Following the murder of 219 environmental activists in 2019, 2020 is again a record year for violence against activists seeking to protect the environment, with 227 lethal attacks.
In September 2021, the UK-registered NGO, Global Witness, released its report entitled “The Last Line of Defence”, which is the result of an in-depth investigation by the organisation into threats against environmental defenders.
The report details a broad range of threats against activists, including criminalisation, intimidation, surveillance and sexual violence. Environmental defenders are defined by the United Nations as “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment including land, water and air”. Environmental defenders remain highly vulnerable across the world and have been facing increasing attacks over the course of past decade.
Global Witness (GW) has conducted research into this area since 2012, resulting in what has now become an annual report. The cases of killings are identified by searching and reviewing what GW considers to be reliable sources of publicly available information which is corroborated where possible through contacts with in-country partners. Individual cases need to meet certain criteria in order to be registered such as biographical information on the victim, the nature of the incident and the type of violence involved and its clear linkage to a local or proximate environmental issue.
In 2019 UN Environment released its first global report on the Environmental Rule of Law, which found that despite a 38-fold increase in environment laws enacted since the first global environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972, failure to implement these laws is one of the greatest challenges to mitigating climate change, preventing pollution and preventing land degradation and the loss of biodiversity.