Briefing | June 19, 2012

A Hidden Crisis

Increase in killings as tensions rise over land and forests.

For the past 20 years Global Witness has worked with and seen communities, NGO workers, individuals and journalists intimidated, beaten up and sometimes killed over disputes about how land and forest are used and managed. So we attempted to get a sense of the scale of this problem globally. We counted the numbers of people killed over the past decade (years 2002-2011 inclusive) defending their human rights or the human rights of others related to the environment, specifically land and forests. These rights include enjoyment of a healthy environment, according to UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/45/94 (14 Dec 1990); as well as the rights of indigenous peoples to their land and its resources, including forests; the right to life, livelihood and freedom of expression. This snapshot survey was carried out through desk research and consultation with human rights and environmental groups. 

Across the world, our research found 711 individuals reported killed in the past decade - an average of more than one killing per week. Of these, 106 people were killed in 2011 – nearly twice the death toll in 2009. It includes those killed in targeted attacks and violent clashes as a result of protests, investigating or taking grievances against mining operations, logging operations, intensive agriculture including ranching, tree plantations, hydropower dams, urban development and poaching. 

Because information on such killings is fragmented and scarce, the number of deaths is very likely to be higher than we have been able to identify. This report also does not include the hundreds of thousands of victims of intimidation and violence linked to disputes over access to land and forest or killings from land and forest claims associated with oil and gas extraction. Clearly, these areas would be ripe for further analysis.

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