Nearly 200 Environmental Activists Were Murdered in 2017. In 2018, the Killing Continues
April 8, 2018 The Guardian UK & Global Witness
Over the past year, in collaboration with Global Witness, the Guardian has attempt to record the deaths of all these people, whether they be wildlife rangers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or indigenous land rights activists in Brazil. At this current rate, chances are that four environmental defenders will be killed this week somewhere on the planet.
16 Environmental Defenders Have Been
Killed So Far in 2018 The Guardian UK & Global Witness
(April 7, 2018) -- Over the past year, in collaboration with Global Witness, the Guardian has attempt to record the deaths of all these people, whether they be wildlife rangers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or indigenous land rights activists in Brazil. At this current rate, chances are that four environmental defenders will be killed this week somewhere on the planet.
Some of the Latest to Have Died
Killed on 2 March 2018 in Philippines
Ricardo Mayumi, an indigenous activist opposed to a hydroelectric dam project who was shot dead in his home
Killed on 20 February 2018 in Honduras
Luis Fernando Ayala, a 16-year-old member of the Santabarbarense Environmental Movement (MAS) found dead and reportedly with signs of torture
Killed on 17 January 2018 in Kenya
Robert Kirotich, an indigenous herder reportedly shot by the Kenya Forest Service during a forced eviction for an EU-funded water conservation project
Killed on 16 January 2018 in Mexico
Guadalupe Campanur, founder and ex-member of the forest defense patrols in Cherán found strangled on a roadside
Killed on 9 January 2018 in Guatemala
Ronal David Barillas Diaz, a Xinca leader and human rights defender who was shot dead
All Who Were Killed in 2018 * Paulo Sergio Almeida Nascimento -- Brazil * Kavous Seyed Emami -- Iran * Teurn Soknai p\-- Cambodia * Sek Wathana -- Cambodia * Thul Khna -- Cambodia * Evaldo Florentino -- Brazil * Ricky Olado -- Philippines * Marcio Matos -- Brazil * Valdemir Resplandes -- Brazil * Jomo Nyanguti -- Kenya * B Sailu -- India
Most Dangerous Places for Defenders
Since the start of 2015, 145 land and environmental defenders have died in Brazil: the highest number on Earth. Many of the killings were of people trying to combat illegal logging in the Amazon. The Philippines comes second on the list, with 102 deaths in all. Honduras remains the most dangerous country to be a defender, with more killings per capita than anywhere else.
The Pattern over Recent Years
The death toll has risen in recent years, and researchers warn the upward trend is likely to continue if governments and businesses fail to act. The most violent full year recorded so far was 2016, when 201 defenders were killed.
What's Driving This Violence?
The short answer is: industry. The most deadly industries to go up against were agribusiness and mining. Poaching, hydroelectric dams and logging were also key drivers of violence, Global Witness found. Many of the killings recorded occurred in remote villages deep within mountain ranges and rainforests, with indigenous communities hardest hit.
"Until companies, investors and governments
genuinely include communities in decisions around
the use of their land and natural resources,
the people who dare to speak out will continue
to face violence, imprisonment and loss of life."
-- Rachel Cox, Global Witness Campaigner
Today, in partnership with The Guardian, we publish new data showing that 197 people were killed in 2017 for standing up to the governments and companies that steal their land and harm the environment, calling out the corrupt and unjust practices that enable it.
These activists are at the frontline of a global battleground. From the ruthless scramble for natural wealth in the Amazon, to park rangers protecting the nature reserves of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the faces of environmental defenders span continents, countries and regions. Yet, the threats they face are one and the same.
Agribusiness overtakes mining for links to killings
There are some depressingly familiar trends in the data we are releasing today, when compared to figures released in recent years. Latin America remains at the top of the scale for global killings of land and environment defenders in 2017.
However, agribusiness has overtaken mining as the industry most linked to the murder of activists -- together these industries make up over 60% of known links. Meanwhile, defending national parks continues to be one of the world's most dangerous jobs, with 21 recorded deaths linked to poaching.
