Posts Tagged ‘Global Witness’

Global Witness: 2020 the worst year on record for environmental human rights defenders

September 13, 2021

Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders.

In 2020, we recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. [CF: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

As ever, these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported. You can find more information on our verification criteria and methodology in the full report. Downloads

In 2020, over half of attacks took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country, despite the hopes of the 2016 peace agreement. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut.

In Mexico, we documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high – up to 95% of murders do not result in prosecution.

In the Philippines, the deteriorating human rights situation has received increasing international condemnation. Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.

President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment.

Forest defenders under threat

In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country.

Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.

An unequal impact

Much like the impacts of the climate crisis itself, the impacts of violence against land and environmental defenders are not felt evenly across the world. The Global South is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in the countries of the Global South.

The disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued, with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people – even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples were also the target of 5 out of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020.

As has been the case in previous years, in 2020 almost 9 in 10 of the victims of lethal attacks were men. At the same time, women who act and speak out also face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence. Women often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, and the less-visible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families.

[Defenders are] at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding. That demand – the demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation – seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. – Bill McKibben

Business is responsible

Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.

In too many countries, rich in natural resources and climate critical biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity. Because the balance of power is stacked in the favour of corporations, it’s rare that anyone is arrested or brought to court for killing defenders. When they are it’s usually the trigger-men – the ones holding the guns, not those who might be otherwise implicated, directly or indirectly, in the crime.

Governments must stop the violence

Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect land and environmental defenders, in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others complicit with business.

Even worse, states around the world – from the US to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – used the COVID pandemic to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and close civic space.

There is a clear link between the availability of civic space and attacks against defenders – the most open and tolerant societies see very few attacks, whereas in restricted societies, attacks are much more frequent.

The majority of killings took place in states with limited civic freedoms

Data on civic freedoms via CIVICUS Monitor Open Narrowed Obstructed Repressed Closed 0 50 100 150 killings Killings in closed civic spaces are likely to be underreported about:blank

Recommendations

As the climate crisis intensifies, so too does its impact on people, including on land and environmental defenders. Meaningful climate action requires protecting defenders, and vice versa. Without significant change this situation is only likely to get worse – as more land is grabbed, and more forests are felled in the interest of short-term profits, both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders will continue to worsen.

Governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits. Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.

The United Nations, through its member states, must formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, ensure that commitments to meet the Paris Agreement integrate human rights protections, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Statesmust ensure national policies protect land and environmental defenders and scrap legislation used to criminalise them, require companies to conduct human rights and environment due diligence in their global operations, and investigate and prosecute all actors involved in violence and other threats against defenders.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding due diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance. They must ensure this initiative requires all companies doing business in the EU, including financial institutions, to identify and address human rights and environmental harms along their value chains. This legislation must include robust liability regimes and penalties to hold companies accountable for failing to do so.

Finally, companies and investors must publish and implement effective due diligence systems to identify and prevent human rights and environmental harms throughout their supply chains and operations, adopt and implement a zero-tolerance stance on reprisals and attacks on land and environmental defenders, and provide effective remedy when adverse human rights and environmental impacts and harms occur.

People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to stay here and keep my mother’s fight alive. I’m too proud of her to let it die. I know the dangers – we all know the dangers. But I’ve decided to stay. I’m going to join the fight. – Malungelo Xhakaza, daughter of murdered South African activist Fikile Ntshangase

Defenders are our last line of defence against climate breakdown. We can take heart from the fact that, even after decades of violence, people continue to stand up for their land and for our planet. In every story of defiance against corporate theft and land grabbing, against deadly pollution and against environmental disaster, is hope that we can turn the tide on this crisis and learn to live in harmony with the natural world. Until we do, the violence will continue.

Those murdered included South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was shot dead in her own living room. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/fikile-ntshangase/

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58508001

Download the full report : Last line of defence (low resolution) (2.3 MB), pdf

Download the full report : Last line of defence (high resolution) (18.1 MB), pdf

Goldman Prize laureates express concern about colleague Alberto Curamil in Chile

July 3, 2021
Alberto Curamil. (Vicente Franco/Water For Life)

In the Washington Post of 1 July 2021, Craig Williams and Alfred Brownell (winners of the Goldman Prize in 2006 and 2019 respectively) wrote: He has worked to protect the Earth. Now we must protect him.”

