News of the deaths of four indigenous leaders who were defending their forests in Peru is particularly distressing because it was news that many people predicted.
Relatives of Edwin Chota, one of those killed, say that he had received numerous death threats from loggers who were illegally clearing forest on land that he was trying to secure rights to. Chota was one of three tribal leaders assassinated on their way home from a meeting to discuss ways to crack down on the loggers, and had sought protection from the authorities.
Chota was a high-profile environmental activist, who campaigned to protect the forest that sustained him and his community. His death is part of a rising trend in Peru, as our recent report Deadly Environment revealed, with over 58 environmental defenders killed in the country since 2002. Over half of these deaths occurred in the last three years.
Illegal logging is rampant in Chota’s Amazon Ucayali region. It is gutting the rainforest of rare woods like mahogany and tropical cedar, and increasing local tensions and violence. These loggers appear to enjoy impunity from the law, and are literally getting away with murder.
Peru is hosting this year’s climate conference in December. It is tragically ironic that while governments flounder over international measures aimed at protecting the environment, they fail to recognise, respect and protect people like Chota, who put their lives on the line in the name of actual environmental protection.
People like Chota embody the courage and tenacity needed to resolve our climate crisis, but we are losing them in the silent battles waged far from the boardrooms and conference halls where decisions are made. Peru could lead by example and act to protect environmental defenders as one of our best hopes for the future.