A record 212 environmental activists were killed in 2019, which is considered to be the deadliest year for activists, according to a new report.
The report – Defending Tomorrow- by Global Witness, an environmental NGO, said that four deaths happened per week and most of the killings went unpunished. The NGO also said that the deaths could be much higher as many cases go unreported.
The report said that a lot more of the activists were silenced by violent attacks, arrests, death threats, sexual violence or lawsuits. They said that the most shocking thing was that majority of the killings in 2019 happened in just two countries — Colombia and the Philippines. When 64 activists were killed in Colombia, 43 were killed in the Philippines.
- Colombia saw a sharp rise in the number of deaths with 64 defenders killed in 2019. This is double the number killed in 2018,
- Over two-thirds of killings took place in Latin America, which is ranked the worst-affected region since Global Witness began to publish data in 2012. The Amazon region saw 33 deaths in 2019. Almost 90 per cent of the killings are in Brazil.
- Mining is the sector linked to the most murders, with 50 killed in 2019. The Philippines was the country with most mining related killings, with 16 deaths.
- Asia is the worst region for agribusiness-related attacks. In 2019, 85 per cent of such attacks were in this region. Of these, almost 90 per cent were in the Philippines.
- Eighty five per cent of attacks were against the activists who opposed the logging industry.
- Nineteen of the victims killed were state officials or park rangers. The Philippines, Romania, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Brazil, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo were the countries that saw the death of officials.
- Europe remained the least-affected continent with only two people killed in 2019. Though deaths are low in this region, the activists face smear campaigns and criminalisation for their activism.
- Africa did not have a correct report of the incidents. Limited monitoring of the issue by civil society, media repression and localised conflict mean attacks are probably underreported in some regions, with seven environmental activists reported murdered.
- Indigenous peoples are at a disproportionate risk of reprisals. Forty per cent of the murdered belonged to this group. Between 2015 and 2019 over a third of all fatal attacks have targeted indigenous people – even though indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population.
- Criminalisation and smear campaigns against activists also saw an increase in 2019. Individuals and environmental organisations faced stigmatisation from government and local media, using labels like ‘anti-development’, ‘criminals’ or ‘terrorists’.
- Over one in ten killed was women. Women activists also face gender specific threats, including sexual violence. If other members of their household are defenders, they can become targeted too.
The Global Witness in its report ‘Defending Tomorrow’ has come up with the following recommendations;‘
To tackle the root causes, governments should:
- Resolve outstanding land claims and formally secure, including through legal means, the land rights of communities and indigenous peoples.
- Commit to addressing land inequality, including in regards to gender.
- Guarantee that no business project goes ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of potentially and affected indigenous communities at every stage of the project cycle or operation.
- Require the prior full assessment of the possible environmental and social impacts of proposed business operations and policies. The results of any assessment should be made public and used to mitigate against adverse impacts experienced by communities
- Legally legitimise the role of land and environmental defenders and publicly condemn any threats again them, with specific attention to gender-based violence and attacks.
- Ensure national policies safeguard the rights of defenders and protesters to free assembly and speech, as well as potential recourse to civil disobedience.
To ensure accountability, governments should:
- Provide effective accountability mechanisms at every level that deliver tangible results in defenders’ lives, in line with international laws and standards.
- Bring to justice those responsible for ordering or carrying out any threat or attack against a land or environmental defender.
- Prevent, investigate, punish and redress corruption, human rights abuses and environmental damage through effective policies, legislation, regulations and reparations, including holding companies and investors to account on their obligations when operating projects or sourcing land-based goods, both at home and abroad.
- Make foreign aid and investment in projects conditional upon whether specific measures for the security of land and environmental defenders are in place or not.