As environmental activists and human rights defenders, we are alarmed by a spike in violent attacks on and killings of land rights activists across the globe and, most recently, in Latin America. The latest in this disturbing trend is a violent assault on Alberto Curamil, a leader of the Indigenous Mapuche people in southern Chile and an activist working to protect his people’s land, water and other resources. As we write, we fear Alberto could become the latest casualty in a global war against Earth’s front-line protectors. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4f845ff0-86d2-4b12-97af-1590f6ba8602]

On April 29, Alberto was attending a protest along with his son andnephew, both teenagers. They were there to show support for Elena Paine, another Mapuche leader, and her community a day after her house and crops in Koyam Montre were burned to the ground. Alberto, Paine and members of the Machupe community believe that the threat may have come from far-right-wing groups in the area.

As Alberto and his teenage relatives were driving away from the protest, the back window of their truck was shattered by a tear-gas canister. When they got out of the vehicle, police shot Alberto at point-blank range three times with buckshot, which lodged in his back, side, arm and the back of his leg. Then, police beat the teens with batons while yelling “Pinche Mapuche” (“Lousy Mapuche”). The three were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at a public event and breach of sanitary provisions. Alberto was taken to a hospital three hours after being brought into custody, bleeding and in excruciating pain. The teens were bruised, battered and traumatized.

This was not the first time Alberto had been a target of the Chilean government. In 2018, he was arrested and jailed for 15 months on false charges of armed robbery based entirely on hearsay evidence. He was acquitted of all charges and released in December 2019. Due to his imprisonment, he had been unable to receive the Goldman Prize — known as the “green Nobel” — at ceremonies in April and May 2019 in D.C. and San Francisco. He was previously arrested after being violently beaten by police in 2014.

Our alarm has led us, along with several dozen of our fellow Goldman Prize winners from across the globe, to demand assurances from Chilean President Sebastián Piñera that Alberto’s safety will be given the highest priority. We are also seeking support through appeals to the U.S. Congress, the European Union and the United Nations.

We believe time is of the essence, especially given the broader context of violence against those who stand up to protect the Earth. In 2016, the internationally celebrated Honduran Indigenous activist and Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres was murdered by operatives for the power company Desarrollos Energéticos (Desa) for her opposition to a hydroelectric project on the Rio Gualcarque. Seven men accused of plotting Cáceres’s murder were convicted and sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in prison. An eighth suspect, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, president and chief executive of Desa, is currently on trial, accused of masterminding the murder-conspiracy plot.

In its latest report, Global Witness recorded the highest number of environmental defenders killed in a single year — more than 212 people killed in 2019, a rate of four a week. More than two-thirds of the killings took place in Latin America. [see also: Global]

The killings of and assaults on Earth’s defenders worldwide have accelerated in some of the most fragile pristine landscapes and biodiverse countries, jeopardizing the fight against climate change and species extinction. In Mexico, police are investigating the suspicious killings of two employees at a butterfly reserve in 2020. That same month, six members of an Indigenous community were killed at a nature reserve in Nicaragua. And in South Africa, environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase was killed last year in an attack local activists fear was related to her opposition to disruptive local mining operations.

In Chile, Indigenous communities’ push for human rights go hand in hand with their struggle for land and water rights, as government-backed companies try to run them off their land with threats, harassment and violence.

Attacks on environmental defenders in Latin America and worldwide are not only an affront to human rights, but also a cause for deep alarm at a time when the world must fight climate change and bring about a sustainable future. We are demanding that the Chilean government take immediate steps to stop these aggressive and often deadly attacks on the Mapuche community. There should also be a thorough, independent investigation into the destruction of Paine’s home.

We must act against this brutality, or we threaten the fight for a planet in crisis.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/01/alberto-curamil-chile-environmental-defender-safety/

EU law on corporate due diligence and SLAPPs: crucial and urgent matters

November 19, 2020

European Parliament is deciding its position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence should look like. Richard Gardiner (a Senior Campaigner for Corporate Accountability at Global Witness) on 2 September  2020 explains more and more recently (11 November 2020) a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups call on the EU to to protect journalists against gag lawsuits (SLAPPs)

As the European Parliament begins developing proposals for a new – and momentous – law to hold business to account for its impact on people and planet, Richard Gardiner sets out how this process came about and what needs to happen now to ensure this really delivers results.

Where are we now?

Following the publication of the European Commission study on due diligence requirements through the supply chain earlier this year, in April, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced to the European Parliament Responsible Business Conduct Working Group that he will introduce EU rules on corporate accountability and corporate due diligence in early 2021.

