Environmental Defenders

Environmental Activists

It has never been more important to protect the environment and the brave people fighting to defend it. The battle for the environment is also a crucial battleground for human rights. Read more

In 2012, Global Witness mourned the death of a fellow campaigner. Chut Wutty had spent years exposing how Cambodia’s political and business elite have accumulated vast fortunes by selling off the country’s land and forests. He was murdered by military police while showing journalists an illegal logging site. 

Wutty’s death prompted Global Witness to research others like it. Our 2012 briefing A Hidden Crisis found that over 711 activists, journalists and community members had been killed in the last decade defending their rights to land, forests and rivers. By 2018, this death toll had risen to over 1,400. The true figure is likely to be far higher, as reliable evidence is extremely hard to find or verify.

What is clear is that the environment has become a new battleground for human rights. As demand for land and natural resources drives companies into new territories, they are increasingly striking deals with state officials without the consent of local people. While destructive industries like mining and logging continue to drive many attacks, agribusiness has risen in recent years as a major cause of threats and attacks against defenders. 

Communities, many of whom have protected their land for generations, are left in the firing line of unaccountable companies, state security forces and contract killers. A lack of attention to the problem has fed endemic levels of impunity, with investigations into killings rare, and even fewer prosecutions.

In a savage irony, while the killers go free, the activists themselves are being branded as criminals. The powerful are increasingly using laws, arrests, intimidation and smear campaigns to silence those who oppose them. These subtler threats don’t make headlines like murders do – which is why they are so effective for silencing dissent.

Global Witness is campaigning to stop the killing and criminalisation of land and environmental defenders, and to ensure they can live and work without fear or intimidation.

We monitor killings and advocate for reforms aimed at stopping the extraction of resources from stoking conflict. We investigate the root causes of violence in priority countries, pushing governments to monitor and prevent abuses and bring perpetrators to justice. And we work hard to force this hidden crisis onto political agendas.