MAC: Mines and Communities

Global Witness tracks deadliest year on record for land and environmental defenders

Published by MAC on 2018-07-28
Source: Statements, Guardian

Global Witness has produced its annual report tracking the global human rights impacts on environmental and land defenders.

Although agri-business has headed the list as the main driver for the first time, mining of course still features highly as the report notes global killings linked to mining increased from 33 to 40 in 2017.

For last year's report see: Global extractives terrorism exposed in new report

At What Cost? Irresponsible business and the murder of land and environmental defenders in 2017

24 July 2018

The world is deadlier than ever for land and environmental defenders, with agribusiness the industry most linked to killings

It has never been a deadlier time to defend one’s community, way of life, or environment. Our latest annual data into violence against land and environmental defenders shows a rise in the number of women and men killed last year to 207 - the highest total we have ever recorded. What’s more, our research has highlighted agribusiness including coffee, palm oil and banana plantations as the industry most associated with these attacks.

Download the report in full: At What Cost? (PDF, 3MB)

Read online: photos and stories of defenders around the world

"Of course my life is at risk, I receive death threats 24 hours a day because I'm not going to shut my mouth in the face of this atrocity." - Maria do Socorro Costa da Silva

Hernán Bedoya, from Colombia, was shot by a paramilitary group 14 times for protesting against palm oil and banana plantations that were expanding over his community’s territory and clearing the forest.

In the Philippines, after protesting the expansion of a coffee plantation, a community near Lake Sebu was attacked by military forces, leaving eight dead, five wounded, and forcing 200 to flee.

And in Brazil, farmers assaulted the indigenous Gamela community after they attempted to protect their land from logging, severely injuring 22, including children.

But it’s not just defenders in these countries who are being threatened, attacked, or killed for fighting to protect their land and way of life. Countless people around the world are under threat for standing up to the might of large corporations, paramilitary groups, and even their own governments.

The data we have painstakingly gathered and presented in this report and the case studies included are almost certainly a sizeable underestimate, given the many challenges in identifying and reporting killings. Yet even as it stands, it shows that the risks defenders face every day continue to grow, and governments and business have a very serious case to answer.

The global movement

Of the 207 defenders murdered last year, a vast majority of them hailed from Latin America, which remains the most dangerous region for defenders, accounting for 60% of those killed in 2017. Brazil saw 57 murders alone - the worst year on record anywhere in the world.

But not a single region was immune to the growing number of attacks on its defenders. The Philippines saw 48 defenders killed, the highest number ever in an Asian country. And in Africa, 19 defenders were reported killed, 12 of whom were in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Defenders 2018 - Country Killings

[graphic showing numbers -]

These defenders are part of a global movement to protect the planet. They are on the frontline of fighting climate change, preserving ecosystems and safeguarding human rights. They stand up for causes that benefit us all: sustainability, biodiversity and justice.

Irresponsible business driving attacks

The failure of many governments and businesses to act responsibly, ethically and even legally was a major driving force behind a litany of crimes against activists last year.

Companies have a responsibility to their customers, who should have confidence that the products they buy are not fuelling human rights abuses, cultural destruction or environmental devastation. And consumers have a responsibility to demand that these companies live up to their responsibilities.

When rich tropical forest is levelled for monoculture crops, delicate ecosystems that could capture carbon emissions are lost forever. When open land is turned over for mining, soil and freshwater are poisoned, jeopardising the health and the future of nearby communities.

It is irresponsible business and investors – hell bent on meeting consumer demand and maximising profit – who, together with corrupt or negligent governments, make this all possible.

Our call to you

We urge the powerful institutions and organisations that threaten the interests of defenders to use their power to be a force for good. Governments and business have the financial, legislative and executive muscle, as well as the legal duty – to make a profound difference, rather than continuing to be part of the problem.

Read our recommendations for government and business
Find out how you can stand with defenders

Despite the odds they face, the global community of land and environmental defenders is not going to go away – it’s only getting stronger. We will campaign alongside them, taking their fight to the corridors of power and the boardrooms of corporations. We will make sure their voices are heard. And we will be watching to help ensure that they, their land, and the environment we all depend on are properly protected.

Find out more
Billy Kyte, Environmental and Land Defenders, Campaign Leader
+44 (0)7703671308

Deadliest year on record for land and environmental defenders, as agribusiness is shown to be the industry most linked to killings

Press release -

24 July 2018

Global Witness today reveals that at least 207 land and environmental defenders were killed last year – indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists murdered trying to protect their homes and communities from mining, agribusiness and other destructive industries.

