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Deadliest year for eco-defenders


For environmental defenders – from activists to indigenous leaders – 2016 was the deadliest year on record. Inter­national NGO and watchdog Global Witness estimate that 200 defenders were murdered last year, the highest number on record. With academics estimating 2,000 known environmental conflicts worldwide, numbers are expected to rise year on year.

‘The scramble for natural resources is intensifying,’ Billy Kyte, a campaign leader at Global Witness, told New Internationalist. ‘Increasingly, industries are encroaching onto previously untouched areas rich in resources. These industries – like mining, agriculture, hydro and logging – are coming into conflict with local communities who often have no say in what happens to their land and environment.’

Global Witness estimates that in 2016 alone there were 49 murders of land and environmental defenders in Brazil and 37 in Colombia. Global Witness has stressed that not only are these the highest numbers yet, they are continuing to rise and spread to more countries. Nearly 100 defenders were murdered in the first five months of 2017.

If defenders aren’t killed, sexual harassment, enforced disappearances, blackmail and illegal surveillance are frequently inflicted. Global Witness says that there is increasing impunity among those responsible, arguing that the blame predominantly lies with state and corporate actors. Parliamentary involvement, police, poachers and landowners rank as the most common suspected perpetrators and attackers.

‘The global community must ensure accountability for these abuses, urgently protect activists on the frontline and tackle the root causes of the violence – namely, the lack of participation by communities in projects that affect their land and the corruption that gives the green light to land-grabbing and environmental abuse,’ stressed Kyte.

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