The killing of indigenous activists is reaching epidemic levels, the UN warns. The organization urges governments to ensure proper protection for environmentalists, especially in vulnerable areas like Central and South America.
The word ‘activist’ carries a strange connotation. Strictly speaking the word means “a person who campaigns for some kind of social change.” If you’re trying convince people to keep the local library open, you’re an activist. If you protest your local politicians, you’re an activist. Ultimately, activism strives to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis with the desire to make improvements in society and to correct social injustice. However, for all the positive changes they try to bring, it doesn’t seem like activists are appreciated in most parts of the world. If anything, it seems like some groups of interests want to get rid of them – one way or another.
Prize-winning campaigner Berta Caceres was slain by gunmen earlier this month weeks after opposing a hydroelectric dam in the dangerous central American state. This week, another member of her organization, Nelson Garcia, was killed by security forces during an eviction of an indigenous community. An indigenous leader of the Shuar people who was openly opposing a major mining project in Ecuador has been found bound and buried, just days before an environmental protest he was organizing in Peru’s capital, Lima. These are not isolated events. 908 activists were officially assassinated in the world in the past decade, according to a study and the UN warns that the activist killings are spreading like an epidemic.
“The pattern of killings in many countries is becoming an epidemic definitely,” Tauli-Corpuz told Climate Home by phone from Brazil where she is investigating violence faced by Amazonian tribes.
Things seem to be getting worse in recent years. At least 116 environmental defenders were killed in 2014, according to NGO Global Witness, forty percent of whom were indigenous. These are people who are bringing positive changes in their community, they are trying to prevent corporate and governmental abuse — and they are being killed for this. The situation in South America (especially in Brazil) is dire. The UN cited evictions in food-growing region Mato Grosso du Sol by multinationals like French commodities giant Louis Dreyfus, and the controversial Belo Monte hydro project in Para. Bribes are almost ubiquitous and law enforcement is non-existent. The UN calls on governments to protect the activists but unfortunately, I fear this won’t be the case. Being an activist is a dangerous thing, no matter where you are in the world.