Protecting the planet is more dangerous than it’s ever been before, according to a new report from the advocacy organization Global Witness.
In 2016, 200 people across 24 countries were killed for standing up for their environmental rights, a 10% jump from 2015, the previous most-dangerous year in recorded history.
These are only documented murders, so the real number could be higher.
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Even still, the tally represents a shocking state of affairs — nearly four people killed every week. At a time when the call to defend the environment has never been more urgent — symbolized through the Paris climate agreement — the very people who are on the ground defending the environment are getting slaughtered and their killers often go unpunished.
More than 40% of those killed are indigenous people who refuse to watch their lands get damaged and polluted by destructive practices like mining and logging.
“They threaten you so you will shut up,” Jakeline Romero, a Colombian land defender told Global Witness. “I can’t shut up. I can’t stay silent faced with all that is happening to my people. We are fighting for our lands, for our water, for our lives.”
The men and women documented in the report are generally killed by hitmen hired by multinational companies or landowners, paramilitary forces, government forces, police officers, and others who flout the law often without repercussion.
“These reports tell a very grim story,” said Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather in a press release. “The battle to protect the planet is rapidly intensifying and the cost can be counted in human lives. More people in more countries are being left with no option but to take a stand against the theft of their land or the trashing of their environment. Too often they are brutally silenced by political and business elites, while the investors that bankroll them do nothing.”
Here are the five deadliest countries in the world for environmental activists.
Amid a backdrop of rising political repression, 16 environmental defenders were killed in India in 2016, nearly triple the number in 2015. Global Witness has linked 10 of the murders to police officers, and the rest to mining and logging companies.
“They say I am against the nation’s development, but I am doing my duty as a citizen of India,” Prafulla Samantara told Global Witness. “Our constitution says that we have a responsibility to preserve and to protect our resources and also the rights of the people.”
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A brutal drug war is ravaging poor communities in the Philippines, but violence and a culture of impunity extends beyond the war on drugs. In 2016, 28 environmental defenders were killed in the country. Most of the murders are linked to the mining industry, which often hires paramilitary groups to get rid of opposition.
Honduras is the deadliest country per capita for environmental defenders, a status it has held for the past decade. In 2016, 14 people were killed in the country for standing up for environmental causes. Most of the murders were traced to agribusiness and hydro companies. Extreme corruption in the country has led to a culture of impunity.
“We must keep up the fight,” Ana Mirian Romero told Global Witness. “We can’t be frightened by all the killings that have happened. We must not lose our spirit, our children’s future depends on it.”
The Colombian civil war came to an end in 2016 after more than five decades, but for environmental defenders, the country has only become more dangerous. As FARC rebels surrendered, many civilians sought to reclaim land that was stolen, and at least 22 people ended up getting killed by paramilitary groups. The peace process also opened up more land to multinationals, who are responsible for several other murders, according to the report. In total, 37 environmental defenders lost their lives in 2016.
“For the Wayúu people we are paying with our lives,” Jakeline Romero told Global Witness. “We are paying with our culture. We are paying with the threat of being extinguished... Simply because we defend this small piece of land that used to give us enough to eat.”
Brazil remains the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders as multinationals vie to reap the natural wealth of the Amazon rainforest. In 2016, 49 people were killed and that number could climb this year, as President Michel Temer has rolled by human rights protections since taking office. Most of those murdered are in rural areas, where law enforcement is more tenuous, and where Brazil’s toxic history of slavery is most keenly felt, according to Global Witness.