Protests against mines and deforestation, hydropower plants and large farms are dangerous in many places: last year, according to a count by the non-governmental organization Global Witness, at least 212 environmentalists were killed worldwide. That’s an average of more than four murders a week – and more than in all previous reports. In addition, environmentalists in many countries are repeatedly threatened, slandered and brought to justice for their work.

Most of the killings of environmentalists were reported to have taken place in Colombia (64), the Philippines (43) and Brazil (24). Global Witness registered more than two thirds of all cases in Latin America. But also in the EU country Romania, two environmental activists were killed last year who had campaigned against the illegal deforestation of Europe’s last virgin forests. The organization assumes that the actual number of environmentalists killed is significantly higher because many cases are covered up or not reported.

According to the non-governmental organization, the acts of violence are mostly companies, farmers and sometimes also state actors as well as criminal gangs, paramilitary groups and rebels. “Agriculture, oil, gas and mining are causing violence against environmentalists – these are the industries that are also fueling climate change through deforestation and emissions,” said Rachel Cox of Global Witness.

Around 30 percent of all murders were recorded in Colombia

The non-governmental organization also records which industry the murders were related to. The killed activists had particularly often campaigned against environmentally harmful mining (50), agriculture (34) and forestry (24). “Many of the worst human rights violations have to do with the exploitation of our natural resources and corruption in politics and business,” said Cox. “Environmentalists are those who stand up against it.”

Environmentalists and activists are particularly dangerous in Colombia. Despite the peace treaty between the Colombian government and the far guerrilla organization Farc, violence against social leaders, human rights defenders and environmentalists has recently increased in the South American country. The number of murders of environmental activists rose by 150 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year. With 64 cases, around 30 percent of all murders recorded by Global Witness worldwide are in Colombia.