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2019 saw a record number of murders of activists trying to protect nature and the environment, according to a report by British NGO Global Witness, published on Wednesday.


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At least 212 people who defended the environment were killed in 2019, the Global Witness report said – an average of four murders per week. The dead ranged from environment activists to members of indigenous tribes to farmers trying to defend their livelihood from exploitation. The previous record – at least 207 deaths in 2017 – was similarly shocking.

However, Global Witness wrote that its figures are “almost certainly an underestimate”, largely because of “reporting challenges” including “restrictions on a free press”.

Once again, around two-thirds of the people killed were in Latin America. The situation is especially worrying in Colombia – which has the highest number of environmental defenders murdered, with at least 64, more than double the figure in 2018. Fourteen of these murders were linked to the illegal substitution of coca crops, Global Witness pointed out.

“Colombia is still scarred by armed conflicts,” observed Marie-Émilie Forget, a lecturer in geography at the University of Savoie in southeastern France. “Paramilitary groups are still trying to steal resources in the countryside, despite the peace deal that famously ended the conflict with FARC.”

The Philippines comes in second, with at least 43 murders of environmental defenders in 2019. Most of them were perpetrated in the islands of Mindanao and Negros, both of which are rich in natural resources.

The situation is also deteriorating in Honduras. There were at least 14 murders related to the environment in the country in 2019 – compared to four the previous year. That makes Honduras the nation with the highest international rate of environmental murders per capita.

Criminalised for trying to protect the environment

Brazil – where President Jair Bolsonaros insouciance towards the Amazon has repeatedly caused outpourings of despair throughout the world – is another cause for concern. Global Witness recorded 24 murders on Brazilian territory, around 90 percent of which were in the Amazon. Most of these victims were fighting against deforestation – notably as a consequence of major agricultural and mining projects. “These people are criminalised for trying to protect the environment,” Forget said. “By opposing, for example, a mining project, theyre going against the will of the state and are thus considered to be acting almost like terrorists.”

A climate of tension and violence is engendered by the development of mines and its repercussions on the health of families living nearby. Overall, opposition to mining projects was the most important reason cited for the murder of environmental activists in 2019. Following that was the agricultural industry, with at least 34 people killed in disputes connected to this domain – with killings related to the installation of palm oil, sugar and tropical fruit farms a particular problem, especially in Asia.

Across the globe, 40 percent of those murdered were members of indigenous communities trying to defend their cultures – even though they comprise just five percent of the population. “Indigenous people are claiming ancestral lands, but they dont always have property rights,” Forget said. “Then theres a power struggle between the state and these communities who have very little means to make their voices heard within their country,” she continued. “Its thanks to the support of NGOs that their struggles are better known abroad.”

People trying to defend their land

As well as indigenous peoples, many farmers have also been killed trying to defend their livelihoods. “You can imagine environmental activism coalescing around this idea of defenders of the environment, but it should also be said that in many cases these are just people trying to defend theRead More – Source