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2019 Was Deadliest Year On Record For Environmental Activists

LONDON, United Kingdom

The murder of 219 environmental activists makes 2019 the deadliest year on record for people defending water and land resources from mining, agriculture and logging businesses.

A new report from NGO Global Witness, released 29 July, notes a significant jump from 164 in 2018 but also makes the point that the number may actually be much higher as many incidents go undocumented; others are silenced by violent attacks, arrests, death threats or lawsuits.

“Agribusiness and oil, gas and mining have been consistently the biggest drivers of attacks against land and environmental defenders - and they are also the industries pushing us further into runaway climate change through deforestation and increasing carbon emissions,” according to Rachel Cox of Global Witness in a statement.

“Many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Land and environmental defenders are the people who take a stand against this,” she said.

Colombia and the Philippines together hold more than half the fatalities, with the four next countries in Latin America.

Colombia recorded 64 murders, the Philippines 43, with most of the remainder occurring in Latin America. The murder of community and social leaders in Colombia has risen dramatically in recent years, believed to be due to a shift in local power dynamics following the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC.

Mining was the deadliest sector with 50 people killed, followed by agribusiness.

In 2019, 40 percent of defenders murdered were indigenous people standing up for their territories; the Amazon region alone had 33 deaths.

The report also shows more than 1 in 10 environmental defenders killed last year were women who also face specific threats, including sexual violence and smear campaigns to silence them.