(CNN) — A record 212 land and environment defenders were killed last year, which equates to an average of more than four per week, according to a new report by the NGO Global Witness.
The figure makes 2019 the deadliest year on record for activists defending land and water resources from mining, agribusiness and fossil fuel interests, Global Witness said in a report released on Wednesday.
This represents a significant increase of 164 murders in 2018 and the actual number is probably much higher, the NGO said, adding that the cases often go undocumented.
Defenders are those who oppose human rights and environmental abuses fueled by the exploitation of natural resources, according to Global Witness.
Colombia was the deadliest country in 2019 with 64 murders, compared to 24 in 2018, and accounted for 30% of the world total last year.
The next country on the list is the Philippines, with 43 murders. Brazil had 24 and almost 90% of the murders committed there took place in the Amazon region.
Seven of the ten most affected nations are in Latin America, where more than two thirds of all murders occurred. The region has consistently been the hardest hit since Global Witness began collecting data in 2012.
Honduras was the country with the largest percentage increase in murders of environmental activists, increasing from four in 2018 to 14 last year.
Europe remains the least affected region, with two killings in Romania related to illegal logging. There have been seven murders in Africa, but checking the cases is a problem in the region, Global Witness said.
Mining was the deadliest sector, with 50 people killed, followed by agribusiness with 34.
Asia was a critical point for attacks related to agribusiness, which represents 85% of the world total. Of this number, almost 90% took place in the Philippines.
There were also 24 felling-related murders, an increase of 85% compared to 2018 and the highest peak of any sector.
Many activists are also silenced with arrests, demands, threats and violent attacks, according to the report, and indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected.
In 2019, 40% of the defenders killed were indigenous, despite the fact that these communities represent only 5% of the world population.
WHRDs face a specific set of threats, according to Global Witness. Women represent 10% of those killed in 2019, but they also face smear campaigns with sexist or sexual content, as well as sexual violence, the NGO said.
Global Witness underscored the work advocates do in fighting climate collapse by opposing carbon-intensive industries.
“Agribusiness and oil, gas and mining have consistently been the main drivers of attacks against land and environmental defenders, and they are also the industries that push us even further towards runaway climate change through deforestation and increased carbon emissions, “said Rachel Cox, activist at Global Witness, in a press release.
“If we really want to make plans for a green recovery that puts the safety, health and well-being of people at its heart, we must address the root causes of attacks on defenders and follow their example to protect the environment and stop the climatic decomposition ».
The report also highlights several successes of defenders around the world, praising them for their resilience.
An example is the Dayak Iban indigenous community in central Borneo, Indonesia, which now legally owns 10,000 hectares of land after a decades-long struggle.
Another is the Waorani indigenous tribe in Ecuador, which won a landmark ruling that prohibits the government from selling its land for oil and gas exploration.