Deadliest Year For Environmental Activists

Deadliest Year For Environmental Activists

This piece consists of excerpts from two articles. In the first one, Ashoka Mukpo discusses the report by Global Witness on the killings of environmental defenders in 2019. In the second article, Leilani Chavez describes the threats posed on environmental defenders by the current Rodrigo government.

By Ashoka Mukpo/Mongabay

  • In a new report, the watchdog group says that at least 212 environment and land defenders were killed across the world in 2019.
  • The deadliest countries were Colombia and the Philippines, with 64 and 43 killings respectively.
  • Despite making up only 5% of the world’s population, representatives of Indigenous communities accounted for 40% of those killed.
  • Killings related to agribusiness jumped by 60%, to 34 in 2019 – researchers say as consumption of commodities like beef and palm oil increases, so too will deadly conflict over land.

2019 was the deadliest year on record for environmental activists, according to a new report by the advocacy watchdog Global Witness. In total, the group says that at least 212 people were killed across the world in retaliation for their defense of land and the environment, with those representing Indigenous communities bearing a disproportionate brunt of the violence.

Many of the killings were linked to battles over control of forests that are critical to the global fight against climate change, said Chris Madden, a senior campaigner at Global Witness.

“Looking at the cases that we’re seeing and the issues these people are working against, they’re often the very same causes of climate breakdown,” he told Mongabay in an interview. “So that’s why we’re saying they’re at the front line of the climate crisis.”

Topping the list of the deadliest countries for environmental defenders in 2019 were Colombia and the Philippines, with 64 and 43 killings respectively. In Colombia, the figure was more than double the number who were murdered in 2018. Overall, the most dangerous region for defenders was Latin America, which saw two-thirds of the global death toll, with the Amazon alone accounting for 33 deaths.

Despite only making up 5% of the world’s population, activists representing Indigenous communities, who are often on the front lines of conflict over forests and land, comprised 40% of those killed.

In Colombia, the 2016 peace agreement signed between the government and the leftist guerrilla group FARC is causing a scramble for control over lucrative resources left behind in the group’s wake.

As FARC insurgents demobilize under the terms of the agreement, paramilitary and other criminal groups are rushing in to fill the void, with Indigenous communities suffering as a result of the power struggle. Those communities accounted for half of the documented killings in the country despite representing less than 5% of Colombia’s population.

In late May, Mongabay published video of paramilitaries firing assault rifles into an Indigenous Emberá town and forcing members of the community to flee by canoe.

When environmental defenders are killed in Colombia, the courts rarely deliver justice. According to Global Witness, nearly nine in 10 murders of human rights activists in the country do not lead to a conviction.

Elsewhere, the deaths of activists have been linked to intimidation and violence carried out on behalf of repressive governments. Killings in Honduras jumped from four in 2018 to 14 in 2019, giving it the highest per capita rate of any country analyzed by Global Witness. In the Philippines, 2019’s toll brings the total since Rodrigo Duterte took office in mid-2016 to 119 — almost double the figure for the comparable period before his election.

By Leilani Chavez/Mongabay

  • Attacks on environmental and land defenders in the Philippines have escalated under President Rodrigo Duterte, with at least 43 deaths in 2019, watchdog group Global Witness says in its latest report.
  • It recorded a total of 119 defender deaths in the Philippines since Duterte took office in mid-2016.
  • Martial law in Mindanao, which was only lifted last December, combined with Duterte’s counterinsurgency campaigns and wide-scale anti-drug war, exacerbated the threats against defenders, local groups say.
  • A plurality of the casualties in the global tally are in mining and agribusiness; the Philippines registered the most number of deaths in both sectors, the report says.

Forty-three land and environmental defenders were killed in the Philippines in 2019, according to a new report from the watchdog group Global Witness. The tally marks out the Philippines as the most dangerous country in Asia and the second most dangerous in the world for those taking a stand against environmental destruction.

