The count increases over the years. In 2019, at least 212 environmental activists, who fought all over the world against deforestation, mines or agro-industrial projects, were killed. A new record, according to a report by Global Witness. “At a time when we particularly need to protect the planet against destructive and CO2-emitting industries, the killings of environmental and land defenders have never been so numerous” since the start of the count in 2012, notes the British NGO.
Indigenous leaders, rangers responsible for protecting nature or ordinary activists… The annual report published on Wednesday July 29 surpasses the previous record of 2017 where 207 deaths had been recorded. And like every year, “our numbers are almost certainly underestimated,” Global Witness warns. In 2019, half of the killings occurred in just two countries: Colombia, which with 64 victims ranks well in the lead in Latin America which accounts for two-thirds of that gruesome tally, and the Philippines, with 43 dead.
In both countries, as in the rest of the world, representatives of indigenous peoples (40% of those killed in 2019) who live as close as possible to nature “suffer a disproportionate risk of reprisals” when they fight to defend “their own”. ancestral lands ”. For example in the Philippines, Datu Kaylo Bontolan, leader of the Manobo people, was killed in an airstrike in April 2019 while fighting with his community against a mining project. Mines are also the deadliest sector for environmentalists (50 dead).
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Agribusiness comes next, with 34 activists killed opposing palm oil, sugar and tropical fruit farms, much of it in Asia. The fight against logging has meanwhile claimed 24 victims, an increase of 85% compared to 2018, while forests are essential in the fight against global warming. Global Witness also notes that 33 activists were killed in the Amazon (the vast majority in Brazil), fighting against deforestation caused in particular by major mining and agricultural projects. But defending the forest can also cost its life in Europe, a continent least affected by the murders of environmental defenders.
An “intensification of the problems”
Thus in Romania, where one of the most important primary forests in Europe is the victim of illegal exploitation, the forest ranger Liviu Pop was shot dead in October after having surprised illegal loggers. A month earlier another was killed with an ax to the head. As for the perpetrators of the violence, even if “impunity and widespread corruption” make it difficult to identify them, the report points to organized crime, local gangs, paramilitary organizations, and even the official security forces to which they are assigned. of the dead in 2019.
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“Many violations of human rights and the environment are generated by the exploitation of natural resources and the corruption of the global political and economic system,” said Rachel Cox, of Global Witness, who notes that responsible companies are the same ones that “are leading us towards uncontrollable climate change”. “If we really want a green recovery that puts the safety, health and well-being of the people at the center, we must address the roots of the attacks on activists and follow their example to protect the environment and curb the crisis.” climate, ”she insisted.
But if, in the context of a reconstruction of a greener post-Covid world, the protection of environmental activists is “vital”, the NGO emphasizes on the contrary an “intensification of the problems”: “Governments across the planet , from the United States to Brazil or Colombia and the Philippines, have used the crisis to toughen draconian measures to control citizens and reverse hard-won environmental rules. “Beyond the dead, the NGO denounces the use” of tactics ranging from slander campaigns to spurious prosecutions to silence those who are fighting for the climate and the survival of humanity “, sometimes accused of be “criminals” or “terrorists”. As for women, who represent 10% of the dead, they are sometimes subjected to sexual violence.
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Despite this gloomy observation, Global Witness is delighted with the few victories won by these “courageous” activists, “proof of their tenacity”. Like that of the Waorani Indians in the Ecuadorian Amazon where justice suspended the entry into their ancestral lands of the oil industry. “It’s for our forests and for future generations. And it’s for the whole world, ”insisted Nemonte Nenquimo, one of their leaders. But the government appealed.