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More than 160 environmental defenders killed in 2018

Stand Up is holding a rally against the far right to protect the rights of women, workers, and antiracists. Credit: Pexels

At least 164 environmental defenders fighting against mining, forestry or agro-industrial projects were killed in 2018, according to NGO Global Witness’s annual review.

According to the report published on Tuesday, “countless” others have been silenced worldwide by violence, intimidation and the use or misuse of anti-demonstration laws.

By far the most dangerous country last year for activists and indigenous leaders defending their lands was the Philippines with 30 murders, the NGO stated.

Columbia and India counted 24 and 23 deaths respectively in 2018. With 16 confirmed murders, Guatemala is the country with the most number of deaths for the number of inhabitants.

“This is a phenomenon that can be seen everywhere in the world: defenders of the environment and land, a significant number of whom represent native peoples, are thought of as terrorists, hooligans or criminals for standing up for their rights,” Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, a UN special reporter on the rights of indigenous peoples, denounced in a report.

“This violence represents a crisis for human rights, but also threatens all those who depend on a stable climate,” she added.

The number of dead is lower than in 2017, the deadliest year with 207 fatalities, but Global Witness notes that this number could be an underestimate, notably because certain events occur in very remote locations.

The deadliest event reported by the NGO in 2018 took place in the State of Tamil Nadu in southern India, where it is certain 13 people were killed following a demonstration against a copper mine.

In the Brazilian state of Para alone, at least eight activists involved in conflicts over land with parties from the soya industry were killed in 2018, according to the NGO.

In the Philippines, which has replaced Brazil as deadliest country, nine sugar cane growers – including women and children – were slaughtered by armed men on Negros Island, Global Witness stated, adding that the lawyer representing families of victims was killed a few days later.

While the NGO group of experts on the climate (Giec) is to publish a report next week on the use of land that will emphasise the importance of native peoples to the protection of nature, the NGO also denounces a “worrying trend” towards the intimidation and imprisonment of defenders of the environment.

The report also condemns the role of investors, including regional development banks, in controversial projects and explicitly singles out certain companies who are accused of facilitating human rights violations.

“It is not enough for multinationals linked to land seizures to plead ignorance,” he insisted. “They have a responsibility to ensure by prevention that the land from which they profit has been legally rented, with the consent of the communities living there for generations.”

The Brussels Times