A shocking new report finds that in addition to waging war against the only planet capable of sustaining human life, we’re also attacking those who would seek to protect it. The survey, conducted by London-based Global Witness, revealed that between 2002 and 2013, more than 900 environmental activists were killed as a direct result of their work defending environmental and land rights. And these are just the known murders–actual numbers in the last couple of years are suspected to be higher. Why, in a time of high public concern about the environment, are we killing the very people working to stop its destruction? The answer, as always, comes down to money.
The Global Witness report, called Deadly Environment, is the most comprehensive global analysis of the war on environmental activists on record. It details the clear parallel between the number of killings and global competition for natural resources. Disputes over industrial logging, mining and land rights emerged as the key drivers of this conflict, and Latin America and Asia-Pacific are epicenters for the violence.
According to the report, Brazil is the world’s most dangerous place for activists with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013, followed by 109 in Honduras and Peru with 58. In Asia, the Philippines is the deadliest with 67, followed by Thailand at 16. Even those who survive suffer intense intimidation, violence, stigmatization and criminalization.
“Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation,” the report said.
These industries are directly threatened by growing awareness about what their practices and products do to the planet. Developers, mining companies, logging companies and the ever-present fossil fuel industry sees the planet only as something to exploit for profit. They believe it is their right to seize natural resources by any means necessary and will use their immense political and financial power to eliminate anyone who stands in their way. Here in the U.S. the violence is usually more subtle, but overseas, where human rights are often an afterthought, death is a common consequence for activists who walk the talk.
Deadly Environment also highlights a severe shortage of information or monitoring of this problem, meaning the total number of deaths is likely to be higher than the report documents. This lack of attention is feeding endemic levels of impunity, with just over one percent of the perpetrators known to have been convicted.
“Human rights only have meaning if people are able to exercise them,” said John Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment. “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.”
To learn more about the connection between human and environmental rights, read the full report here.