Emilsen Manyoma from Colombia, was the leader of Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios (Conpaz), an organisation working to create spaces free from armed groups in her community, and speaking out against right-wing paramilitary groups.
Documenting killings and forced disappearances, she was an outspoken critic who called out companies for forcing people off their land. Alongside her husband, Joe Javier Rodallega, she lost her life in a targeted and deadly attack.
Mexico now far more dangerous for environment defenders
Mexico is now a far more dangerous place for those fighting to protect their land, sitting in fourth place (up from fourteenth) in the global list of deadliest countries to be an environmental defender.
At the very start of 2017, Isidro Balenegro Lopez, a Mexican activist and Goldman environmental prize winner, was gunned down. He was an outspoken critic of illegal logging which threatened the ancient forests near his home -- a region afflicted by violence, drug trafficking and corruption. He is the second award winner to be murdered, following the death of the celebrated Honduran activist Berta Caceres, who was killed less than 12 months earlier.
Murder is just one tactic used to silence environmental activists -- they are often faced with an arsenal of death threats, sexual violence and aggressive legal assaults. Wayne Lotter, a leading campaigner against the ivory trade in Tanzania had reported numerous deaths threats as a result of his animal conservation work. He was shot and killed by two armed men in August 2017.
But killings are leveling off
Tracking the deaths of environmental defenders in real time means we can show that the number of killings have leveled off for the first time in four consecutive years.
As the international community sits up and listens to these hidden stories, there is a momentum for renewed pressure on companies and investors to take more responsibility and further scrutinize governments who have allowed those who kill to get away with it.
By putting these killings on the map, and campaigning for governments, companies and investors to safeguard and consult communities affected by projects on their land, we hope that our work helps to end levels of impunity that have emboldened the perpetrators of violence and in most cases, allowed them to literally get away with murder. Almost Four Environmental Defenders a Week Killed in 2017 Jonathan Watts / The Guardian
(February 2, 2018) -- The slaughter of people defending their land or environment continued unabated in 2017, with new research showing almost four people a week were killed worldwide in struggles against mines, plantations, poachers and infrastructure projects.
The toll of 197 in 2017 -- which has risen fourfold since it was first compiled in 2002 -- underscores the violence on the frontiers of a global economy driven by expansion and consumption.
"The situation remains critical. Until communities are genuinely included in decisions around the use of their land and natural resources, those who speak out will continue to face harassment, imprisonment and the threat of murder," said Ben Leather, senior campaigner for Global Witness.
But there was a glimmer of hope that after four consecutive increases, the number of deaths has flattened off, amid growing global awareness of the crisis and a renewed push for multinational companies to take more responsibility and for governments to tackle impunity.
Most of the killings occurred in remote forest areas of developing countries, particularly in Latin America where the abundance of resources is often in inverse proportion to the authority of the law or environmental regulation.
Extractive industries were one of the deadliest drivers of violence, according to the figures, which were shared exclusively with the Guardian in an ongoing collaboration with Global Witness to name every victim.
Mining conflicts accounted for 36 killings, several of them linked to booming global demand for construction materials.
In India, three members of the Yadav family: Niranjan, Uday and Vimlesh, were murdered last May as they tried to prevent the extraction of sand from a riverbank by their village of Jatpura.
In Turkey, a retired couple, Ali and Aysin Büyüknohutçu, were gunned down in their home after they won a legal battle to close a marble quarry that supplied blocks for upscale hotels and municipal monuments.
The hunger for minerals was also blamed for turning the Andean nations into a "war zone" with high-profile conflicts between indigenous groups and the owners of Las Bambas copper mine in Peru and El Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia [see footnote].
Agribusiness was the biggest driver of violence as supermarket demand for soy, palm oil, sugarcane and beef provided a financial incentive for plantations and ranches to push deeper into indigenous territory and other communal land.