Global Witness today reveals that at least 207 land and environmental defenders were killed last year – indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists murdered trying to protect their homes and communities from mining, agribusiness and other destructive industries.

Severe limits on the data available mean the global total is probably much higher. Murder is the most egregious example of a range of tactics used to silence defenders, including death threats, arrests, intimidation, cyber-attacks, sexual assault and lawsuits.

The report “At What Cost?” shows shows that agribusiness has overtaken mining as the industry most associated with these attacks.

These include the murder of Hernán Bedoya in Colombia, shot 14 times by a paramilitary group for protesting against palm oil and banana plantations on land stolen from his community; an army massacre of eight villagers in the Philippines who opposed a coffee plantation on their land; and violent attacks by Brazilian farmers, using machetes and rifles, which left 22 members of the Gamela indigenous people severely injured, some with their hands chopped off.

The report links this violence with the products on our shelves: large-scale agriculture, mining, poaching, logging all produce components and ingredients for supermarket products such as palm oil for shampoo, soy for beef and timber for furniture.

The report also reveals that some governments and businesses are complicit in the killings, with Global Witness calling for urgent action if the trend is to be reversed. As well as being part of the problem, governments and business can be part of the solution. They must tackle the root causes of the attacks, for example ensuring communities are allowed to say ‘no’ to projects, like mining, on their land; support and protect defenders at risk and ensure justice is served for those suffering from the violence.

Ben Leather, Senior Campaigner, Global Witness said:

“Local activists are being murdered as governments and businesses value quick profit over human life. Many of the products emerging from this bloodshed are on the shelves of our supermarkets. Yet as brave communities stand up to corrupt officials, destructive industries and environmental devastation, they are being brutally silenced. Enough is enough.

“Governments, companies and investors have the duty and the power to support and protect defenders at risk, and to guarantee accountability wherever attacks occur. But more importantly, they can prevent these threats from emerging in the first place, by listening to local communities, respecting their rights, and ensuring that business is conducted responsibly.

“Despite the odds they face, the global community of land and environmental defenders is not going away – it’s only getting stronger. We invite consumers to join us in campaigning alongside defenders, taking their fight to the corridors of power and the boardrooms of corporations. We will make sure their voices are heard. And we will be watching to ensure that defenders, their land, and the environment we all depend on are properly protected.”

Other key findings include [More details on the report’s case studies can be found at the end of this release]:

The campaign has gained support from a number of high profile environmental campaigners including Yuri Herrera, Margaret Atwood, Lily Cole, George Monbiot, Ben Fogle, Paloma Faith and Martin Freeman.

Margaret Atwood, writer and environmental commentator said:

“Communities who have cared for and lived from the same land for generations are being targeted by corporations and governments that want only to turn a profit rather than to support people’s futures.

“The appalling stories of women threatened with rape, homes burnt down, and families attacked with machetes are shocking at an individual level. Collectively, they show an epidemic of violence visited upon defenders of the earth. This violation of human rights calls for vigorous protest. This year, those people; next year, all who raise a hand to stop the pillaging of Nature for short-term gain.

“Global Witness’ report shows that up to four environmental defenders are killed a week protecting their land, their home, their livelihoods, and their communities. We need to salute their astounding bravery and pledge to add our voices to support their continued struggle against those who want to rip their land up for oil or gas, tear down its trees for timber, flatten it for intensive non-organic and polluting farming or poison it with industrial waste.”

Yuri Herrera, Political Scientist and writer:

“If you care about the future of our planet, about preserving our heritage and the natural habitats that provide a home to rare plants and species, you should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with environmental defenders who face danger on a daily basis to protect their land.

This report from Global Witness shows the shocking level of violence they face – here in Mexico and across the world. More must be done to protect their human rights and bring to justice those who violate them in the most appalling way.”

George Monbiot, writer and environmental campaigner said:

“Environmental Defenders are on the frontline of a generational battle against climate change. We can never be serious about building a greener, cleaner and more sustainable planet if we fail to speak out when governments and big business work hand in glove to forcibly seize, rip up, drill and intensively farm land that is not only vital for carbon capture, but also supports rare species of plant and wildlife.

“Global Witness and its partners have been steadfast in documenting the violence and killings directed at land and environmental defenders. All of us who care about human rights and climate change must now join them, not only adding our voices to the outrage, but demanding real action from governments and business to protect those defending land and bringing to justice the criminals who carry out these brutal attacks.”

