More than three people were killed a week in 2015 defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries. In their new report On Dangerous Ground Global Witness documented 185 killings across 16 countries – by far the highest annual death toll on record and more than double the number of journalists killed in the same period.
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The worst hit countries in 2015 were Brazil (50 killings), the Philippines (33) and Colombia (26). Conflicts over mining were the number one cause of killings in 2015, with agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging also key drivers of violence. In 2015, almost 40% of victims were from indigenous groups.
These numbers are shocking, and evidence that the environment is emerging as a new battleground for human rights. Across the world industry is pushing ever deeper into new territory, driven by consumer demand for products like timber, minerals and palm oil. Increasingly communities that take a stand are finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers.
Urgent intervention needed
This is a rapidly growing crisis that is showing no signs of abating. Our warming climate and growing population mean that pressures on land and natural resources are set to increase, which means that without urgent intervention the numbers of deaths we’re seeing now will be dwarfed by those in the future.
Global Witness is calling on governments in affected countries to urgently intervene to:
- Increase protection for land and environmental activists at risk of violence, intimidation or threats
- Investigate crimes, including their corporate and political masterminds as well as the triggermen, and bring perpetrators to justice
- Support activists’ right to say no to projects on their land, and ensure that companies are proactively seeking their consent
- Resolve the underlying causes of violence against defenders, by formally recognising communities’ rights to their land, and tackling the corruption and illegalities that blight natural resource sectors