A record number of activists who worked to protect the environment and land rights were assassinated last year, according to the latest Global Witness report. A total of 227 people died worldwide in 2020 while trying to protect forests, rivers and other ecosystems on which their livelihoods depended, the highest number on record for the second year in a row. The violent appropriation of resources in the global southHe continued unabated despite the pandemic.
All but one of the deadly attacks took place outside of North America, Europe and Oceania. The authors say that environmental conflicts, such as the climate crisis, disproportionately affect lower-income nations. Indigenous communities suffered more than a third of the murders, despite representing only 5% of the world’s population.
«On average, our data show that cFour defenders have been assassinated every week since the signing of the Paris climate agreement in 2016, “says the report. “As the climate crisis worsens, forest fires ravage parts of the planet, drought destroys agricultural lands and floods leave thousands of deaths, the situation of front-line communities and defenders of the Earth is getting worse.
The annual death toll has risen over the past two years and is now double the 2013 level. It is still believed to be an understatement because the calculation depends on transparency, freedom of the press and civil rights, which vary considerably from country to country.
“Attacks are on the rise,” one of the authors, Chris Madden, told The Guardian newspaper. “We are seeing that in multiple data sets around the world.”
List of countries
As in previous years, South and Central America, home to the world’s richest intact forests and biodiversity, was the deadliest region for those trying to resist mining, logging and agribusiness.
Colombia topped the list with 65 deaths. The victims include biologist Gonzalo Cardona, who is credited with saving the long-eared parrot, who was killed by a criminal gang, from extinction, and ranger Yamid Alonso Silva, who was killed near El Cocuy National Park. Is such the level of violence and intimidation that a 12-year-old boy, Francisco Vera, has received anonymous death threats on Twitter for his activism.
The second deadliest nation was Mexico, where 30 defenders lost their lives. Among them was Oscar Eyraud Adams, an indigenous man from the Kumiai territory in Mexico, who protested when his crops dried up after the community water source was diverted to richer areas and a Heineken factory. He was shot on September 24 in Tecate, Baja California by gunmen who arrived at this house in two vehicles with tinted windshields.
In third place was the Philippines with 29 dead, making it once again the country with the most killings of defenders in Asia. It also suffered the most massacres. The most shocking occurred on December 30 when the army and police massacred 9 indigenous Tumandok who had resisted a mega-dam project on the Jalaur River in Panay.
Brazil was the next in the world ranking with 20 murders. The death toll in Brazil has dropped slightly in recent years, although the conflict has moved to a higher level under President Jair Bolsonaro. Rather than small-scale illegal attacks at the local level, the assault on defenders now takes the form of bills and laws in Congress that undermine environmental and territorial protections. “In recent years in Brazil, we have seen aggressive expansion policies,” said co-author Rachel Cox. “They are using legal mechanisms. It is a different type of attack: the criminalization and undermining of the political rights of defenders.
Nicaragua, with 12 murders, was the country with the most deaths in per capita terms and one of the most rapidly deteriorating critical points, with murders doubling from the previous year. The report also listed a rare case in Saudi Arabia. Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti of the Huwaiti tribe died resisting the eviction from the new planned city-state of Neom.
The situation has not improved with the pandemic
The pandemic provided a little respite for defenders, while also opening up new territory for land grabbers and poachers. “2020 was supposed to be the year the world stopped, but this did not translate into fewer attacks”Madden said. “In some countries protests were closed while industries were allowed to continue. We saw it with mining in the Philippines and a further invasion in the Amazon.
Global Witness cited a Freedom House report that found 158 countries had imposed new restrictions to the demonstrations due to the pandemic. In some cases, the lockdown may even have made matters worse by making it easier for killers to know where to find their targets and by making activists more vulnerable to digital attacks.
The pandemic also made it more difficult for Global Witness and its partners to investigate the circumstances of each murder. They found that at least 30% of reported attacks were related to resource exploitation, mainly logging, mining and hydroelectric dams. But in more than 100 cases, the cause was unclear.
Veteran environmental activist Bill McKibben blamed the exploitation of resources by companies in rich countries. In a foreword to the report, he wrote: “Corporations must be more responsible and must take action. Above all because the people who inhabit these places never really share the riches they produceColonialism is still strong, even if it is disguised with corporate logos or hidden with bank accounts abroad. Meanwhile, the rest of us must realize that the people killed each year for defending their local places are also defending our shared planet, particularly our climate. ‘
Global Witness also reported several notable victories for defenders in 2020. The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association and conservation groups stopped a plan by two Chinese companies to build a coal mine in Hwange national park. US and Canadian activists have stopped oil sands extraction and lobbied banks to stop funding Arctic exploration. In South Africa, a higher court canceled approval of a coal-fired power plant in Limpopo province. In Brazil, the Asháninka indigenous community obtained compensation for the illegal deforestation of their territory by a logging company.
The watchdog group has outlined proposals for governments and businesses to reduce the risks of violence in resource extraction. Going forward, they are hopeful of a new bill being drafted by the EU commission that would require companies to carry out environmental and human rights due diligence in their supply chains. The United Nations is also working on a binding treaty on business and human rights, but still there is a long way to go before such measures reduce the impunity that allows killings to occur.