MANILA, Philippines – At least 200 land and environmental defenders died in 2016, the deadliest year on record according to the latest report by environmental monitor Global Witness.
Released Thursday, July 13, the report “Defenders of the Earth: Global killings of land and environmental defenders in 2016” noted that nearly 4 people were murdered every week while protecting their land, forests, and rivers from mining, logging, and agricultural companies.
Global Witness noted that this trend is both growing and spreading. Compared to the 185 people killed across 16 countries in 2015, the killings in 2016 were dispersed across 24 countries.
But Global Witness said that with “severe limits on available information,” it is likely that the true number of killings is “actually far higher.”
“This tide of violence is driven by an intensifying fight for land and natural resources, as mining, logging, hydro-electric, and agricultural companies trample on people and the environment in their pursuit of profit,” the executive summary read.
“As more and more extractive projects were imposed on communities, many of those who dared to speak out and defend their rights were brutally silenced.”
According to the report, mining is still the most dangerous sector, with at least 33 people reported killed.
For instance, Global Witness noted that a “voracious mining industry” makes the Philippines stand out for killings in Asia, with 28 recorded killings. About a third of these defenders were campaigning against mining and extractives.
Murders associated to logging are also on the rise, from 15 in 2015 to 23 in 2016.
Latin America, where 60% of the murders were recorded, remains the worst affected region, with Brazil as the deadliest country in terms of numbers, and Nicaragua as the worst place per capita.
Almost 40% of the victims were indigenous, one the most vulnerable groups of defenders.
Park rangers and forest guards are also facing heightened risks, with at least 20 of them were murdered in 2016.
In Africa, for instance, large numbers of rangers were killed in 2016, with 9 proven murders in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.
The report said it is “increasingly clear” that governments and companies globally are “failing in their duty to protect activists at risk.”
“They are permitting a level of impunity that allows the vast majority of perpetrators to walk free, emboldening would-be assassins,” the report read.
But it is the activists themselves who are often painted as criminals, the report said, as they face “trumped-up criminal charges and aggressive civil cases brought by governments and companies seeking to silence them.”
This criminalization of activists, according to the report, is meant to intimidate them, tarnish their reputations, and “lock them into costly legal battles.”
“States are breaking their own laws and failing their citizens in the worst possible way,” Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather said in a statement.
“Brave activists are being murdered, attacked and criminalized by the very people who are supposed to protect them. Governments, companies and investors have a duty to guarantee that communities are consulted about the projects that affect them, that activists are protected from violence, and that perpetrators are brought to justice,” he added.
The report recommended for governments, companies, investors, and bilateral aid and trade partners to take these steps to keep land and environmental defenders safe:
- Tackle the root causes of risk by guaranteeing that communities can make free and informed choices about whether and how their land and resources are used.
- Support and protect defenders through specific laws, policies, and practices.
- Ensure accountability for abuses with the prosecution of those responsible for ordering or carrying out an attack, and ensuring actors who failed to support and protect defenders face consequences for their inaction.