MAC: Mines and Communities

Violent 2015 sees three environmental activists killed each week

Published by MAC on 2016-06-22
Source: Statement, Reuters

... and mining tops industry most associated with killings

Previous article on MAC: Killings of environmental activists increased, with indigenous communities hardest hit

Download the full version of our report, On Dangerous Ground (pdf)

Violent 2015 sees three environmental activists killed each week

Anastasia Moloney

Thomson Reuters Foundation

19 June 2016

BOGOTA - Three environmental activists were killed per week last year, murdered defending land rights and the environment from mining, dam projects and logging, a campaign group said on Monday.

In 16 countries surveyed in a report by Global Witness, 185 activists were killed, making 2015 the deadliest year for environment and land campaigners since 2002.

"The environment is emerging as a new battleground for human rights," the report said.

The reported killings rose nearly 60 percent from 2014. Brazil fared worst with 50 activists murdered, followed by the Philippines with 33 deaths, and 26 in Colombia, the report said.

"A major reason behind the big jump in killings is impunity, people know they can get away with these crimes," Billy Kyte, campaigner at Global Witness, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Increasingly, communities that take a stand are finding themselves in the firing line of companies' private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers," Kyte said.

"For every killing we document, many others go unreported."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has also raised the alarm about growing violence and intimidation against land and environmental activists in rural Brazil.

In April, the IACHR, the body that monitors human rights across the Americas said at least six land activists were killed in Brazil during the first two months of this year.

Brazil's environment ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the rise of killings against environmentalists.

According to Global Witness, conflicts over mining projects led to more deaths of activists than any other sector.

Large-scale agricultural plantations, cattle ranching, hydroelectric dams, and logging were also to blame for the growing violence against campaigners, the report said.

Worst hit by violence were indigenous people, accounting for 40 percent of the activists killed in 2015, the report found.

Indigenous groups campaigning to protect their lands and livelihoods in Brazil's Amazon rainforest from illegal loggers were particularly hard hit, as were the Lumad indigenous tribe in the Philippines in the Mindanao region, rich in coal, nickel and gold, protesting against mining projects, the report said.

The failure by governments and companies to recognize the rights of indigenous people to decide about happens on their lands is a key driver of violence, the report said.

"Indigenous people come into conflict with companies, often with state backing, looking to develop their ancestral land without their consent," the report said.

The murder of Berta Cáceres, a prominent Honduran environmental campaigner shot by gunmen in her home in March, drew international condemnation and brought attention to abuses of indigenous people.

( Additional reporting from Chris Arsenault in Rio de Janeiro editing by Billy Perrigo)

On Dangerous Ground

20 June 2016

2015 was the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders – people struggling to protect their land, forests and rivers

Download the full version of our report, On Dangerous Ground (pdf)

More than three people were killed a week in 2015 defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries. For our new report On Dangerous Ground we documented 185 killings across 16 countries – by far the highest annual death toll on record and more than double the number of journalists killed in the same period.

The family of Michelle Campos were among those killed. In September 2015, her father and grandfather were executed in full view of their family and friends in an attack that drove 3,000 indigenous people from their homes. Rich in coal, nickel and gold, their region of Mindanao in the Philippines is one of the most dangerous in the world for land and environmental activists, with 25 deaths in 2015 alone.

“We get threatened, vilified and killed for standing up to the mining companies on our land and the paramilitaries that protect them," said Michelle. "My father, grandfather and school teacher were just three of countless victims. We know the murderers – they are still walking free in our community. We are dying and our government does nothing to help us.”

Global Witness are calling for urgent, meaningful action to end the rising tide of violence which – despite the high profile murder of Berta Caceres earlier this year – is largely escaping international attention.

These numbers are shocking, and evidence that the environment is emerging as a new battleground for human rights. Across the world industry is pushing ever deeper into new territory, driven by consumer demand for products like timber, minerals and palm oil. Increasingly communities that take a stand are finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers.

The worst hit countries in 2015 were Brazil (50 killings), the Philippines (33) and Colombia (26). Conflicts over mining were the number one cause of killings in 2015, with agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging also key drivers of violence. In 2015, almost 40% of victims were from indigenous groups.

It’s likely that the true death toll is far higher. Many of the murders we know about occurred in remote villages or deep within rainforests – for every killing we are able to document, others cannot be verified, or go unreported.

Unprecedented violence in Brazil’s Amazon

Isídio Antonio was one of the latest victims in Brazil's Amazon, which saw unprecedented levels of violence in 2015 with 50 killings. Isídio had suffered years of assassination attempts and death threats for defending his land against a small group of powerful landowners who attempted to seize it for valuable timber, or to make way for ranches and plantations.

His appeals to the authorities for protection were consistently ignored, and police have never investigated his murder. Locals say he is the fourth victim in his small community in Maranhão state.

Globally, collusion between state and corporate interests shield many of those responsible for the killings. In cases that are well documented we found 16 were related to paramilitary groups, 13 to the army, 11 to the police and 11 to private security – strongly implying state or company links to the killings. There was little evidence that the authorities either fully investigated the crimes, or took actions to bring the perpetrators to account.

While impunity prevails, the criminalisation of protest is on the rise. Most notably in Africa, governments and powerful business interests are using their influence to marginalise land and environmental activists and turn public opinion against them, branding their actions as ‘anti-development’.

Urgent intervention needed

This is a rapidly growing crisis that is showing no signs of abating. Our warming climate and growing population mean that pressures on land and natural resources are set to increase, which means that without urgent intervention the numbers of deaths we’re seeing now will be dwarfed by those in the future.

Global Witness is calling on governments in affected countries to urgently intervene to:

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