In response to this announcement, Members of the European Parliament are now starting work to develop a European Parliament position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence could look like. This work will take place within the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee and will be led by MEP Lara Wolters.

The goal of this work is to influence the final Commission legislative proposal and ensure that the Commissioner follows through on his commitment to present an ambitious framework for this law.

Potential to be a real game changer?

Global Witness has long advocated for mandatory corporate accountability rules to tackle corporate abuse against people and planet.

Our recently published report ‘Defending Tomorrow’ shows that while land and environmental defenders continue to act as the first line of defence against climate breakdown, far too many businesses, financiers and governments either fail to protect them or – in the worst examples – can be complicit in the violence they face.

These brave people play a vital role challenging companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through virgin forests, protected wetlands, indigenous territories and biodiversity hotspots. They are on the frontline of our global, collective fight against climate change. However, despite their importance to the preservation of our planet, our report shows that 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2019 – the bloodiest on record, with the deadliest sectors for this violence being mining, agribusiness and logging.

Our findings show that an average of four land and environmental defenders are killed every week since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. These are reinforced by our previous investigations on continued deforestation, minerals that fuel and fund conflict, and grand-scale corruption.

There is clearly a legislative gap when governments and citizens have no legal means to hold corporations accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses. As the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU is now looking to lead the global debate on corporate accountability and this new law will shape not only corporate behaviour within the EU but also globally.

What needs to be in this new law?

Civil society united in their calls for the EU to introduce legislation on corporate due diligence. We have consistently pointed to the fact that voluntary measures have proved to be vastly insufficient and new legislation is urgently needed to establish clear, robust and enforceable cross-sectoral requirements on all business enterprises, including financial institutions, to respect human rights and the environment.

As the European Parliament begins to discuss the details of corporate accountability legislation, Global Witness is part of a coalition of NGOs that has published its call to action for the key elements needed to hold businesses to account:

  • The new law must apply to all businesses, including finance, of all sizes and sectors acting in the EU.
  • Business must have a duty to address all the adverse human rights, environmental and governance impacts in their global supply chains.
  • Businesses must conduct Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) Due Diligence to identify, cease, prevent, mitigate, monitor and account for their adverse risks.
  • Businesses must engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders, including human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, as part of their RBC due diligence.
  • Businesses must be made liable for the human rights, environmental and governance adverse impacts in their global value chains.

You can read the full paper here.

So what happens next?

The months between now and the end of the year promise to be extremely interesting on the topic of corporate accountability across all the EU institutions. Firstly, the European Parliament will aim to finalise its advice to the Commission by end 2020 in order to ensure that it can be taken into account in the Commission proposal. Secondly, the Commission has draft plans to release a public consultation on the new due diligence legislation in Autumn 2020 to get public input on how to draft their proposal.

And finally, the German Presidency of the European Council have indicated that due diligence is a key political priority for their Presidency and they will aim to have Council conclusions on this topic by the end of the year. At Global Witness, we will continue to engage with all the European institutions to ensure that EU policy makers live up to their commitments to introduce a meaningful and impactful new law.

SLAPPs: More and more journalists and civil society organisations are being sued by powerful businessmen and politicians. The International Press Institute (IPI) has joined a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups calling on the EU to ensure those with a watchdog role are protected from gag lawsuits.

‘SLAPP’ stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. It’s a form of legal harassment designed to intimidate critical voices into silence. Expensive and unscrupulous law firms market this attack-dog service to powerful and wealthy individuals who can afford to drag on abusive proceedings for years just to shield themselves from unwanted public scrutiny. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/]

This scrutiny is the lifeblood of healthy democratic societies. The European Court of Human Rights and other national and regional courts have consistently and explicitly recognised in their judgments the important role a free press, and more broadly civil society, plays in holding the powerful to account. Their judgments reaffirm the obligation states have to create an environment that is conducive to free speech. Because without this, democracy weakens and dies.

The holes in our laws that allow powerful people to hammer their critics into submission are a hole in European democracy. Cases of abuse pepper the continent. Poland’s second-biggest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has received over 55 legal threats and lawsuits by a number of actors, including from Poland’s ruling party, since 2015.

French businessman Vincent Bolloré and companies affiliated with the Bollore Group have blanketed journalists and NGOs in libel suits to stop them covering his business interests in Africa. In Spain, meat producer Coren is demanding €1 million in damages from an environmental activist for criticising its waste management practices, having previously threatened activists and scientists who were researching nitrate levels in its local waters.

