A cross on the side of the road painted in the colours of the Nasa indigenous people, reads, “Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do,” after the murders of indigenous and environmental defenders in Miranda, Cauca, Colombia. Photo: Tom Laffay / The Guardian

By Jonathan Watts
2 February 2018

(The Guardian) – The slaughter of people defending their land or environment continued unabated in 2017, with new research showing almost four people a week were killed worldwide in struggles against mines, plantations, poachers and infrastructure projects.

The toll of 197 in 2017 – which has risen fourfold since it was first compiled in 2002 – underscores the violence on the frontiers of a global economy driven by expansion and consumption.

“The situation remains critical. Until communities are genuinely included in decisions around the use of their land and natural resources, those who speak out will continue to face harassment, imprisonment and the threat of murder,” said Ben Leather, senior campaigner for Global Witness.

But there was a glimmer of hope that after four consecutive increases, the number of deaths has flattened off, amid growing global awareness of the crisis and a renewed push for multinational companies to take more responsibility and for governments to tackle impunity.

Most of the killings occurred in remote forest areas of developing countries, particularly in Latin America where the abundance of resources is often in inverse proportion to the authority of the law or environmental regulation.

Extractive industries were one of the deadliest drivers of violence, according to the figures, which were shared exclusively with the Guardian in an ongoing collaboration with Global Witness to name every victim.

Mining conflicts accounted for 36 killings, several of them linked to booming global demand for construction materials.

In India, three members of the Yadav family: Niranjan, Uday, and Vimlesh, were murdered last May as they tried to prevent the extraction of sand from a riverbank by their village of Jatpura.

In Turkey, a retired couple, Ali and Aysin Büyüknohutçu, were gunned down in their home after they won a legal battle to close a marble quarry that supplied blocks for upscale hotels and municipal monuments.

The hunger for minerals was also blamed for turning the Andes into a “war zone” with high-profile conflicts between indigenous groups and the owners of Las Bambas copper mine in Peru and El Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia.

Agribusiness was the biggest driver of violence as supermarket demand for soy, palm oil, sugarcane and beef provided a financial incentive for plantations and ranches to push deeper into indigenous territory and other communal land. [more]

Almost four environmental defenders a week killed in 2017


Map showing the most dangerous places for environmental defenders in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Since the start of 2015, 145 land and environmental defenders have died in Brazil: the highest number on Earth. Many of the killings were of people trying to combat illegal logging in the Amazon. The Philippines comes second on the list, with 102 deaths in all. Honduras remains the most dangerous country to be a defender, with more killings per capita than anywhere else. Graphic: The Guardian

By Rachel Cox
2 February 2018

(Global Witness) – Today, in partnership with The Guardian, we publish new data showing that 197 people were killed in 2017 for standing up to the governments and companies that steal their land and harm the environment, calling out the corrupt and unjust practices that enable it.

These activists are at the frontline of a global battleground. From the ruthless scramble for natural wealth in the Amazon, to park rangers protecting the nature reserves of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the faces of environmental defenders span continents, countries and regions. Yet, the threats they face are one and the same.

Agribusiness overtakes mining for links to killings

There are some depressingly familiar trends in the data we are releasing today, when compared to figures released in recent years. Latin America remains at the top of the scale for global killings of land and environment defenders in 2017. However, agribusiness has overtaken mining as the industry most linked to the murder of activists – together these industries make up over 60% of known links. Meanwhile, defending national parks continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, with 21 recorded deaths linked to poaching.

Emilsen Manyoma from Colombia, was the leader of Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios (Conpaz), an organisation working to create spaces free from armed groups in her community, and speaking out against right-wing paramilitary groups. Documenting killings and forced disappearances, she was an outspoken critic who called out companies for forcing people off their land. Alongside her husband, Joe Javier Rodallega, she lost her life in a targeted and deadly attack.

Mexico now far more dangerous for environment defenders

Mexico is now a far more dangerous place for those fighting to protect their land, sitting in fourth place (up from fourteenth) in the global list of deadliest countries to be an environmental defender.

At the very start of 2017, Isidro Balenegro Lopez, a Mexican activist and Goldman environmental prize winner, was gunned down. He was an outspoken critic of illegal logging which threatened the ancient forests near his home - a region afflicted by violence, drug trafficking and corruption. He is the second award winner to be murdered, following the death of the celebrated Honduran activist Berta Caceres, who was killed less than 12 months earlier.

Murder is just one tactic used to silence environmental activists – they are often faced with an arsenal of death threats, sexual violence and aggressive legal assaults. Wayne Lotter, a leading campaigner against the ivory trade in Tanzania had reported numerous deaths threats as a result of his animal conservation work. He was shot and killed by two armed men in August 2017.

But killings are levelling off

Tracking the deaths of environmental defenders in real time means we can show that the number of killings have levelled off for the first time in four consecutive years. As the international community sits up and listens to these hidden stories, there is a momentum for renewed pressure on companies and investors to take more responsibility and further scrutinize governments who have allowed those who kill to get away with it.

Muders of environmental defenders per month, 2015-2017. The death toll has risen in recent years, and researchers warn the upward trend is likely to continue if governments and businesses fail to act. The most violent full year recorded so far was 2016, when 201 defenders were killed. Graphic: The Guardian

By putting these killings on the map, and campaigning for governments, companies and investors to safeguard and consult communities affected by projects on their land, we hope that our work helps to end levels of impunity that have emboldened the perpetrators of violence and in most cases, allowed them to literally get away with murder.

Read the full Guardian report on killings of environmental defenders in 2017.

New data reveals 197 land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017

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