More than 1,700 environmental defenders have been killed around the world in the last decade with one death reported every other day on average, a new report by an international rights group has revealed.
The report titled A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide, released by Global Witness, reveals the increasing threats environmental activists are facing as the climate and biodiversity crisis worsens.
The research states that a total of 1,733 people have been killed over the past 10 years trying to protect their land and resources. That is an average of one defender killed approximately every two days over 10 years.
The report shows Brazil has been the deadliest country for environmental defenders with 342 lethal attacks reported since 2012 with over 85 per cent of killings within the Brazilian Amazon.
The data found within the report also shows that over half of the attacks over the 10-year period have taken place in three countries — Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines — with around 300 killings reported in these countries.
Mexico and Honduras witnessed over 100 killings while Guatemala and India saw 80 and 79 respectively, remaining one of the most dangerous countries. The report also reports 12 mass killings, including three in India and four in Mexico.
Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of killings in 2021, totalling 54 killings, up from 30 the previous year. Almost half of those killed were again Indigenous people while over a third were forced disappearances, including at least eight members of the Yaqui community.
The report also reveals that over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America. In Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, a big majority of 78 per cent of these attacks occurred in the Amazon.
Meanwhile, the biggest increase in lethal attacks was witnessed in Brazil and India in 2021 with 26 deaths reported in Mexico, up from 20 and 14 in India, up from four.
Both Colombia and the Philippines saw a drop in killings to 33 in 2021 from 65, and 19 from 30 in 2021 respectively. Yet overall they remain two of the countries with the highest numbers of killings in the world since 2012.
In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo remained the country with the highest number of attacks — eight defenders were killed there in 2021. All eight of these killings were in Virunga National Park, which remains extremely dangerous for the park rangers protecting it.
The organisation began collecting data on attacks against those defending land and the environment in 2012 and found that the control and use of land and territory is a central issue in countries where defenders are threatened.
Much of the increasing killing, violence and repression is linked to territorial conflicts and the pursuit of economic growth based on the extraction of natural resources from the land, it states.
The research has also highlighted that Indigenous communities in particular face a disproportionate level of attacks — nearly 40 per cent — even though they make up only 5 per cent of the world’s population.
However, the research found that the figures also do not capture the true scale of the problem, as tightened control on media has led to severe underreporting in some countries where environmental defenders are most vulnerable.
Research has also found that few perpetrators of killings are rarely ever brought to justice due to the failures of governments to properly investigate these crimes.
While a majority of these attacks are not properly investigated or reported on, a big proportion of these attacks were linked to sectors like mining and infrastructure, including large-scale agribusiness and hydroelectric dams.
Many authorities ignore or actively impede investigations into these killings often due to alleged collusion between corporate and state interests, the report says.
“With democracies increasingly under attack globally and worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems,” a spokesperson for Global Witness said, adding that the organisation makes an “urgent appeal for global efforts to protect and reduce attacks against them.”
Apart from killings, the report also reveals a number of tactics being used to silence them, like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalisation – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported.
The report concluded that in view of the challenges in reporting such incidents, it almost certainly means that the figures are an underestimate and the real picture is much worse.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies