MAC: Mines and Communities

Surge in deaths of environmental activists over past decade, report finds

Published by MAC on 2014-04-15
Source: Statement, The Guardian (2014-04-15)

Global Witness have produced a report focussing on the rise in killings of those people defending environmental and land rights (including mining activists). A PDF version of the report and press release can be downloaded here: http://www.globalwitness.org/deadlyenvironment/

More than 900 people were killed while campaigning against land grabs, industrial logging and other causes in 35 countries. Only 10 people have been convicted in related cases.

As is noted below "Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. Several in Guatemala and Honduras told the Guardian that they were unaware their territory has been sold until machinery and security guards working for mining or hydroelectric companies appeared overnight."

Al Jazeera has produced a video reporting from Palawan in the Philippines.

Surge in deaths of environmental activists over past decade, report finds

Investigation by Global Witness reveals there were nearly three times as many deaths in 2012 than 10 years previously

Nina Lakhani

The Guardian

15 April 2014

The killing of activists protecting land rights and the environment has surged over the past decade, with nearly three times as many deaths in 2012 than 10 years previously, a new report has found.

Deadly Environment, an investigation by London-based Global Witness documents 147 recorded deaths in 2012, compared to 51 in 2002. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 908 activists were killed in 35 countries - with only 10 convictions. The death rate has risen in the past four years to an average of two activists a week, according to the report, which also documents 17 forced disappearances, all of whom are presumed dead.

Deaths in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented to date, the environmental rights organisation warned, with under-reporting and difficulties verifying killings in isolated areas in a number of African and Asian nations. Reports from countries including Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar, where civil society groups are weak and the regimes authoritarian, were not included in the Global Witness count.

"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 for protests over hydroelectric dams, pollution and wildlife conservation.

Brazil, the report found, is the world's most deadly country for communities defending natural resources, 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. More than 80% of the recorded deaths were in Latin and Central America.

There have been only 10 successful prosecutions connected with the killings in Brazil over the past 12 years. Isolete Wichinieski, national coordinator of the Brazilian group Commisão Pastoral da Terra, said: "what feeds the violence is the impunity".

The investigation unearthed information on perpetrators in just 294 of the 448 deaths, of which 54 were identified as police or military units.

In Brazil, the Amazon is the main frontier and most violent conflicts take place in newly deforested areas where communities are first confronted by illegal loggers, closely followed by cattle ranchers and soy bean farmers.

In Honduras, the second most dangerous country, 93 peasant farmers in the fertile Bajo Aguan region have been murdered since 2010 amid land conflicts with agribusinesses expanding African palms plantations that are traded globally on the lucrative carbon credits scheme.

But the murder of Brazilian ecologists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo in May 2011 suggests high-profile campaigners are not immune from the violence. Two assassins in this case were convicted.

Killing of land rights and the environment actvists in Brazil : Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva
Laisa do Espirito Santo visits the graves of her sister Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva and brother-in-law José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, rainforest activists who were murdered in Nova Ipixuna, Para, northern Brazil, on June 2011. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Oliver Courtney, senior campaigner at Global Witness, said: "There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people defending rights to their environment and livelihoods from corporate and state abuse. Yet those responsible almost always get away with it, because governments are failing to protect their citizens and the international community is not paying enough attention to their plight."

The insatiable global appetite for gold, silver and other minerals is powering extractive industries in countries with weak institutions, and is linked to at least 150 deaths since 2002. This includes 46 extrajudicial killings of demonstrators around mining sites across Peru. There were also deaths linked to protests against contamination, waste disposal and conservation of coastlines and wildlife.

Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. Several in Guatemala and Honduras told the Guardian that they were unaware their territory has been sold until machinery and security guards working for mining or hydroelectric companies appeared overnight. Their resistance efforts have been denigrated as anti-development and dozens of community leaders face dubious criminal and civil charges.


Deadly Environment: The Dramatic Rise in Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders

Global Witness - http://www.globalwitness.org/deadlyenvironment/

15 April 2014

This report looks at known killings of people defending environmental and land rights. It identifies a clear rise in such deaths from 2002 and 2013 as competition for natural resources intensifies. In the most comprehensive global analysis of the problem on record, we have found that at least 908 people have died in this time. Disputes over industrial logging, mining and land rights are the key drivers, and Latin America and Asia-Pacific particularly hard hit.

Deadly Environment also highlights a severe shortage of information or monitoring of this problem, meaning the total is likely to be higher than the report documents. This lack of attention is feeding endemic levels of impunity, with just over one per cent of the perpetrators known to have been convicted.

Overall, the report shows how it has never been more important to protect the environment, and it has never been more deadly. It calls on national governments and the international community to act urgently to protect the environment and the citizens who defend it.

Global Witness campaigns to end the unfair and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, so that all can thrive within the planet's boundaries. We address the root causes of the exploitation that destroys lives and threatens life-supporting ecosystems.

*A time lag on reporting means killings for 2013 are likely to be higher than we have been able to show here.

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