This January 1999 image shows Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and human rights campaigner, carried to the courts after she was beaten by a mob after she confronted private developers that had illegally taken land in the Karura forest. Photo: EPA / Landov

By DENIS D. GRAY
14 April 2014

BANGKOK (AP) – As head of his village, Prajob Naowa-opas battled to save his community in central Thailand from the illegal dumping of toxic waste by filing petitions and leading villagers to block trucks carrying the stuff — until a gunman in broad daylight fired four shots into him.

A year later, his three alleged killers, including a senior government official, are on trial for murder. The dumping has been halted and villagers are erecting a statue to their slain hero.

But the prosecution of Prajob’s murder is a rare exception. A survey released Tuesday — the first comprehensive one of its kind – says that only 10 killers of 908 environmental activists slain around the world over the past decade have been convicted.

The report by the London-based Global Witness, a group that seeks to shed light on the links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses, says murders of those protecting land rights and the environment have soared dramatically. It noted that its toll of victims in 35 countries is probably far higher since field investigations in a number of African and Asian nations are difficult or impossible.

“Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation,” the report said. Others have been killed over hydro-electric dams, pollution, and wildlife conservation.

The rising deaths, along with non-lethal violence, are attributed to intensifying competition for shrinking resources in a global economy and abetted by authorities and security forces in some countries connected to powerful individuals, companies and others behind the killings.

Three times as many people died in 2012 than the 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week, according to the non-governmental group. Deaths in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented to date. […]

Brazil, the report says, is the world’s most dangerous place for activists with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013, followed by 109 in Honduras and Peru with 58. In Asia, the Philippines is the deadliest with 67, followed by Thailand at 16.

“We believe this is the most comprehensive global database on killings of environment and land defenders in existence,” said Oliver Courtney, senior campaigner at Global Witness. “It paints a deeply alarming picture, but it’s very likely this is just the tip of the iceberg, because information is very hard to find and verify. Far too little attention is being paid to this problem at the global level.” […]

Prosecution of Prajob’s suspected killers, Sunai said, was a “welcome rarity” in a country where investigations have been characterized by “half-hearted, inconsistent, and inefficient police work, and an unwillingness to tackle questions of collusion between political influences and interests and these killings of activists.”

“The convicted tend to have lowest levels of responsibility, such as the getaway car driver. The level of impunity is glaring,” he said. [more]

More Than 900 Environmental Advocates Slain In A Decade As Concern For The Planet Grows

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