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Killings Of Water Activists Quadrupled In 2018

LONDON, United Kingdom

Human rights watch-dog Global Witness has launched its 2018 annual investigative report on attacks on "defenders" of land and environmental rights. 

According to "Enemies of the State? How governments and business silence land and environmental defenders", killings of activists linked to the defense of water resources rose across the globe last year, with reported incidents rising from four in 2017 to seventeen in 2018.

Often the aggressor is a company’s private security apparatus but state enforcement agencies and contract killers have worked in cooperation with private firms, Global Witness reports.

In addition to listing attacks by industrial sector, the report, released July 30, exposes the use and abuse of laws and policies that are designed to criminalize and intimidate activists, their families and the communities they represent. The report includes case studies from Guatemala, the UK and Iran that have association with water-related activism.

On average, more than 3 people per week were killed in 2018 when defending their land and/or the environment. Activists’ efforts were directed at high-consumptive natural resource industries such as mining, logging and large-scale agribusiness.

If you are an activist and wanting to preserve your life, stay away from the Philippines. There were 30 killings there in the year. Guatemala is not far behind, with a 5-fold increase in killings.

In 2018, Global Witness tracked the criminalization of activities for the first time. “Evidence from across continents shows that governments and companies are using countries’ courts and legal systems as instruments of oppression against those who threaten their power and interests. This includes the misuse of existing laws designed to stop terrorists or protect national security, and the creation of new rules to outlaw protest or muzzle freedom of speech. This makes attacks on defenders seem legitimate, increasing their likelihood.”

Suppression of land and environmental activists has been driven by the increased demand for raw materials such as precious metals for mobile phones and TVs; deforestation for banana and palm oil plantations; and small-holding and residential displacement for dam construction to support hydropower.

Criminalization of land and environmental defenders is not confined to the Global South.

In September 2018, OOSKAnews reported that three anti-fracking protesters in the UK were jailed and were given  surprisingly excessive prison sentences, as a law reportedly directed to avoid terrorist activities was, instead, applied to quash environmental activism.

Alice Harrison, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness, said:

“Vicious attacks against land and environmental defenders are still happening, despite growing momentum behind environmental movements the world over. As we hurtle towards climate breakdown, it has never been more important to stand with those who are trying to defend their land and our planet against the reckless destruction being meted out by the rich and powerful.

“It is a brutal irony that while judicial systems routinely allow the killers of defenders to walk free, they are also being used to brand the activists themselves as terrorists, spies or dangerous criminals. Both tactics send a clear message to other activists: the stakes for defending their rights are punishingly high for them, their families and their communities.”

The eight major findings of the investigation are:

  • 164 land and environmental defenders were reported killed in 2018, which averages out to more than three a week. Many more were attacked or jailed.
  • The countries with the highest overall number of recorded deaths were the Philippines (30), followed by Colombia (24), India (23) and Brazil (20).
  • The sharpest increase in murders came in Guatemala, with a fivefold rise in killings, making it one of the bloodiest countries per capita, with 16 deaths.
  • Mining was the deadliest sector, with 43 defenders killed protesting against the destructive effects of mineral extraction on people’s land, livelihoods and the environment.
  • There was an escalation of killings of defenders struggling for the protection of water sources, rising from 4 in 2017 to 17 in 2018.
  • More than half of 2018 murders took place in Latin America, which has consistently ranked as the worst-affected continent since Global Witness began publishing data on killings in 2012.
  • Global Witness was able to link state security forces to 40 of the killings. Private actors like hitmen, criminal gangs and landowners were also the suspected aggressors in 40 deaths.
  • Criminalisation and aggressive civil cases are being used to stifle environmental activism and land rights defence right across the world, including in ‘developed’ countries like the US and the UK.

Read the full report here enemies_of_the_state.pdf

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