According to the group, the criminalization of environmental and land defenders under the mantle of anti-terrorism policies imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte contributed to the attacks in the Philippines in 2019.

“[The Philippines] has been consistently named as one of the worst places in Asia for attacks against defenders,” the report says. “The relentless vilification of defenders by the government and widespread impunity for their attackers may well be driving the increase.”

The Philippines has been frequently listed among top countries considered dangerous for environmental and land defenders in Global Witness’s annual reports, and this year is no exception.

In 2016, the watchdog recorded 28 environmental and land defender deaths in the Philippines, a figure that rose to 48 deaths in 2017 — regarded as the bloodiest year on record in the Philippines and the highest number ever documented in an Asian country, Global Witness said.

In 2018, 30 deaths were recorded in the country, which put it in the top spot in the global rankings. Casualties for that year include nine sugarcane farmers, including four women and two children, who were shot by a group of unidentified gunmen after tilling a contested plot of land in the central Philippines.

Since Duterte took office in June 2016, Global Witness has listed a total of 119 killings of environmental and land defenders; this is double the combined tallies of recorded killings under his predecessors. For 2019, Global Witness reported 43 deadly attacks on environmental and land defenders in the Philippines, placing it behind only Colombia with 64 cases.

The attacks have been linked to Duterte’s counterinsurgency policies, including the declaration of martial law in Mindanao to squash a group of ISIS sympathizers who briefly took over the city of Marawi in 2017. The campaign to retake the city lasted five months, until October 2017, but Duterte only lifted martial law in December 2019, after extending it three times in a span of two years.

“Martial law ended in Mindanao without abuses by the civilian sector, by the police, by the military,” the president said in his fifth state of the nation address on July 27. Human rights groups, however, say otherwise, accusing martial law of breaching the civil and political rights of more than 800,000 people, including environmental and land defenders.

Featured image: Kyle Johnson via Unsplash


Nicaragua: The Most Deadly Country for Land Rights Activists

Nicaragua: The Most Deadly Country for Land Rights Activists

Featured image: A Miskito elder stands watch in what has become a daily vigil – awaiting the promised return of armed Colonos who recently attacked her village with sophisticated weaponry, covering her home in bullet holes and terrorizing the Miskito community. Courtney Parker, 2016

     by Courtney ParkerIntercontinental Cry

Recently published statistics from watchdog group, Global Witness, have confirmed what Indigenous Nicaraguans have been trying to tell the world for years – the battle to protect Indigenous land rights in Nicaragua is not just one of the most dangerous…it is the most deadly.

Faced with such mounting evidence, however, the global human rights community continues to shrug its shoulders.

recent article lauding a new partnership between The Guardian and Global Witness – aimed at increasing surveillance and reporting on land activists’ deaths worldwide – bizarrely blacks out a single mention of Nicaragua, which emerged from recent analysis as the deadliest nation in the world for land rights struggles, per capita.

The Guardian’s omission is glaring, as the authors specifically call out conditions in countries such as Colombia, the United States, Brazil, Honduras, and Mexico. They avoided even naming Nicaragua, which has a higher death rate for land activists than any of these regions. Even more disturbing, such deaths in Nicaragua remain grossly underreported still, due to the relative isolation of high conflict zones such as the northern Caribbean coast.

Women from the community of Santa Clara gather to denounce the violence inflicted by the encroaching illegal land settlers. The woman in the center describes the unthinkable; her daughter (in the yellow shirt) was shot in the head by colonos during one such horrific attack. Photo: Courtney Parker, 2016

There are hints the authors sought to, by excluding the socialist country, frame the escalating crisis in a thematic, but ultimately myopic, critique of capitalism – which could perpetuate a popular (sometimes populist) false narrative that socialism (or Marxism) is some sort of vaccine against environmental exploitation. Regardless of intent, such implications could not be less true.

