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Environmentalists Murdered at Alarming Rates Worldwide

The previous year proved more dangerous for people all over the world defending their own land, their communities, their wildlife or natural resources. Newly published research proves that environmentalists all over the world are being murdered on average at four a week. The Guardian reports, “Two hundred environmental activists, wildlife rangers and indigenous leaders trying to protect their land were killed in 2016, according to the watchdog group Global Witness—more than double the number killed five years ago.”

Photo by: Adam Jones via Flickr

The reported rate of these killings only continues to increase as 2017 is more than half passed as the first five months saw 98 known killings this year. 

U.N. special reporter on the environment and human rights, John Knox, said, “Human rights are being jettisoned as a culture of impunity is developing.” He went on to explain, “There is now an overwhelming incentive to wreck the environment for economic reasons. The people most at risk are people who are already marginalized and excluded from politics and judicial redress, and are dependent on the environment. The countries do not respect the rule of law. Everywhere in the world, defenders are facing threats.

“There is an epidemic now, a culture of impunity, a sense that anyone can kill environmental defenders without repercussions, eliminate anyone who stands in the way. It [comes from] mining, agribusiness, illegal logging and dam building.”

Mexican-Indigenous leader Isidro Baldenegro López, a staunch opponent of illicit logging, was murdered in January 2017. In May, Brazilian farmers ransacked an indigenous settlement with machetes used to chop the indigents’ hands, marking only yet another brutal land dispute that hospitalized over a dozen people. Additionally, there have been attacks in Mexico, Honduras, Colombia and several other countries wherein environmentalists have been attacked and killed en masse.

 

The majority of these environmentalists lose their lives in villages or remote forests encroached upon by dams, mining, agribusiness or illegal logging. Rare is the case that attackers are ever identified, much less arrested, and most of the assailants are said to be hired by state forces or corporations. As such, The Guardian announced, “This is why the Guardian is today launching a project, in collaboration with Global Witness, to attempt to record the deaths of everyone who dies over the next year in defence of the environment.

 

“We will be reporting from the world’s last wildernesses, as well as from the most industrialised countries on the planet, on the work of environmental defenders and the assaults upon them.” Global Witness’s campaign leader on the environmental defense front, Billy Kyte, explained that these murders and attacks—those that get reported—are merely the tip of the iceberg apropos of violence against indigenous environmentalists.

“Communities that take a stand against environmental destruction are now in the firing line of companies’ private security guards, state forces and contract killers,” said Kyte. “For every land and environmental defender who is killed, many more are threatened with death, eviction and destruction of their resources. These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a systematic assault on remote and indigenous communities by state and corporate actors.”

The rate of these environmental conflicts worldwide is steadily increasing according to researchers. A panel of pundits on environmental conflict from 23 universities, assembled and funded by the E.U., identified over 2,000 conflicts over land, water, evictions, pollution and mining.

“These are just the reported ones. There could be three times as many. There is much more violence now,” said Bobby Banerjee, a researcher at Cass business school who has been studying the resistance against global development projects for a decade-and-a-half. “The conflicts are happening worldwide now because of globalization. Capitalism is violent and global corporations are looking to poor countries for access to land and resources. Poor countries are more corruptible and have weaker law enforcement. Companies and governments now work together to kill people.”

Global Witness data from last year illustrates clearly that the corporations and their respective sectors are the core drivers of oil and mining conflicts reportedly responsible for 33 murders. The second most murderous industry in the world was logging with 15 more killings than 2015 for a total of 23, and agribusiness was ranked third; all of which could change this year as 2017 already saw agribusiness in the first five months rivaling mining as the most murderous industry, notching 22 killings worldwide thus far.

Photo by: drippycat via Pixabay

Colombia’s industry killings have increased in frequency this year, and the Philippines, as well as Brazil, are already outpacing their death rates from 2016, predominately targeting indigenous groups. Brazil was ranked the deadliest country yet again in 2016 as a result of its 49 recorded killings for its many well-covered conflicts over the Amazon rainforest. The production of timber has been reportedly linked to 16 of  those 49 cases while Brazil’s rate of deforestation spiked 29 percent in lieu of pressures from Norway to curtail deforestation in the Amazon in exchange for aid.

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