The people we depend on for information about what is happening around us are being distracted, impeded, or entirely blocked from pursuing their work by these costly and resource-intensive legal attacks. The situation is becoming skewed beyond recognition. When it comes to certain people, governments, companies and topics, it’s not writers, film makers or journalists who decide what we read, watch and talk about.

It’s not even the courts, for SLAPPs rarely make it to a hearing, let alone a court judgment. Rather, it’s the oligarchs and their associates in politics, through the lawyers they pay, who are shaping the narrative and preventing the truth from emerging.

We’ve seen a worrying pattern emerge in Europe of government officials or beneficiaries of large public contracts adopting the tactics of celebrities and oligarchs to shield themselves from the heightened level of scrutiny that their positions or financial links to government warrant. The fact that the threats are often cross-border ratchets up the costs for journalists and activists, who find themselves summoned to court far from home in Europe’s most expensive legal jurisdictions.

Awareness of this problem is growing. European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová has promised to ‘look into all possible options’ to counter the threat SLAPPs pose to European democracy. One promising solution lies in the institutions of the European Union, and it could help realter the balance between pursuers of SLAPPs and the public’s right to be informed of matters in the public interest.

EU-wide legislation should be adopted to protect people across the European Union from SLAPPs. This has to be a priority. As in other parts of the world, rules should be in place across the EU to allow SLAPP suits to be dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, to sanction SLAPP litigants for abusing the law and the courts, and to provide measures to allow victims to defend themselves.

When we consider the importance of public watchdogs such as investigative journalists, activists, and whistleblowers to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, the absence of safeguards is a threat not only to press freedom but to the proper functioning of Europe’s internal market and, increasingly, to Europe’s democratic life.

The reality is that for every journalist or activist threatened with violence in Europe, a hundred more are silenced discreetly by letters sent by law firms, perverting laws meant to protect the reputations of the innocent from attacks by the powerful.

SLAPPs are a far less barbaric means of silencing someone than a car bomb or a bullet to the head, but their silencing effect is often just as destructive.

Signatories

Global Witness: 2019 worst year ever for land rights and environmental defenders

July 29, 2020

On Wednesday 29 July 2020 Global Witness revealed the highest number of land and environmental defenders murdered on record in a single year, with 212 people killed in 2019 for peacefully defending their homes and standing up to the destruction of nature. 2019 is thus the deadliest year since the advocacy group began compiling data in 2012. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

More than half the killings were in Colombia and the Philippines and indigenous people made up 40% of the victims, the Britain-based group said inn its report. It was a significant rise on 2018, when 164 killings were recorded.

The threat from mining and large-scale agriculture caused the most number of deaths, with these sectors also responsible for worsening climate change impacts, Global Witness said.

Insecure land tenure, irresponsible business practices and government policies that prioritise extractive economies at the cost of human rights are putting people, and their land, at risk,” said Rachel Cox, a campaigner at Global Witness.

Land and environmental defenders play a vital role in protecting climate-critical forests and ecosystems. When they take a stand against the theft of their land, or the destruction of forests, they are increasingly being killed,” she said.

Latin America accounted for more than two-thirds of all victims last year, with Colombia the deadliest country of all, with 64 killings.

In Asia, the Philippines had 43 killings compared to 30 the previous year, with six in India, three in Indonesia and one in Cambodia, according to Global Witness.

Many more were attacked, arrested, threatened and sued, said Global Witness, which recorded killings in 21 countries.

In the Philippines – which was the deadliest country in 2018 – “relentless vilification” of activists by the government and impunity for attackers may be spurring an increase in killings, it said.

A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte did not respond to requests for comment.

At least 119 activists and farmers have been killed since Duterte took office in 2016, according to Global Witness, while local campaign groups put the figure at about 200.

Dozens of United Nations experts last month called for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines, including killings of farmers and indigenous people.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the “downward spiral of the human rights situation”, and a new anti-terrorism bill could be used to target activists, they said.

“Days after the act was signed, the harassment of human rights defenders has visibly worsened,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Philippine human rights advocacy group Karapatan.

“While rural communities, including indigenous peoples, grapple with the impact of COVID-19, they are constantly hounded by military operations that benefit mining corporations encroaching on their ancestral land,” she said.

