Global Witness calls the murders part of “the ruthless scramble for natural wealth.”
By John R. Platt
At least 197 environmental activists and eco-defenders around the world were murdered in 2017 — nearly four deaths per week, according to a shocking new report from Global Witness and The Guardian newspaper.
The deaths included farmers murdered by soldiers while defending their ancestral lands from coffee plantations in the Philippines; an indigenous leader allegedly killed by rebels in Colombia; and wildlife rangers slain by poachers in multiple countries. One of the most infamous cases was the January 15, 2017 murder of Isidro Baldenegro López, an indigenous activist in Mexico who had earlier won the Goldman Environmental Prize for standing up to illegal logging.
Mexico is now the fourth most dangerous countries for land-defenders, with 15 murders in 2017, according to Global Witness. Latin America overall was considered the deadliest part of the world for activists. Brazil had the highest number of murders, 46, followed by Colombia with 42. The Philippines was a close third with 41 reported homicides.
Agribusiness and mining were linked to 60 percent of 2017’s deaths.
“Until companies, investors and governments genuinely include communities in decisions around the use of their land and natural resources, the people who dare to speak out will continue to face violence, imprisonment and loss of life,” Rachel Cox, a campaigner for Global Witness, wrote on their website.
In addition to the murders, Global Witness says many activists are intimidated or silenced with death threats, sexual assaults and aggressive lawsuits (the latter of which have become particularly prevalent).
Although the number of activist murders has quadrupled since Global Witness started tracking them in 2002, there is a hint of good news: “Killings have leveled off for the first time in four consecutive years,” Cox wrote. “As the international community sits up and listens to these hidden stories, there is a momentum for renewed pressure on companies and investors to take more responsibility and further scrutinize governments who have allowed those who kill to get away with it.”
Meanwhile, the murders continue in 2018. Most recently, three Cambodian rangers and law-enforcement officers were killed just hours after locating and illegal logging camp on the Cambodia-Vietnam border. They are survived by their wives and daughters, the youngest of which is just two and a half months old.