Paloma Faith, musician and activist said:

“The brutality and violence faced by Environmental Defenders around the world each day is truly shocking. And yet there appears to be no consequences for so many of those carrying out these appalling acts, even when someone is killed trying to protect their land or way of life.

“Despite international outcry, we still have not seen anyone face justice for the brutal killing of the activist Berta Caceres, who was shot in 2016 during a campaign to stop the development of the Agua Zarca Dam at the Rio Gualcarque in Honduras. Like so many of those who have seen their loved ones murdered in the pursuit of a cleaner, fairer, more sustainable world, her family is still fighting for those who carried out this attack to be held to account. We should all add our voices to aid their struggle – and to put pressure on the Honduran Government to ensure Berta’s case and the human rights violations against many thousands more campaigners in the country are properly investigated.”

Ben Fogle, broadcaster, writer and environmental activist said:

“Defenders are protecting some of the world’s most important climate-critical and biodiverse habitats. Whether that’s the remaining handful of intact tropical rainforests that are under attack from illegal logging or intense farming, the rivers being polluted by industrial waste, or the erosion caused by mining of open land, the scramble to develop rich, natural spaces is having a disastrous impact on the environment.

“These communities who are fighting to protect their land, their homes and their livelihoods are part of a global struggle to safeguard our planet. I salute their bravery and hope more people will join me in standing in solidarity in this campaign.”

Lily Cole, actress and environmental activist said:

"This year marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of the Brazilian environmental activist, Chico Mendes. “At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity,” Mendes said of his life-long fight to protect the Amazon forest from industry-driven deforestation. Mendes formed a wild rubber tapper’s union, and developed the concept of extractive reserves: areas of the forest that could be maintained by developing and selling forest-friendly produce in them. He sought to align business interests with environmental interests.

“Mendes’ work was recognised throughout the world, and the Brazilian government declared him Patron of the Brazilian Environment. Yet, for his efforts, he was shot dead in front of his family - joining a shockingly long list of environmental campaigns who are killed for their altruistic efforts. And the killings haven’t stopped: last year alone, 57 Environmental Defenders were killed in Brazil, out of 207 killed globally. That’s someone killed every 1-2 days, simply for fighting to protect the environment.

“Global Witness’ new report on Environmental Defenders shows how our voracious appetite for more and different food products, for unsustainable fossil fuels, and for minerals is complicit in this death toll. We have turned homes and neighbourhoods into a highly prized commodity for companies and governments that prize profit above people.

“Most of us do not realise our complicity in these chains of events. As consumers we need to demand that the companies we buy from are not directly or indirectly causing environmental degradation in their supply chains, and therefore perpetuating localised conflict.

“With Global Witness’ work, we will be watching to ensure products that reach our shelves are not dipped in the blood of Environmental Defenders and that those found committing or being complicit in attacks will face the full force of the law.”

Billy Kyte, Environmental and Land Defenders, Campaign Leader
+44 (0)7703671308

Ben Leather, Campaigner, Land and Environmental Rights Defenders
44 (0)7841 337 034

Heather Iqbal, Senior Communications Advisor
+44 (0) 20 7492 5890

For interviews with activists and field visits, please contact Heather ( +447828 505 758). High-quality imagery and video testimony can be found here.

Notes to editor:

*Whilst Global Witness maintains a real time data base with the Guardian (include link to this reports represents a consolidated data set of all killings from 2017 that have been through an additional verification process that has been complemented by an in-depth analysis, case studies and recommendations.
Severe limits on available information mean the global total is likely far higher. Murder is the sharp end of a range of tactics used to silence defenders, including death threats, arrests, sexual assault, abductions and aggressive legal attacks.

'I thank god I am alive': standing firm against mineral extraction in South Africa

Jonathan Watts

21 July 2018

Nonhle Mbuthuma is battling for her community’s right to say no to the exploitation of their territory in a hangover of the apartheid era

As a child, Nonhle Mbuthuma would wake up in her family’s thatched hut listening to the waves crashing on South Africa’s Wild Coast , then go and play on the sand dunes, head off to school or help her parents cultivate sweet potatoes and bananas on the family plot.

Today, she can rarely stay in the same place for any length of time and is more likely to be keeping her ears alert to signs of danger. At times she needs bodyguards or goes into hiding.

“I wake up each morning and thank god I am still alive,” said the Amadiba woman, who has been told she is on a hit list. “I know I am a target. My husband and my family and friends are worried. They tell me to go into hiding. But I can’t do that. It’s not me. I choose this road.”