A few cases in point…

The great socialist nation of Canada – even with human rights superstar, Justin Trudeau, now at the reigns – continues its deadly, imperialist, extractivism activity in Latin America, and remains a driving force behind the controversial and potentially devastating oil pipelines to the north. An imperialist Chinese mining operative has waged violent attacks against Indigenous community defenders with direct support from the military in Ecuador – a country once famous for their groundbreaking constitution codifying the ‘Rights of Nature’. Nicaragua, meanwhile, is busy destroying the second largest tropical rainforest in the western hemisphere in attempts to sustain the oft praised ‘era of economic growth’ under Daniel Ortega.

Subhabrata ‘Bobby’ Banjeree’, a professor of the University of London’s Cass Business School, provided some insight about media inconsistencies on land rights struggles through a statement to the Thomas Reuters Foundation (concerning the Global Witness report.)

“Right now there are more than 2,000 reported hotspots around the world. The reality is that there are probably three times that number which are not reported because they are not as sexy and don’t make TV news.”

As The Guardian attempts to take the lead on resolving the disparities in coverage, it has somehow found cause to preemptively omit the deadliest case. One is left to wonder if calling out so-called capitalist nations is in fact sexy, and hard evidence which might dilute this motif is somehow…not.

The tombs of two community heroes in Santa Clara – acclaimed Miskitu warriors who sacrificed their lives attempting to shield their families and friends from encroaching violence – are displayed in reverence at a central point in the village.. Photo: Courtney Parker, 2016

In an insight especially relevant to Nicaragua, Banjeree also noted to Reuters how the role of the state is often compromised by conflicting responsibilities in encouraging economic development for a given nation and protecting the citizens who live there. The ostensibly ‘Christian-socialist’ government of President Ortega seems to be repeatedly and incomprehensively erring on the side of violence and neoliberal economics.

Global Witness itself has emerged as a truly objective watchdog group in an ideologically tainted atmosphere of human rights activism, in which various struggles are routinely ennobled or suppressed according to how well they fit into ongoing narratives supporting capitalist or anti-capitalist fervor. In their own statement about the new Guardian partnership, Global Witness conveyed:

“We’re hoping this will help break the silence that fuels this rising tide of violence. Many activists who are murdered live in remote villages deep within rainforests or mountain ranges, and their deaths pass under journalists’ radars. Without the exposure that comes from media coverage, governments and businesses have fewer incentives to protect people under threat, or to punish perpetrators. “

Their clearly defined goal gives cause to remain optimistic that commitment to truth and transparency will guide and reorient coverage generated through their partnership with The Guardian – though things are not off to an encouraging start.

To their credit, The Guardian has featured other coverage on the struggle for Indigenous land rights in Nicaragua, such as this piece from March of this year. While fairly comprehensive, the article still preserves a certain aura of credulity, a benefit of the doubt, in regard to the underlying intentions of Daniel Ortega and the ruling party of the FSLN – a credulity, that is facing regional extinction in Moskitia with the escalating murders of Indigenous Miskitos at the hands of ‘Colonos’ (armed invaders who have placed the autonomous Indigenous nation of Moskitia under a violent siege while FSLN militarized police routinely look the other way.)

It is high time to embrace, what is for many, a painful and perhaps counterintuitive truth. The differences between socialism and capitalism, regarding environmental justice and environmental exploitation, have proven slim to none. And nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than in the nation of Nicaragua, currently under socialist rule by the once dogmatically Marxist Sandinista. Quasi-intellectual dogma and calcified political ideologies are not going to save the Earth or protect its most dedicated defenders. Hence, it is time we get realistic in attempting to discern what will.

