Environment deadly for human rights defenders says Global Witness

April 16, 2014

The Wisconsin Gazette of 15 April 2014 carries a good summary of a major report by Global Witness that shows that killings of human rights defenders  protecting environmental and land rights increased sharply in the last decade due to the intensification of  competition for natural resources. The report  “Deadly Environment” highlights a severe shortage of information or monitoring of the problem.

It has never been more important to protect the environment, and it has never been more deadly,” said Oliver Courtney of Global Witness. “There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people defending rights to their land or environment. Yet this rapidly worsening problem is going largely unnoticed, and those responsible almost always get away with it. We hope our findings will act as the wake-up call that national governments and the international community clearly need.”

Key findings in “Deadly Environment”:

• At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries protecting rights to land and the environment between 2002 and 2013, with the death rate rising in the last four years to an average of two activists a week.

• 2012 was the worst year so far to be an environmental defender, with 147 killings — nearly three times more than in 2002.

• Only 10 perpetrators are known to have been convicted between 2002 and 2013, just over 1 percent of the overall incidence of killings.

• The problem is particularly acute in Latin America and South East Asia. Brazil is the most dangerous place to defend rights to land and the environment, with 448 killings, followed by Honduras (109) and the Philippines (67).

The problem is exacerbated by a lack of systematic monitoring or information. Where cases are recorded, they are often seen in isolation or treated as a subset of other human rights or environmental issues. The victims themselves often do not know their rights or are unable to assert them because of lack of resources in their often remote and risky circumstances. John Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment said, “Human rights only have meaning if people are able to exercise them. Environmental human rights defenders work to ensure that we live in an environment that enables us to enjoy our basic rights, including rights to life and health. The international community must do more to protect them from the violence and harassment they face as a result.”

Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. In many cases, their land rights are not recognized by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by economic interests.

The group said land rights form the backdrop to most of the known killings, as companies and governments routinely strike secretive deals for land and forests to grow cash crops like rubber, palm oil and soya. At least 661 of the killings took place in the context of conflicts over the ownership, control and use of land, in combination with other factors. The report focuses in detail on the situation in Brazil, where land disputes and industrial logging are key drivers, and the Philippines, where violence appears closely linked to the mining sector.

This rapidly worsening situation appears to be hidden in plain sight, and that has to change. The year of the last Rio Summit, 2012, was the deadliest on record. Delegates gathering for climate talks in Peru this year must heed this warning — protection of the environment is now a key battleground for human rights. While governments quibble over the text of new global agreements, at the local level more people than ever around the world are already putting their lives on the line to protect the environment,” said Andrew Simms of Global Witness, “At the very least, to start making good on official promises to stop climate change, governments should protect and support those personally taking a stand.”

The report also underlines that rising fatalities are the most acute and measurable end of a range of threats including intimidation, violence, stigmatization and criminalization. The number of deaths points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which the research did not document but requires urgent and effective action.

Global Witness, in releasing the report, called for a more coordinated and concerted effort to monitor and tackle the situation and for companies to carry out effective checks on their operations and supply chains to make sure they do no harm.

For the study itself see:  http://www.globalwitness.org/deadlyenvironment/

via Global study: Sharp rise in killings over environment, land rights | Green Gaze | Wisconsin Gazette – Smart, independent and revealing. News, opinion and entertainment coverage.

2 Responses to “Environment deadly for human rights defenders says Global Witness”

  1. […] Jeremy Hance – writing in Mongabay on 20 April, under the title “Killings of environmental activists jumped by 20 percent last year“ confirms again the terrible truth that it is in the countryside, away from monitors, and in disputes over land issues that the most gruesome repression takes place and the leader is..Brazil! [for last year’s report see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/environment-deadly-for-human-rights-defenders-says-global-w…] […]

  2. […] Global Witness stated that worldwide, in 2015, there were 185 individuals killed in 16 countries while defending their land, forests, and rivers against industrial encroachment. At the top of the list were Brazil (50 killings), the Philippines (33), and Colombia (26). Global Witness recounts, “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 percent of victims were from indigenous groups.” [Global Witness’ earlier report: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/environment-deadly-for-human-rights-defenders-says-global-wi…]. […]

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