.
These defenders are protecting their lands and livelihoods from the destructive practices of agribusiness and the oil, gas and mining sectors.
Indigenous peoples continue to be at a disproportionate risk of threat, according to the report, with 40% of victims belonging to indigenous communities. Between 2015 and 2019 over a third of all fatal attacks have targeted indigenous people – even though indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population.
Recent research shows that indigenous and local communities globally are managing forests that contain carbon equivalents to more than 33 times our current annual emissions. Indigenous-managed lands, moreover, have been found to have lower deforestation rates and better conservation outcomes than protection zones that exclude indigenous peoples.
Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role indigenous peoples play and the dangers they increasingly face, many businesses, financiers and governments continue to fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work.
Over half of all reported killings last year occurred in Colombia and the Philippines. Both, according to the report, have seen a rise in attacks against land and environmental defenders since 2018. Killings in Colombia in 2019 peaked at 64 activists – the highest Global Witness has ever recorded in the country.
Reports show that the murder of community and social leaders has risen dramatically in Colombia in recent years. The United Nations Human Rights Office points to several reasons for this growing tide of violence, such as the challenges of implementing the 2016 Peace Agreement including land reform and programmes meant to encourage farmers to swap illegal crops for legal harvests. The resulting shifts in local power dynamics is driving increased violence.
The Philippines has become even deadlier for activists since 2018, having been consistently named as one of the worst places in Asia for attacks against defenders. In 2019, the number of murders rising to 43. According to Global Witness, the “relentless vilification of defenders by the government and widespread impunity for their attackers may well be driving the increase”.
Latin America worst-affected
Over two-thirds of killings took place in Latin America, which has consistently ranked the worst-affected region since Global Witness began to publish data in 2012. In 2019, the Amazon region alone saw 33 deaths. Almost 90% of the killings in Brazil were in the Amazon. In Honduras, killings rose from four in 2018 to 14 in 2019, making it the most dangerous country per capita in 2019.
Mining, according to the report, is the deadliest sector, with 50 defenders killed in 2019. Agribusiness-related murders totalled 34, and 85% of such attacks were recorded in Asia. Logging was the sector with the highest increase in killings globally since 2018, with 85% more attacks recorded against defenders opposing the industry and 24 defenders killed in 2019.
Europe remains the least-affected region, with two people killed in 2019, both working to stop illegal logging in Romania.
Over 1 in 10 defenders killed were women. Often the backbone of their community, women tend to take on more of the responsibility of looking after children and elderly relatives, on top of trying to earn a living and work as activists. Women who act and speak out may also face gender-specific threats, including sexual violence.
Insecure land tenure, irresponsible business practices and government policies that prioritise extractive economies at the cost of human rights are putting these people, and their land, at risk.
We have the power to relinquish our support from governments and companies that are involved in these practices. Whether that’s rejecting buying beef from intensive farming systems or unsustainable palm oil; whether that’s switching our finances to support companies only involved in non-destructive practices; whether that’s choosing leadership that is not corrupted by the vested interested of these industries, we all have a role to play in building a better, greener future for our planet and its people.
Businesses, financiers and governments must tackle the root causes of the problem, support and safeguard defenders and create regulations that ensure projects and operations are carried out with proper due diligence, transparency and free, prior and informed consent.
Please see Global Witness’ campaign for land and environmental defenders, and help amplify their causes and their voices to help bring in better rules to regulate destructive, climate-wrecking activity at the hands of companies involved in large-scale agriculture, mining and logging.