A Planned $1.1 Billion Hydroelectric Dam is Threatening the Largest Lake  in the Philippines, and Community Activists are Being Persecuted for Fighting Back

A Planned $1.1 Billion Hydroelectric Dam is Threatening the Largest Lake in the Philippines, and Community Activists are Being Persecuted for Fighting Back

Editor’s note: Activists and environmentalists in the Philippines take extreme risks by speaking out to protect land and water. The Philippines has consistently been ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for environmental defenders. This story includes reference to 68-year-old environmental defender Daisy Macapanpan, who was arrested on what appear to be trumped-up charges for resisting the Ahunan pumped hydroelectric dam. This repression is merely the beginning.

Deep Green Resistance has collaborated with grassroots activists in the Philippines for many years. Some of our allies are involved in this fight, and are raising funds to print educational materials, hold events, and support community activism against the Ahunan hydro project by providing expertise, assisting in connections with lawyers, help getting international media coverage, and more. You can donate to these community organizers via PayPal to this email address. This story has not previously been reported in the international press.

MANILA — Casino billionaire Enrique Razon, one of the richest men in the Philippines, is planning a $1.1 billion hydropower dam which threatens Laguna De Bay, the largest lake in the nation and one of the largest in Southeast Asia, as well as the community of Pakil and rainforests on the flanks of the Sierra Madre mountains on the lake’s east bank.

Prime Infrastructure Capital corporation’s Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project would destroy nearly 300 hectares of rainforest, leach toxic chemicals into Laguna De Bay, and could jeopardize the water supply for more than 20,000 residents of the area. 

Local residents fear that the project could worsen typhoon flooding and lead to landslides, will destroy natural pools that are used in religious practices, and that the region’s frequent earthquakes could damage the dam and reservoir — which is planned to be built on Mt. Inumpong which rises above their community and that is riven by three major fault lines — leading to catastrophic failure.

Despite widespread community opposition, the project is set to break ground in 2023. Community organizers allege that illegal drilling is already taking place and that the Philippe army is guarding the site. 

On June 11th, 68-year-old environmental defender Daisy Macapanpan, one of the leaders of the community opposition, was arrested in her home for “rebellion” after delivering a speech against the project. allegedly by 40 police officers with no warrant. She was released on August 10th on bail. Illegal detentions and arrests of environmentalists are common in the Philippines, which has also been ranked as the deadliest country for environmental defenders.

On August 8th, following extensive pressure from the communities and allegations of illegal conduct, the Municipal Councils and Chieftains of four directly impacted communities revoked a previous “no objection” resolution in favor of the project that had been in place since September 2021.

On August 23rd, the Department of Energy and Natural Resources Environmental Management Bureau and the community of Pakil dispatched representatives to investigate allegations on ongoing illegal construction. 

ahunan hydroelectric resistance

Community organizers gathered in Pakil in August 2022 to resist the Ahunan hydroelectric dam project.

Pumped-storage hydropower is unlike regular hydropower dams, which block a river’s flow to produce electricity. Instead, pumped hydro storage (PHS) is an energy storage method. It depends on finding (or engineering) a site where two sizable reservoirs or natural water bodies at significantly different elevations can be connected by pipes. To store energy, operators pump water from the lower to the upper reservoir, and to use the stored energy, let it run back down through electrical power generation turbines. 

According to the book Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What we Can Do About It, pumped-storage hydropower dams kill fish, distribute invasive species, destroy riparian vegetation and harm wetlands, decrease water quality, block aquatic migration, and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. The book also states that “these facilities lead to more fossil fuels being burnt” because of inefficiencies in the process. 

The Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project would produce 1,400 MW of electricity at full flow, none of which would go to the local community. Prime Infrastructure Capital corporation and the Philippines Department of Energy call the project “clean energy.”

The fish who live in Laguna De Bay are an important source of food for the 8.4 million people living in the surrounding communities. A petition to halt the project has been signed by more than 6,000 of the 15,000 voting-age residents closest to the proposed project. 

The World Commission on Dams estimates that at least 40 million to 80 million people have been displaced by dams.

