The world is deadlier than ever for land and environmental defenders, with agribusiness the industry most linked to killings

Aug 4, 2018 by

It has never been a deadlier time to defend one’s community, way of life, or environment. Our latest annual data into violence against land and environmental defenders shows a rise in the number of women and men killed last year to 207 – the highest total we have ever recorded. What’s more, our research has highlighted agribusiness including coffee, palm oil and banana plantations as the industry most associated with these attacks

Of course my life is at risk, I receive death threats 24 hours a day because I’m not going to shut my mouth in the face of this atrocity. – Maria do Socorro Costa da Silva

Hernán Bedoya, from Colombia, was shot by a paramilitary group 14 times for protesting against palm oil and banana plantations that were expanding over his community’s territory and clearing the forest.

In the Philippines, after protesting the expansion of a coffee plantation, a community near Lake Sebu was attacked by military forces, leaving eight dead, five wounded, and forcing 200 to flee.

And in Brazil, farmers assaulted the indigenous Gamela community after they attempted to protect their land from logging, severely injuring 22, including children.

But it’s not just defenders in these countries who are being threatened, attacked, or killed for fighting to protect their land and way of life. Countless people around the world are under threat for standing up to the might of large corporations, paramilitary groups, and even their own governments.

The data we have painstakingly gathered and presented in this report and the case studies included are almost certainly a sizeable underestimate, given the many challenges in identifying and reporting killings. Yet even as it stands, it shows that the risks defenders face every day continue to grow, and governments and business have a very serious case to answer.

The global movement

Of the 207 defenders murdered last year, a vast majority of them hailed from Latin America, which remains the most dangerous region for defenders, accounting for 60% of those killed in 2017. Brazil saw 57 murders alone – the worst year on record anywhere in the world.

But not a single region was immune to the growing number of attacks on its defenders. The Philippines saw 48 defenders killed, the highest number ever in an Asian country. And in Africa, 19 defenders were reported killed, 12 of whom were in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Defenders 2018 - Country Killings

These defenders are part of a global movement to protect the planet. They are on the frontline of fighting climate change, preserving ecosystems and safeguarding human rights. They stand up for causes that benefit us all: sustainability, biodiversity and justice.

Irresponsible business driving attacks

The failure of many governments and businesses to act responsibly, ethically and even legally was a major driving force behind a litany of crimes against activists last year.

Companies have a responsibility to their customers, who should have confidence that the products they buy are not fuelling human rights abuses, cultural destruction or environmental devastation. And consumers have a responsibility to demand that these companies live up to their responsibilities.

When rich tropical forest is levelled for monoculture crops, delicate ecosystems that could capture carbon emissions are lost forever. When open land is turned over for mining, soil and freshwater are poisoned, jeopardising the health and the future of nearby communities.

It is irresponsible business and investors – hell bent on meeting consumer demand and maximising profit – who, together with corrupt or negligent governments, make this all possible.

Our call to you

We urge the powerful institutions and organisations that threaten the interests of defenders to use their power to be a force for good. Governments and business have the financial, legislative and executive muscle, as well as the legal duty – to make a profound difference, rather than continuing to be part of the problem.

Read our recommendations for government and business
Find out how you can stand with defenders

Despite the odds they face, the global community of land and environmental defenders is not going to go away – it’s only getting stronger. We will campaign alongside them, taking their fight to the corridors of power and the boardrooms of corporations. We will make sure their voices are heard. And we will be watching to help ensure that they, their land, and the environment we all depend on are properly protected.

Find out more

Billy Kyte, Environmental and Land Defenders, Campaign Leader

 

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