With many of the tensions focussed in the Amazon, Brazil -- with 46 killings -- was once again the deadliest country for defenders. Relative to size, however, smaller Amazonian neighbours were more dangerous.
Colombia suffered 32 deaths, largely due to an uptick of land conflicts and assassinations in the wake of the 2015 peace deal, which left a power vacuum in regions previously operated by Farc guerrillas. Among the most prominent victims was Efigenia Vásquez, a radio and video journalist from the Kokonuko community who was shot during a protest "to liberate Mother Earth".
Peru witnessed one the worst massacres of the year in September when six farmers were killed by a criminal gang who wanted to acquire their land cheaply and sell it at a hefty profit to palm oil businesses.
Gangs and governments were largely responsible for the bloodshed in the second and fourth countries on the list: Mexico with 15 killings (a more than fivefold rise over the previous year), and the Philippines, which -- with 41 deaths -- was once again the most murderous country for defenders in Asia.
A broader crackdown by the country's president, Rodrigo Duterte, was a key factor. When his soldiers massacred eight Lumad in Lake Sebu on 3 December, the government claimed they died in a firefight with rebels, but fellow activists insisted they were killed for opposing a coal mine and coffee plantation on their ancestral land.
Members of a delegation of indigenous and rural community leaders from 14 countries in Latin America and Indonesia, the Guardians of the Forest campaign, demonstrate against deforestation in London. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images.
In Africa, the greatest threat came from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo where four rangers and a porter were ambushed and killed in July. But the highest profile victim last year of the poaching conflict was Wayne Lotter, an influential conservationist who was murdered in Tanzania after receiving death threats.
Global Witness believe many more murders go unreported. Defenders are also being beaten, criminalised, threatened or harassed. In a recent example, Ecuadorean forest activist Patricia Gualinga reported last month that attackers had thrown rocks through her windows and yelled death threats at her.
This is common. The EU-funded Environmental Justice Atlashas identified more than 2,335 cases of tension over water, territory, pollution or extractive industries, and researchers say the number and intensity are growing.
Justice is rare. The assassins are often hired by businessmen or politicians and usually go unpunished. Defenders, who tend to be from poor or indigenous communities, are criminalised and targeted by police or corporate security guards. When they are killed, their families have little recourse to justice or media exposure.
But there are patches of progress. Some countries saw falls, notably Honduras and Nicaragua, though activists remain in a vulnerable situation.
Civil society groups and international institutions are also increasingly mobilising behind environmental rights. Last month, 116 organisations in the Philippines launched a petition declaring: "It is not a crime to defend the environment."
Campaigners for indigenous communities have taken their struggle to global climate talks and the United Nations.
Some international institutions are willing to listen. Following criticism for having backed the Honduran hydro project linked to the murder of activist Berta Cáceres, the Dutch Development Bank (FMO) has broken ground by declaring the safety of human rights defenders to be a key factor in future investment decisions.
"The time has come for more investors to step up and take measures which guarantee that their money isn't fuelling attacks against activists," said Leather.
The UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, urged governments to address the culture of impunity and said the media had an important role in boosting transparency.
"Environmentalists have been at risk for many years, but the full extent of the global crisis has only become clear as a result of the work of Global Witness and the Guardian to identify every environmental defender killed because of their work," Knox said.
"As a result, it's possible to see more clearly the underlying causes and risk factors, including the failures of governments to protect these defenders from threats and violence. I think that there are some signs that governments are starting to respond to the increasing international attention to these cases, but much more needs to be done."
Footnote:This article was amended on 27 February 2018. An earlier version referred to "the Andes" where "Andean nations" was meant. After publication, Cerrejon contacted the Guardian to say that the location of its mine is "in no way a war zone as described in the article". The company added: "We would like to stress that there is no relationship at all between Cerrejon's activities and the death of any activist, and that Cerrejon implements leading international social and human rights standards."
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