2019 was the bloodiest year for environmental and land rights activists, says report

Over 212 “land defenders” were killed in the year 2019, says a report by Global Witness, with Colombia and the Philippines accounting for half of those

July 29, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Milgen Idán Soto Ávila 29 years old, holds up a picture of his cousin Samael Matute assassinated in February 2019 because of his struggle in defense of the territory and ancestral forest. Milgen was assassinated and found dead on September 28, 2019. Honduras has reported the highest per capita killings of land activists.

A report released on Wednesday, July 29, documents the highest number of killings of land rights and environmental activists around the world. The report published by Global Witness, an NGO based in Washington DC, titled ‘Defending Tomorrow’ stated that over 212 “land defenders” were killed in 21 countries, the highest ever documented so far.

Latin American nations reported 148 of these documented killings, accounting for nearly 7 out of 10 cases. Colombia reported over 64 killings, followed by Brazil (24), Mexico (18), and Honduras (14). The Amazon region alone accounted for 33 of these deaths. Latin America was followed by Asia (55) with the Philippines accounting for 78% of them and Africa (7). Europe was largely unaffected with only Romania reporting 2 deaths.

The report has identified that activists working against mining projects were the most likely to get killed, with 50 such deaths. This was followed by 34 activists killed while opposing agribusiness expansions and 24 killed while opposing logging.

Honduras has reported the highest per capita killings of land activists, and also the highest spike in such killings in 2019 increasing from 4 in 2018. By sector, assassinations of activists opposed to logging saw the highest jump since 2018, nearly 85%. Nearly two out of every five activists killed in 2019 were indigenous people, according to the report.

The report also documented that between 2015 and 2019, indigenous activists were disproportionately targeted. Killing of indigenous activists accounted for a third of such deaths in the four year period, even though their share of the global population is less than 5%.

The report linked the murders to climate change and environmental damage around the world. “For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defense against the causes and impacts of climate breakdown,” argued the report.

It added that, “despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play and the dangers they increasingly face, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work.”

About 107 of these deaths, which is over half of the killings, happened in just two countries, namely Colombia and the Philippines. The killing of “land defenders” in these countries, according to the report, has paralleled the rise in political murders in the two countries.

In the Philippines, for instance, half of the killings were by security forces or paramilitary groups, a bulk of which occurred in the fertile agriculturally-important islands of Mindanao and Negros.

In Colombia, 24 Indigenous and Afro-descendant land defenders were murdered in the department of Cauca alone by drug traffickers and paramilitaries.