More than 1,700 land activists murdered in the past decade

About 200 environmental and land-defence activists were killed in 2021 alone with Mexico the deadliest country with 54 deaths, according to Global Witness report.

Placard of the two men
A member of The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil group holds a placard with portraits of slain British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira [File: Johanna Geron/Reuters]

More than 1,700 environmental activists have been killed “trying to protect their land and resources” over the past decade, according to a report by international NGO Global Witness.

In 2021 alone, some 200 environmental and land-defence activists were killed around the world including 54 in Mexico, the deadliest country for environmentalists.

More than three-quarters of the killings took place in Latin America.

“[Since 2012] 1,733 defenders have been killed trying to protect their land and resources: that’s an average of one defender killed approximately every two days over 10 years,” said the report.

Mexico has witnessed consecutive increases over the last three years of murdered activists, jumping from 30 deaths in 2020. Colombia had the second highest toll at 33, followed by Brazil with 26 killings.

More than 40 percent of the murders were against Indigenous people who represent only five percent of the world’s population.

Beyond killings, many activists also experience other tactics to silence them, including death threats, surveillance, sexual violence or criminalisation.

“Most of these crimes happen in places that are far away from power and are inflicted on those with, in many ways, the least amount of power,” the report said.

Global Witness said its report is only a baseline. “Our data on killings is likely to be an underestimate given that many murders go unreported, particularly in rural areas and in particular countries.”

Conflicts over mining were tied to 27 deaths worldwide, the most for any sector. Fifteen of those mining-related killings were in Mexico.

According to Global Witness, Brazil is the country with the most murders since it started reporting on eco-defenders with 342 lethal attacks since 2012. More than 85 percent of killings have happened within Brazil’s Amazon.

“The Amazon has become a backdrop to increasing violence and impunity,” the report said.

“With powerful agricultural interests at the heart of Brazil’s export-focused economy, it is the setting for a battle over land and resources that has intensified following the election of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, in 2018.”

Earlier this year, British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were killed in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

In April 2021, the Indigenous governor in southwest Colombia, Sandra Liliana Peña Chocué, was killed near her home by armed men. She had fought for the eradication of coca crops in Caldono. The United Nations, nongovernmental organisations, and foreign governments condemned her murder.

Similarly, environmentalist José Santos Isaac Chávez – who was running for local office – was killed in the western Mexico state of Jalisco. He was found dead in his car days before the election. His body showed evidence of torture and the vehicle had been driven off a cliff.

In Mexico, preliminary investigations led federal officials to believe that local authorities are implicated in 40 percent of environmental activist killings. Only two of 45 cases have resulted in a suspect being charged.

Global Witness found conflicts over land were a key driver in many attacks, including resource exploitation, logging, mining and large-scale agriculture.

“Activists and communities play a crucial role as a first line of defence against ecological collapse, as well as being frontrunners in the campaign to prevent it,” Global Witness CEO Mike Davis said in the report.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies