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Global Witness reports record number of killings of environmental defenders

29 July 2020

In 2019, 212 people were killed because they stand up for nature, according to the latest figures from Global Witness. A new low. Like last year, Colombia and the Philippines turned out to be the deadliest countries for environmental defenders.

On average, four defenders have been killed every week since December 2015 – the month the Paris Climate agreement was signed, amid hopes of a new era of climate progress. Countless more are silenced by violent attacks, arrests, death threats, sexual violence or lawsuits.

Global Witness’ annual report into the killings of land and environmental defenders in 2019 shows the highest number yet have been murdered in a single year:  212, an average of more than four people a week.

Shockingly, over half of all reported killings last year occurred in two countries: Colombia and the Philippines. Both have seen a rise in attacks against land and environmental defenders since 2018, with killings in Colombia in 2019 peaking at 64 activists – the highest Global Witness has ever recorded in the country.

Mining deadliest sector

Mining was the deadliest sector, with 50 defenders killed in 2019. Agribusiness continues to wreak destruction, with 34 defenders killed, and 85% of such attacks recorded in Asia. Logging was the sector with the highest increase in killings globally since 2018, with 85% more attacks recorded against defenders opposing the industry and 24 defenders killed in 2019.

Worrisome trend

Doris Schyns, spokesperson of IUCN NL, stated in the NOS news on Dutch radio NPO1 that the violence against environmental defenders is a worrisome trend.

Specific interventions

IUCN NL works on specific interventions which improve the safety of environmental defenders, such as a digital reporting system to better register incidents, safety trainings and safety measures. In addition, an emergency fund is put in place to bring people to safety in case of emergency and to provide legal assistance.

Structural improvement

To structurally improve the protection of environmental defenders, we advocate for the international recognition of the right to defend the environment with authoritative bodies such as the United Nations. Recognition at an international level will contribute to the development of international legal mechanisms to better protect environmental defenders. An important step promises to be the UN Binding Treaty, which should contain obligations to respect environmental defenders and their rights.

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More articles by: Liliana Jauregui