Two of the country’s biggest agribusiness brands – Dole Philippines and Del Monte Philippines – earlier this year said they would review their processes to better protect land rights.

But attacks against activists during coronavirus lockdowns signalled more violence worldwide, Cox said.

“Governments around the world have used the crisis to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and roll back hard-fought environmental regulations,” Cox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This a more worrying time than ever.”

ttps://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/global-witness-records-the-highest-number-of-land-and-environmental-activists-murdered-in-one-year-with-the-link-to-accelerating-climate-change-of-increasing-concern/

https://news.trust.org/item/20200728231459-86pra

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/dangerous-day-land-rights-defenders-killings-surge-200729022143251.html

Escazú Agreement to protect environmental human rights in Latin America stalling

December 23, 2019
Credit Wikipedia Commons

Despite being signed a year ago, the agreement hasn’t entered into force yet as it requires 11 of Latin America and the Caribbean’s 33 countries to ratify it. Only five have done that so far: Bolivia, Guyana, Saint Kitts, and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Uruguay. A group of 16 countries have signed it but not ratified it: Colombia, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Granada, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Saint Lucia. Another group of 10 countries has not signed it: Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, El Salvador, Honduras, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and Chile.

The NGO Global Witness tracks every year the number of people killed because of standing up for their rights and defending the environment. In 2018, the figure reached 164 people, with more than half taking place in Latin America – the most violent region for environmental defenders in the world. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

A recent journalistic project called Land of Resistants, looked at the situation faced by environmental defenders in Latin America. They were subject to 1.356 attacks and incidences of violence between 2009 and 2019, according to the findings. Up to 50% of the attacks were targeted at people from ethnic minorities.

The Escazú Agreement wants to protect environmental human rights in Latin America — but not everyone is on board

In 2018 three murders per week among environmental human rights defenders

July 30, 2019
Taking a stand for environmental justice and protecting natural resources is a dangerous pursuit. A new report from the UK-based NGO Global Witness showed that 164 environmental human rights defenders worldwide were killed for their activism in 2018. That averages to just over three murders per week. And that’s an underestimation.

Global Witness said the true number was likely “much higher, because cases are often not documented and rarely investigated. Reliable evidence is hard to find or verify“. Also, murder is not the only way to quash dissent. Global Witness said, although killings are at a disturbing level, companies and governments were increasingly using other tactics like criminalization, non-lethal violence, harassment and threats, as the Guardian reported. One common tactic is for governments to label activists as terrorists. “Deaths were down last year, but violence and widespread criminalization of people defending their land and our environment were still rife around the world,” said Alice Harrison, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, as the HuffPost reported.

“The drop in killings masks another gruesome reality, ” said Harrison. “Our partners in Brazil and many other countries have noted a spike in other forms of non-lethal attacks against defenders — often attacks so brutal they’re just shy of murder.” [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

The bulk of the murders took place in Asia or Central and South America. In fact, more than half were in Latin America and most of the victims were indigenous or rural campaigners standing up for their communities against mining, hydrocarbon development, damming and agribusiness. The mining sector was responsible for one-fourth of the murders.

The Philippines replaced Brazil as the most murderous country, with 30 victims, followed by Colombia with 24, India with 23 and then Brazil with 20. It’s the first time since the annual list began in 2012 that Brazil did not top the list, according to the Guardian. The number of reported murders there dropped from 57 the year before to 20 in 2018.

Guatemala had one of the highest numbers per capita and the sharpest increase with a five-fold increase, bringing the total number to 16 deaths in 2018, which Global Witness attributed to new investments in plantations, mining and energy projects, according to US News and World Report. “In general, the surge in killings is because Guatemala is witnessing a major setback with regard to democracy and human rights,” said Jorge Santos, executive director of the non-profit Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, to Al Jazeera. His group has documented machete attacks and armed militias opening fire on indigenous people campaigning for land rights in areas that are home to mining operations, oil palm plantations and displacement of the Maya Q’eqchi’ community.

