While 2019 marked an uptick in environmental activism, it also was a record setting year of activists’ deaths worldwide. Global Witness recorded more than 212 environmental activists were killed for trying to protect land and water from the interests of mining, agribusiness and fossil fuel industries last year
An almost 30 percent increase from deaths recorded in 2018 at 164, 2019 became the deadliest year on record for defenders of the environment—an average of more than four people murdered a week, according to Global Witness. And more time than not, many deaths go unreported.
“The dark side of these facts is that indigenous communities also suffer a highly disproportionate number of the attacks on defenders. Insecure land tenure, irresponsible business practices and government policies that prioritize extractive economies at the cost of human rights are putting these people, and their land, at risk.”
The report found that over half of all reported killings last year occurred in Columbia and the Philippines. Global Witness recorded 64 attacks against land and environmental defenders in Columbia and 43 in the Philippines. According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, the Philippines is “one of the worst places in Asia for attacks against defenders.”
“Large-scale agriculture, mining and logging are still driving the majority of attacks against environmental defenders across the world,” Rachel Cox, assistant campaigner, for Land and Environmental Defenders, said.
With more than two-thirds of the murders taking place in Latin America and 1 in 10 defenders being women, the report defined mining as the deadliest sector with agribusiness and logging to follow. The logging sector saw the “highest increase in killings globally since 2018, with 85% more attacks recorded against defenders opposing the industry and 24 defenders killed in 2019,” the report stated.
“Land and environmental defenders play a vital role in protecting these climate-critical forests and ecosystems,” Cox said.
Europe reported the least amount of deaths and remained the least-affected region, according to Global Witness.
The report concluded that “40% of murdered defenders belonged to indigenous communities.” Indigenous people are the most at-risk defenders worldwide with a third of the fatal attacks occurring between 2015 and 2019 against indigenous communities, Global Witness reported.
In an effort to expose the companies accountable for such deadly attacks and murders, Global Witness continues to advocate for land and environmental defenders, while also working to pass regulations to end destructive, climate-wrecking activity from these industries.
“Inspired by their bravery and leadership, we must push those in power—businesses, financiers and governments—to tackle the root causes of the problem, support and safeguard defenders and create regulations that ensure projects and operations are carried out with proper due diligence, transparency and free prior and informed consent,” Cox said.