Press release | July 13, 2017

India focus: Worst year ever for environmental and land rights activists: at least 200 killed in 2016 as crisis spreads across globe

India documents threefold increase in land defenders murdered, climbs to fourth position in global rankings of worst affected

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, as the killing of at least 200 people was documented in 2016.

Disturbingly, the trend is both growing (up from 185 in 2015) and spreading, with murders reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015. The report documents a threefold increase in India, for example, as police brutality and state suppression of activist worsens. Latin America remains the worst affected region, home to 60% of murders.1

Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather said: “These reports tell a very grim story. 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. Too often they are brutally silenced by political and business elites, while the investors that bankroll them do nothing.”

For India, the report draws attention to a disturbing trend of increasing police brutality, with many claiming the Modi administration is determined to stifle opposition to ‘development policies’ by any means necessary. Nearly half of the defenders Global Witness recorded were killed when engaging in public protests and demonstrations.

The Adivasi community in Chhattisgarh is one such example of people who have been brutally repressed for opposing large-scale coal mining in their lands. They have been subjected to a crushing combination of intimidation and criminalisation by government and legislative representatives, threatened and attacked for resisting eviction, and protesters have been detained, often under circumstances of questionable legality. 2

Writer and social activist Rinchin has been working alongside the Dalit Adivasi Mazdoor Sangathan, part of the wider Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, for the last six years. She says, “There is a complete breakdown of the law. Large numbers of the Adivasi population are illegally losing their land to corporations, through land grabs.”

Greenpeace in India, which has faced its own share of pressure tactics, agrees that the situation is extremely challenging, especially for many lesser-known groups and individual activists.

Ravi Chellam, Executive Director of Greenpeace in India says, “It takes great courage to speak up in defence of the land and the environment, particularly while challenging resource extraction projects billed as ‘development’, backed by rich and powerful forces. The Global Witness report shows how rapidly the situation is worsening for Land Defenders in India and worldwide. Plucky activists, like those in the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, routinely risk their lives in defence of the planet’s resources. With natural ecosystems under greater threat than ever before, civil society needs to act together to support these Land Defenders in their campaigns, afford them greater protection, and equally importantly, promote an alternate, more sustainable vision of development - one that doesn’t cost us the Earth.”

The report also notes the increasing criminalisation of these activists right across the world, including in the US. They are often painted as criminals, facing trumped-up criminal charges and aggressive civil cases brought by governments and companies seeking to silence them.

These findings echo the experience of Amnesty International India campaigners.

Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India, says, "The Global Witness report highlights the increasingly precarious situation that human rights defenders in India face. Many Indian activists fighting for their land and environment face a dangerous double whammy: the violation of their constitutional rights in the name of development and - when they protest these abuses - smear campaigns, killings, and detention on false charges. Indian authorities must realize that development cannot come at the cost of human rights."

Ben Leather added: “States are breaking their own laws and failing their citizens in the worst possible way. Brave activists are being murdered, attacked and criminalised by the very people who are supposed to protect them. Governments, companies and investors have a duty to guarantee that communities are consulted about the projects that affect them, that activists are protected from violence, and that perpetrators are brought to justice.”

For interviews and briefings in English, Hindi, Spanish and French, please contact:

•      Namrata Chowdhary +447702173879 [email protected]

•      Ben Leather +44 (0)7841 337 034 [email protected]

•      Billy Kyte +44 (0)7703 671 308 [email protected] 

Notes to Editors

1.   Severe limits on available information mean the total number 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.

2.  See embargoed copy of the report for more information

3.  For a selection of multimedia assets related to the report, please visit:

- Mining is the bloodiest trade, with at least 33 murders linked to the sector. Killing linked to logging companies increased from 15 to 23 in one year, while there were 23 killings connected to agribusiness projects.

- Brazil remained the deadliest country in terms of sheer numbers (49 murders); with Nicaragua (11) the worst place per capita last year. Honduras retains its status as the most dangerous place per capita over the past decade (127 since 2007).

- Recorded killings reached an all-time high in Colombia (37), as areas previously under guerrilla control are eyed by extractive companies and paramilitaries. Returning communities are attacked for reclaiming land stolen during the country’s long conflict.

- India has seen a threefold increase in killings as police brutality and repression of peaceful protests worsens. 2016 saw 16 murders, mostly linked to mining projects.

- Protecting national parks is riskier than ever, with large numbers of rangers killed in Africa. There were 9 proven murders of rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016.

- A voracious mining industry makes the Philippines stand out for killings in Asia, with 28 recorded killings.