She is battling for her community’s right to say no to the exploitation of their territory.

South African judges have been considering this question since 20 April, when Mbuthuma and her neighbours got their day in court against an Australian mining company that has pushed for access to lucrative titanium deposits discovered in the russet dunes where she used to play.

Defence of this land – located in an ecologically rich coastal region of Pondoland – has pitted Mbuthuma against her tribal chief and the regional government. Several of her fellow campaigners have been killed after being warned not to oppose a project that would bring jobs and money to one of the poorest regions in South Africa.

Mbuthuma is uncowed. She says residents of her village of Xolobeni are overwhelmingly opposed and without their approval, the mining company and its supporters should back off.

“The law says we have a right to be consulted, but what we say doesn’t seem to matter. We have told the company many times that we don’t want their mine. How many times do we have to say no?” she asks.

The 42-year-old is an accidental activist. During her teens, she found work as guide for foreigners wanting to see the Pondoland biodiversity zone which sits between sub-tropical and temperate climates. As well as a multitude of endemic species, visitors were attracted by whales off the coast and rugged inland landscape that was used for the set of the film Blood Diamond. With the European Union planning to back further eco-tourism projects, it looked for a while as if this could be a turning point in the development of this region,

Life changed with the arrival of an Australian mining company Mineral Commodities with still bigger investment plans to turn the area into an opencast pit for the extraction of zircon, rutile and titanium, which is used in countless products including laptop computers, bicycles, golf clubs, watches and drill bits.

The proposal, which aimed to generate annual revenues of £140m for the 25-year life of the mine, divided the Amadiba community.

Those living in the inland half were largely in favour because their land would be relatively unaffected, they would have a new road and the possibility of jobs.

Residents closer to the coast were opposed. They feared they would lose their farms, that rivers would be contaminated, wildlife driven away and future generations condemned to a miserable existence in townships.

They also suspected a racial hangover from the apartheid era. During that period of segregation and white rule, Pondoland was designated a homeland under black tribal rule. This meant nominal political autonomy but economic neglect. Twenty-six years on, Mbuthuma says its legacy remains.

“Why are they doing this here? Why not in a white area? It is because it is cheaper. Discrimination is still entrenched in our economy.”

Her inspiration is her grandfather, a veteran of the 1960 Pondoland revolt, one of the first major protests against apartheid.

“He told me all the stories about how he used to fight and why. It was to keep the land and ensure the people are happy. Now he says it is up to me, that my decisions must not hurt the next generation.”

She says her tribe’s current chieftain has failed in this task by accepting a directorship in the mining company and a new 4x4 in return for approving a deal he had no right to make. Tradition, she said, dictated that such big decisions could only be made by consensus at a meeting in the great hall of the tribe.

The mining company said it was listening to community leaders and opponents’ fears are largely unfounded. It promised not to destroy homes, to leave dunes untouched, to create buffer zones beside ecologically sensitive areas and to restore the land after the work is finished.

“The company believes that the development of the mine and the balancing of the environmental impacts with the social and economic upliftment can be managed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders,” said Mark Caruso, executive chairman of Mineral Commodities, which is now in the process of divesting its 56% share in the project.

What nobody doubts is that the once strong community is now violently divided.

Mbuthuma and others opposed to the mine formed the Amadiba crisis committee in 2007. In 2015, four of their members were assaulted in the wake of a visit by mining consultants. A year later, the leader of the group, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe – was shot dead after he organised a road block to forestall drilling operations.

Mbuthuma feels threatened by the supporters of the mining project.

Although she does not trust the police, she has faith in the courts and the power of international public opinion. In the wake of Rhadebe’s killing, the government imposed a moratorium on the mining project. It is due to expire later this year, but Mbuthuma hopes her legal case, which was heard in the Pretoria high court in April 2018, will be decided before then.

Her lawyer, Johan Lorenzen, says judges have the chance to clear a hangover of the apartheid era by recognising the right of communities like Xolobeni to say no to mineral extraction. “Mining is South Africa’s original sin. There’s a fetish around it,” he said. “But this case can be precedent-making. If we win, it will dramatically change the power dynamics.”

Mbuthuma sees the issue more in terms of choice and participation. She is not rejecting investments, but wants to be sure they are not destructive and that they serve local people over the long term.

“When it comes to development, you have to be involved. You can’t just think about now. You have to think about tomorrow.”



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