For the role of international financial institutions in al lthis see my post of roday: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/uncalculated-risks-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-in-name-of-development/

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/spotlight-criminalisation-land-and-environmental-defenders/

https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-activists-killed-2639511189.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

https://www.euronews.com/2019/07/30/more-than-160-people-killed-for-defending-the-environment-campaign-group

https://timesofoman.com/article/1694919/World/Asia/Philippines-authorities-respond-to-Global-Witness-report

See also: Download the full report: Enemies of the State? (PDF, 3.8MB)

Aruanas: human rights defenders in fiction series playing in Amazon

July 17, 2019
Eco trip
Michael Pickard Michael Pickard writes in Drama Quarterly of 2 July 2019 about the Brazilian drama Aruanas, which charts the work of environmental human rights defenders who investigate the suspicious activities of a mining company in the Amazon rainforest. The Brazilian drama Aruanas  – launched two weeks ago worldwide – won’t be found on any of the major global streaming giants. Instead, it will be available on a standalone platform for anyone around the globe to download – because the subject matter demands this story not be restricted to viewers with the right kind of subscription. The 10-part Portuguese-language thriller, which is backed by more than 20 international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including WWF Brazil, Amnesty International, Global Witness, UN Environment, UN Women, Oxfam Brazil and the Rainforest Foundation. Greenpeace is a technical collaborator on the show.

Aruanas comes from a partnership between prodco Maria Farinha Films and Brazil’s Globo TV, which have created the fictional story about three idealistic women who set up an NGO to investigate the suspicious activities of a mining company operating in the Amazon. Bypassing traditional broadcast partners by making the series available at aruanas.tv – in more than 150 countries and 11 different languages – also means 50% of the download fee will go to initiatives designed to protect the Amazon rainforest. In Brazil, Globo will air the first episode on its domestic and international channels, which reach more than 100 million people, with the series then being made available on SVoD service Globoplay…

For the last 10 years, Maria Farinha Films has been built on producing documentaries and TV series focusing on social and environmental issues, tackling subjects including childhood obesity, refugees and LGBT rights. Climate change has been a cause long on its agenda but, as the company’s founder Estela Renner explains: “We wanted to do something long term, something that could stay for seasons,” she tells DQ following the London premiere of Aruanas. “There are so many seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and ER and you learn so much about hospitals and the dynamics that are involved. How about making a TV series that takes place in an environmental NGO? What better way to talk about the drama and activists and all issues there are to address – the oceans, oil, soil, air. That’s why we decided to jump into fiction.”

Renner wrote the series with her business partner Marcos Nisti, in collaboration with Pedro de Barros, and developed it alongside Globo. The story introduces Aruana, an NGO that receives an anonymous complaint about a mining company working deep in the Amazon rainforest. When the NGO’s contact is killed and the incriminating dossier is destroyed, its staff become determined to uncover what is going on.

……the series is not a lecture about climate change, nor does it present an unwaveringly positive representation of an NGO or condemn mining outright. “It’s not propaganda. You can see the activists doing stuff you wouldn’t recommend doing,” Renner says. “We found a way to build the layers of the series so we can see why mining can be important, because it develops a country, it creates jobs and it brings development sometimes.

“Even when Natalie interviews our villain, they have a battle where, for a while, you don’t know which side to take because both sides are right. But at the end of the season, we see this type of mining is wrong. You cannot mine and pollute the rivers, the soil, the air and people. You have to do it the right way.”

Renner also states that her NGO partners, which contributed no money to the production, were clear this would be a non-factual drama from the outset: “They were with us from the beginning but they also understood this is fiction. You have to put some salt and pepper in to make it interesting and edgy. All the organisations understood that and were happy. Because it’s  fiction, they knew they didn’t have to correct us. It’s important it’s fiction; it’s not a documentary.”

Filming took place across four months, with the cast and 190-strong crew travelling back and forth between the south-west city of São Paulo and the Amazon, where filming took place in Manacapuru, in the northern state of Amazonas in the centre of the rainforest.

……..
The decision to set the drama within an NGO and the world of its activists doubles as a mechanism for the organisation, in future seasons, to explore other aspects of climate change, looking at the oil industry and the oceans. Work is already progressing on a second season, which will explore a different type of environmental crime. But Renner says that despite Aruanas’ representation of the work of NGOs and their fight for a more equitable and sustainable world, her main priority is to entertain viewers with this high-stakes thriller.

“Chernobyl would be the perfect example because it’s super well done, super entertaining and when you finish watching it, it makes you think this power of destruction we have now is bad,” she says, referring to HBO and Sky Atlantic’s recent miniseries about the 1980s nuclear disaster.

“Maybe people can connect with NGOs and see what they’re doing. We didn’t want this to be too on the nose. We want to stay for several seasons through the characters and their lives, and it does have a happy ending. There are so many series with a dystopian future; dreaming collectively of a good future is important because it has power.”