Featured image by Ramon FVelasquez. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

207 Environmentalists Were Murdered in 2021

207 Environmentalists Were Murdered in 2021

Editor’s note: This article is a call for courage in the face of adversity, apathy, and violence. Two hundred and seven environmentalists were murdered last year—at least. Each fallen land defender is a hero. To save the planet, we must be willing to take risks and make sacrifices.

States, corporations, and vigilantes use violence because it is brutally effective. Our best defense against murder and other intimidation techniques including detention, torture, surveillance, harassment, and infiltration is solidarity, organization, and strategy.

Deep Green Resistance activists are active in many of the most dangerous parts of the world, where environmentalists are murdered regularly. This is why we advocate for security culture and teach techniques regarding privacy, anonymity, personal safety, and self-defense. As land defenders, we must be prepared. This work is dangerous, and by being prepared, we enable action.

by / Mongabay

The War on Land Defenders: Assassinations and Kidnappings Beset Environmentalists

The War on Land Defenders: Assassinations and Kidnappings Beset Environmentalists

As the following stories illustrate, land defense is dangerous. When we speak about the war being waged on the planet, we do not speak of a metaphor. With guns and machetes, with chainsaws and poisons, with nuclear waste and bulldozers, the living world is being dismembered, and those who fight to defend it often find themselves risking life and limb. We must become aware of this war in order to better participate on the side of the forests and of life. Be careful, be prepared.

Featured image: Monarch butterflies in the El Rosario reserve, home to fir forests whom monarchs visit each winter after their multi-generational migration from the north. Photo by Charlie Marchant, cc-by-2.0.

Six Murdered, Ten Kidnapped in Armed Attack on Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve

Reuters — February 3rd

About 80 armed men killed six indigenous people on an isolated Nicaraguan nature reserve in an attack linked to raging land disputes, the indigenous Mayagna community said on Thursday, with 10 other Mayagnas kidnapped in the raid.

The men stormed a Mayagna commune about 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of capital Managua, deep in the north-central Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, the second-largest rainforest the Americas after the Amazon.

The raiders were part of a group of “settlers” in the area who do not belong to the indigenous communities that make up about 14% of Nicaragua’s 6.2 million people, according to a Mayagna lawyer from the region.

Missing Mexican Monarch Butterfly Defender Homero Gómez González Found Dead

Jessica Corbett / Common DreamsJanuary 30th

Mexican conservationist Homero Gómez González was found dead Wednesday, about two weeks after he was reported missing, provoking a wave sorrow from allies and advocates worldwide as they honored his work running a butterfly sanctuary in the state of Michoacán.

As Common Dreams reported last week, human rights advocates have expressed fears that Gómez González may have been targeted because of his activism by those involved in the local illegal logging industry, and the 50-year-old butterfly defender’s family told the media that he had received threats from a criminal organization.

A Global Witness report from last year named Mexico the world’s sixth-deadliest country for eco-defenders, part of “a worrying global trend” of environmentalists risking their safety by facing off against “governments, companies, and criminal gangs [that] are routinely stealing land and trashing habitats in pursuit of profit.”

Human Rights Advocates Call for Investigation Into Death of Second Monarch Butterfly Defender in Mexico

Julia Conley / Common Dreams — February 3rd

The body of Raúl Hernández Romero was found at the top of a hill in the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary on Saturday, one day after the manager of the preserve, Homero Gómez González, was buried. Gómez’s body was found last Wednesday after a two-week disappearance.

El Rosario sanctuary provides a home for millions of migrating monarch butterflies each year and draws thousands of tourists annually. But the reserve has also drawn the ire of illegal loggers in Mexico, who are banned from cutting down trees in the protected area.

Before the ban, more than 1,000 acres of the woodland were lost to the industry between 2005 and 2006.

Hernández’s family told the BBC that before he disappeared on Jan. 27, he had been receiving threats warning him to stop campaigning against illegal logging. Forensic experts said the activist appeared to have been beaten with a sharp object and had a deep wound in his head.