Blog / Feb. 2, 2018

New data reveals 197 land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017

Today, in partnership with The Guardian, we publish new data showing that 197 people were killed in 2017 for standing up to the governments and companies that steal their land and harm the environment, calling out the corrupt and unjust practices that enable it.

These activists are at the frontline of a global battleground. From the ruthless scramble for natural wealth in the Amazon, to park rangers protecting the nature reserves of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the faces of environmental defenders span continents, countries and regions. Yet, the threats they face are one and the same. 

Agribusiness overtakes mining for links to killings

There are some depressingly familiar trends in the data we are releasing today, when compared to figures released in recent years. Latin America remains at the top of the scale for global killings of land and environment defenders in 2017. However, agribusiness has overtaken mining as the industry most linked to the murder of activists – together these industries make up over 60% of known links. Meanwhile, defending national parks continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, with 21 recorded deaths linked to poaching. 

Emilsen Manyoma from Colombia, was the leader of Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios (Conpaz), an organisation working to create spaces free from armed groups in her community, and speaking out against right-wing paramilitary groups. Documenting killings and forced disappearances, she was an outspoken critic who called out companies for forcing people off their land. Alongside her husband, Joe Javier Rodallega, she lost her life in a targeted and deadly attack. 

Mexico now far more dangerous for environment defenders

Mexico is now a far more dangerous place for those fighting to protect their land, sitting in fourth place (up from fourteenth) in the global list of deadliest countries to be an environmental defender.

At the very start of 2017, Isidro Balenegro Lopez, a Mexican activist and Goldman environmental prize winner, was gunned down. He was an outspoken critic of illegal logging which threatened the ancient forests near his home - a region afflicted by violence, drug trafficking and corruption. He is the second award winner to be murdered, following the death of the celebrated Honduran activist Berta Caceres, who was killed less than 12 months earlier. 

Until companies, investors and governments genuinely include communities in decisions around the use of their land and natural resources, the people who dare to speak out will continue to face violence, imprisonment and loss of life. - Rachel Cox, Global Witness Campaigner

Murder is just one tactic used to silence environmental activists – they are often faced with an arsenal of death threats, sexual violence and aggressive legal assaults. Wayne Lotter, a leading campaigner against the ivory trade in Tanzania had reported numerous deaths threats as a result of his animal conservation work. He was shot and killed by two armed men in August 2017. 

Screenshot Guardian map of Defenders deaths - 2.2.2018

Data visualisation by The Guardian, showing most dangerous countries for defenders in 2017

But killings are levelling off

Tracking the deaths of environmental defenders in real time means we can show that the number of killings have levelled off for the first time in four consecutive years. As the international community sits up and listens to these hidden stories, there is a momentum for renewed pressure on companies and investors to take more responsibility and further scrutinize governments who have allowed those who kill to get away with it.

By putting these killings on the map, and campaigning for governments, companies and investors to safeguard and consult communities affected by projects on their land, we hope that our work helps to end levels of impunity that have emboldened the perpetrators of violence and in most cases, allowed them to literally get away with murder.

Read the full Guardian report on killings of environmental defenders in 2017.

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