Record number environmental defenders killed in 2016

13 July 2017

Nearly four people were murdered every week in 2016 whilst protecting their land, forests and rivers from mining, logging and agricultural companies, a new report from Global Witness reveals today. At least 200 people were killed in 24 countries, making 2016 the worst year ever. IUCN NL, in collaboration with other organisations, is advocating for a reduction of this violence, for example by starting a petition towards the Dutch government.

2016 shows that the trend is both growing (up from 185 in 2015) and spreading, with murders reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015. Latin America remains the worst affected region, home to 60% of murders. Protecting national parks is riskier than ever, with large numbers of rangers killed in Africa, while India has seen a threefold increase in killings as police brutality and repression of peaceful protests worsens.

Criminalisation

Severe limits on available information mean the global total is likely far higher. Murder is the sharp end of a range of tactics used to silence defenders, including death threats, arrests, sexual assault, abductions and aggressive legal attacks. The report also notes the increasing criminalisation of these activists right across the world. They are often painted as criminals, facing trumped-up criminal charges and aggressive civil cases brought by governments and companies seeking to silence them.

“The battle to protect the planet is rapidly intensifying and the cost can be counted in human lives. More people in more countries are being left with no option but to take a stand against the theft of their land or the trashing of their environment” said Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather. Protest is often the only option left to communities exercising their right to have a say about the use of their land and natural resources, putting them on a collision course, often with a deadly ending.

Minings

Most conflicts involving killings are related to the mining industry (33), logging (23) or agribusiness (23). Especially in the Philippines, mining has a devastating impact, with 28 of the 33 mining-related deaths occurring there.

“Almost exactly five years ago we lost a Dutch environmental defender who was protesting against the mining in the Philippines, Willem Geertman”, says Femke Wijdekop from the Dutch conservation organization IUCN NL. Last year, together with Milieudefensie (FoE-NL) and Global Witness and with support from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, IUCN NL started the project ‘Defending environmental defenders’ that works in five countries to improve safety for activists. “It is sad that the trend is still rushing in the wrong direction.”

Petition for the Dutch government

To turn the tide, Wijdekop thinks its necessary that the Dutch governments acts as well. In a petition, the Defending environmental defenders-coalition is advocating for an international binding treaty for business and human rights. “This treaty will ensure that companies can be held accountable when they cause abuses. This will strengthen the position of environmental defenders across the globe.” The United Nations has been hosting discussions about this treaty for several years. “Until now, The Netherlands have shown limited cooperation. With our petition, we ask the government to turn their efforts up a notch and really stand up for the protection of environmental defenders.” The petition will be handed in end of September. 

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