At least 177 land and environmental defenders (or one person every other day) were killed last year for safeguarding the environment. The new figures come from a new report by the NGO Global Witness. The figures bring the total number of defender killings up to 1,910 between 2012 and 2022, a disturbing trend that’s particularly prevalent in Latin America.
Latin America was home to 88% of the lethal attacks against activists last year, the report showed. Colombia emerged as the deadliest country in the world, with a tally of 60 deaths last year, more than a third of all killings globally. The country has seen the highest number of killings since the NGO started doing its report in 2012.
Other deadly countries last year in Latin America include Brazil, with 34 killings, Mexico with 31, and Honduras with 14 — the country with the highest per-capita killings in the world. In most cases, these incidents are linked with activists trying to protect their territories from extractive industries, including logging, mining and fossil fuel extraction, the report found.
“For too long, those responsible for lethal attacks against defenders have been getting away with murder. Violence, intimidation, and harassment are also being inflicted to silence defenders around the world,” Shruti Suresh, campaign lead at Global Witness, said in a news release. “Despite being threatened, this global movement of people are standing firm.”
The Amazon rainforest is one of most dangerous places for activists, the report found, with 39 killings last year, more than one in five of all killings worldwide (22%), taking place there. Included among these worrying figures are British Guardian journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who were killed in the Brazilian Amazon last June.
Indigenous communities also faced a disproportionate level of lethal attacks last year, as victims of more than a third (34%) of global environment-related killings while comprising only around 5% of the world’s population. Many studies have highlighted their role as caretakers of the environment, protecting their land, respecting wildlife and using traditional knowledge.
We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg
The new data on activist killings doesn’t fully capture the scale of the problem, the report authors said, warning the numbers could be even higher. Restrictions on a free press and a lack of independent monitoring in many countries, especially across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, lead to the killing of activists being largely underreported.
Furthermore, the authors found that activists are increasingly being subject to other forms of silencing through criminalization, with legal framework that should be protecting them instead being used against them. They said there’s a pattern of this happening across the globe, asking governments to make the necessary changes.
“Governments around the world must urgently address the senseless killings of those who stand up for our planet, including for the protection of its most precious ecosystems which have a critical role to play in tackling the climate emergency,” Suresh said. “United action is needed at regional, national, and international levels to end the violence.”
The NGO said governments should enforce existing laws that protect and recognize the rights of activists and ensure accountability for reprisals against defenders. Businesses should also implement due diligence processes to prevent any human rights and environmental harm against activities, ensuring corporate responsibility.
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