The Global Witness report points to organized crime, local gangs and paramilitary organizations, who are credited with 37 of the 2019 deaths.
At the cost of their lives, around the world, they are fighting against deforestation, mines or agro-industrial projects: at least 212 environmental defenders were killed in 2019, a new record, according to Global Witness .
“At a time when we particularly need to protect the planet against destructive and CO2-emitting industries, the killings of environmental and land defenders have never been so numerous” since the start of the count in 2012, notes the British NGO.
Indigenous leaders, rangers responsible for protecting nature or ordinary activists … The annual report published Wednesday surpasses the previous record of 2017 where 207 deaths had been recorded. And like every year, “our figures are almost certainly underestimated,” Global Witness warns.
Colombia and the Philippines particularly affected
In 2019, half of the killings occurred in just two countries: Colombia, which with 64 victims ranks well in the lead, in Latin America which accounts for two-thirds of that gruesome tally, and the Philippines with 43 dead.
In both countries, as in the rest of the world, representatives of indigenous peoples (40% of those killed in 2019) who live as close as possible to nature “suffer a disproportionate risk of reprisals” when they fight to defend “their ancestral lands “.
For example in the Philippines, Datu Kaylo Bontolan, leader of the Manobo people, was killed in an airstrike in April 2019 while fighting with his community against a mining project. Mines are also the deadliest sector for environmentalists (50 dead).
Agribusiness comes next, with 34 activists killed while opposing palm oil, sugar and tropical fruit farms, much of it in Asia. The fight against logging has meanwhile claimed 24 victims, an increase of 85% compared to 2018, while forests are essential in the fight against global warming.
Global Witness also notes that 33 activists were killed in the Amazon (the vast majority in Brazil), fighting against deforestation caused in particular by major mining and agricultural projects. But defending the forest can also cost its life in Europe, a continent least affected by the murders of environmental defenders.
For example, in Romania, where one of the most important primary forests in Europe is a victim of illegal logging, the forester Liviu Pop was shot dead in October after having surprised illegal loggers. A month earlier another was killed with an ax to the head.
As for the perpetrators of the violence, even if “impunity and widespread corruption” make it difficult to identify them, the report points to organized crime, local gangs, paramilitary organizations and even the official security forces to whom 37 of the crimes are attributed. deaths of 2019.
“Follow their example”
“Many violations of human rights and the environment are generated by the exploitation of natural resources and the corruption of the global political and economic system,” said Rachel Cox, of Global Witness, who notes that the responsible companies are the same ones that “are leading us towards uncontrollable climate change”.
“If we really want a green recovery that puts the safety, health and well-being of the population at the center, we must address the roots of the attacks on activists and follow their example to protect the environment and curb the crisis. climate “, she insisted.
But if, in the context of a reconstruction of a greener post-Covid world, the protection of environmental activists is “vital”, the NGO emphasizes on the contrary an “intensification of the problems”: “governments across the planet , from the United States to Brazil or to Colombia and the Philippines, have used the crisis to toughen draconian measures to control citizens and reverse hard-won environmental rules “.
Beyond the dead, the NGO denounces the use “of tactics ranging from campaigns of slander to spurious prosecutions to silence those who fight for the climate and the survival of humanity”, sometimes accused of being “criminals” or “terrorists”. As for women, who represent 10% of the dead, they are sometimes subjected to sexual violence.
Despite this gloomy observation, Global Witness is delighted with the few victories won by these “courageous” activists, “proof of their tenacity”. Like that of the Waorani Indians in the Ecuadorian Amazon where justice has suspended the entry into their ancestral lands of the oil industry. “It’s for our forests and for future generations. And it’s for the whole world”, insisted Nemonte Nenquimo, one of their leaders. But the government appealed.