The fight to protect land, homes, livelihoods, and wildlife from destructive, pollution-causing industries turned deadly for more than 160 environmental defenders in 2018, international human rights group Global Witness revealed Monday night in a new report.
Organizers campaigning against the destruction of the environment face governments, contract killers, and private security firms trying to stop them—sometimes working together. In total, 164 people were murdered last year while fighting such forces as the mining, logging, and agribusiness industries from taking over swathes of ancestral lands, communities, and natural habitats.
The number recorded by Global Witness in its report, “Enemies of the State,” means an average about three eco-defenders were killed per week—but the group notes that because so many of these deaths go unreported, its study represents a “sizable underestimate.”
“These are ordinary people trying to protect their homes and livelihoods, and standing up for the health of our planet,” Global Witness reported. “Often their land is violently grabbed to produce goods used and consumed across the world every day, from food, to mobile phones, to jewelery.”…
The Philippines was the deadliest country for eco-defenders in 2018, with 30 people killed for protecting land and the environment. Nine victims were killed on the country’s island of Negros when gunmen shot the sugarcane farmers as they occupied a plot of land which was covered by President Rodrigo Duterte’s land reform program but had not been distributed to the poor farmers.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers said at the time that the government has not created an effective land distribution program and instead “red baits those who assert their rights to the land,” linking the farmers to communist guerillas.
The criminalization of eco-defenders is a common tactic used by state forces and corporations to discredit organizers, defend aggressive actions against environmental campaigns, and deter others from joining the fight against extractive and damaging industries, Global Witness reported.
“It is a brutal irony that while judicial systems routinely allow the killers of defenders to walk free, they are also being used to brand the activists themselves as terrorists, spies or dangerous criminals,” said Alice Harrison, senior campaigner for Global Witness. “Both tactics send a clear message to other activists: the stakes for defending their rights are punishingly high for them, their families and their communities.”…