Global Witness, an environmental and rights watchdog, collected 2020 data from around world that involved lethal attacks on environmental defenders. It found that an average of four people per week were killed while protecting the environment.
Global Witness reported that the Philippines was the only country in the region to have more than 15 dead. Global Witness also reported that 29 people were killed trying to stop mining, logging and dam projects. Global Witness estimates that these three countries accounted for more than half of all the attacks in 2020.
Global Witness spoke to the family members of victims to learn how lockdowns during pandemics made it easier for defenders in their own homes to be targeted for taking out governments and businesses to safeguard natural resources that their communities depend on.
“2020 was supposed be the year that the world stood still. But our data shows this didn’t translate into safer outcomes for those standing for our planet,” Chris Madden (one of the report’s authors) told CNN.
“It is clear that the unaccountable exploiting and greed that’s driving this climate crisis are also having a more violent impact on the people,” he said.
Global Witness says that more than 70% were committed to protecting forests, which are one of the planet’s natural carbon sinks. Global Witness claims that others were killed protecting rivers, oceans, and other coastal ecosystems.
The report found that logging was the largest sector linked to most murder cases. There were 23 cases in Brazil and Peru, while 23 were in the Philippines. It was followed by the fight against water rights and against dam-building and mining.
Even though Indigenous people make up only 5% in the world’s population (and more than 30% of all fatal attacks against them in 2020), they accounted for more than 30%. Global Witness documented these attacks in Mexico, Central and South America, along with the Philippines.
Researchers believe that environmental activists in Africa are also suffering from the same violence. However, researchers suggest that it may not be being adequately reported. Global Witness recorded 18 killings in Africa in 2020, an increase of seven in 2019. These attacks occurred mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rest were in South Africa or Uganda.
The authors wrote that they know that, beyond the killings, many defenders or communities also experience attempts at silence them, using tactics like surveillance, death threats, sexual violence or criminalisation. These kinds of attacks are often not well reported.
Adrien Salazar is the policy director at the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. He said that the report’s findings also reflect the US’s current situation. In the US, police are crackingdown on Indigenous protestors who are protesting the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, which will be built in Minnesota.
Salazar, who was not involved in the report, said that activists in the north face increased criminalization while environmental defenders from the south face increasing risk of death.
“It is infuriating, yet not surprising that the murders committed against environmental defenders has increased again,” he said. “This report shows that Indigenous environmental defenders and defenders of the environment are putting lives at risk to safeguard our future.
Global Witness’ researchers examined international and national datasets. These include information about attacks on environmental activists, search-engine warnings, news sources, as well as information from dozens local, national, regional and international organizations. They also reviewed data in English and Spanish as well as Portuguese.
Global Witness has been documenting environmental abuses around the world since 2012, but the group acknowledged that they may not be accurately counting the killings because many parts of the globe don’t have free media or independent monitoring.
Salazar as well as the authors warn that as the climate crisis worsens, so will the attacks on those trying to stop it.
Salazar stated, “As the climate crisis accelerates, the corporations who perpetrate these crises won’t stop pursuing their profits even at the cost of human lives.” Every story and every life matters. Resistance will continue to be a force for good as long the violence against the earth continues.”