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

 

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