More people were killed while defending their land and resources against environmentally destructive industries last year than in any previous year on record, new research has found.
The campaign group recorded double the number of deaths last year among defenders of land against agribusiness than in 2016, highlighting the increasing damage wrought around the world by some of the products consumers rely on every day. Palm oil, for example, is estimated to be found in around half of all packaged products on supermarket shelves, including chocolate, shampoo and ice cream.
Outside of large-scale agriculture, mining was the next most deadly sector, with at least 40 killings while logging and poaching each resulted in 23 people being killed by companies or governments backing those industries, according to the report.
The true death toll is likely to be much higher, Global Witness said, because only killings of named victims, reported in credible, published and current online sources were included in the figures. Many deaths of people peacefully protesting against environmental or land issues, particularly in remote rural areas, are not recorded.
The researchers recorded seven mass murders of environmental defenders, including the slaying in December of eight indigenous activists protesting against a coffee plantation in Mindanao in the Philippines.
Mexico, Peru and the Democratic Republic of Congo all saw incidents in which four people were killed for defending resources.
Brazil was the most deadly country with at least 57 killings - 80 per cent of the victims lost their lives protecting the natural riches of the Amazon rainforest and Latin America as a whole accounted for 60 per cent of all of the deaths recorded.
The violent regime of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines saw a 71 per cent jump in the number of defenders killed to 48, one of the biggest rises of any country in the world.
Indigenous groups are disproportionately at risk, representing just 5 per cent of the world’s population but making up a quarter of all environmental defenders killed last year, the research found.
In Mindanao in the Philippines, the military launched an attack on 3 December last year in which at least eight members of the of the local Taboli-manubo people were killed while five more were wounded. Ten went missing and more than 200 had to evacuate the area.
The attack came in response to protests by the community against the expansion of the 300-hectare Silvicultural Industries coffee plantation owned by DCMI.
Sources told Global Witness that the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary carried out the killings on behalf of Manila-based Silivicultural Industries. The army claims it was retaliating against the actions of an armed communist group, but no members of that group were recorded among the dead.
The report makes a number of recommendations to combat the problem worldwide, including cracking down on corruption and a culture of impunity in many countries. Land titles must also be secured, guaranteeing the rights of communities affected by large-scale industry to give informed consent regarding the use of their land and natural resources, the report said.
States must ensure accountability by bringing to justice those responsible for ordering or carrying out any threat or attack against a land or environmental defender, while companies and investors have a duty - as well as a business incentive - to protect those who defend land, Global Witness said.
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