Eco trip

Global Witness report 2018 on environmental defenders: bad (but 2017 was worse)

January 9, 2019

This morning I blogged about Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018 report which notes a record number of human rights defenders killed in 2018 with the majority being environmental defenders [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/]. On 24 December 2018 referring to a preliminary Global Witness report, wrote that – while the numbers were still being finalized – the death toll for this group in 2018 was slightly lower than in 2017 (“For embattled environmental defenders, a reprieve of sorts in 2018”). This is most likely due to definition issues.

Read the rest of this entry »

Side event on human rights defenders working on Business and Human Rights issues

November 23, 2017

This side event will take place during the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. The event will bring together multiple stakeholders to discuss how to remedy, redress and prevent attacks against human rights defenders working on business and human rights.

Documenting the Killings of Environmental Defenders (Guardian and Global Witness)

July 15, 2017

Last Friday I asked attention for Front Line’s project Memorial that tries to honor all human rights defenders who have been killed since 1998 [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/13/stop-the-killings-you-can-help-front-line/]. Now the Guardian announces that this year, in collaboration with Global Witness, it will attempt to record all of the deaths of people who are killed while defending their land, forests, rivers or wildlife – most often against the harmful impacts of industry. The project will also document the stories of some of the land and environmental defenders still under attack

Activists, wildlife rangers and indigenous leaders are dying violently at the rate of about four a week, with a growing sense around the world that ‘anyone can kill environmental defenders without repercussions’

Environmental defenders being killed in record numbers globally, new research reveals.

    • The Guardian pieces addresses also the crucial question of methodology.” Environmental defenders: who are they and how do we decide if they have died in defence of their environment?” [see:

      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/13/environmental-defenders-who-are-they-and-how-do-we-decide-if-they-have-died-in-defence-of-their-environment]

      Amazon rainforest activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo were murdered by gunmen in Brazil’s Pará state in May 2011
      Amazon rainforest activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo who were murdered by gunmen in Brazil’s Pará state in May 2011. Photograph: Stringer, Brazil/Reuters

      Some excerpts:

      Who are land and environmental defenders?

      Land and environmental defenders are people who take peaceful action, either voluntarily or professionally, to protect the environment or land rights. They are often ordinary people who may well not define themselves as “defenders”. Some are indigenous or peasant leaders living in remote mountains or isolated forests, protecting their ancestral lands and traditional livelihoods from business projects such as mining, dams or luxury hotels. Others are park rangers tackling poaching or illegal logging. They could even be lawyers, journalists or NGO staff working to expose environmental abuse and land grabbing.

      How does Global Witness document killings of defenders?

      Global Witness uses online searches and its extensive network of local contacts to source evidence every time a land or environmental defender is reported as murdered, or as having been abducted by state forces. A number of criteria must be fulfilled for a case to be verified and entered into the Global Witness database. A credible online source of information is required with the victim’s name, details of how they were killed or abducted (including the date and location), and evidence that s/he was a land or environmental activist. In some cases, specialised local organisations are able to investigate and verify the case in-country, meaning that an online source is not necessary. Global Witness includes the friends, colleagues and family of defenders if either they appear to have been killed as a reprisal for the defender’s work, or because they were killed in an attack which also left the defender dead. While Global Witness endeavours to keep its database updated in real-time, verification of cases can be time-consuming, meaning that the names of some individuals are added weeks, or even months, after their death.

      Honduras: Julia Francisco Martinez, widow of indigenous activist Francisco Martinez Marquez who was killed in January 2015
      Honduras: Julia Francisco Martinez, widow of indigenous activist Francisco Martinez Marquez who was killed in January 2015 after months of death threats. His killers have not been brought to justice. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Global Witness

      Why does Global Witness say that its data is incomplete? There are a number of reasons why the information in Global Witness’s database is likely to be incomplete. Many killings go unreported, and very few are investigated by the authorities, which is part of the problem itself. Suppression of the media and restrictions on human rights in some countries reduces the number of organisations and outlets documenting killings. In high-conflict countries it can be difficult to verify that a killing was linked to somebody’s activism. Some countries are likely to be under-represented because principal searches are currently limited to English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Global Witness’s network of local sources is also stronger in some regions than others.

      For full details of Global Witness’s methodology, visit globalwitness.org/defenders/methodology

      see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/01/violence-against-environmental-human-rights-defenders-one-of-the-worst-trends-in-recent-years/

 

Source: The defenders | The Guardian