With more than 210 murders in 2019, the threat and impunity weighs against nature’s defenders

In an annual report published on Wednesday, July 29, NGO’s global witness lists a record number of murders committed in the world against activists who defend nature and the environment.

Indigenous peoples, environmental activists or simple farmers who want to defend their exploitation … At least 212 environmentalists were killed in 2019, according to Report published on Wednesday, July 29 by NGO Global Witness, an average of four murders per week. Figures that exceed the previous record in 2017, where 207 deaths were registered. But as every year, the actual number of victims is “probably much higher, as many cases are not registered and are rarely investigated”, the British organization emphasizes.

Again, Latin America accounts for two-thirds of this macabre. The situation is particularly worrying in Colombia, the first country to be affected by these murders with 64 murdered killers, more than double what was observed in 2018. And a register registered by NGOs on Colombian soil. Among these murders, 14 were linked to the illegal substitution of coca crops, states Global Witness. “Colombia remains deeply marked by armed conflict. If the peace process began with the FARC, paramilitary groups are still seeking appropriate resources in rural areas,” Marie-Émilie Forget, geographer and mistress, explained by telephone. conference at the University of Savoie.

Another observation: The Philippines comes in second with 43 murders of environmentalists in 2019. Most of them were committed on the islands, which are rich in natural resources in Mindanao and Negros.

Criminalization of environmental defenders

The situation is also deteriorating in Honduras. The small Central American state had 14 murders in 2019 (compared to 4 in 2018), which makes it the most dangerous country in the world for militants if we compare this toll with the number of inhabitants. is not spared. The Latin American giant has registered 24 murders on its land, including “90% in the Amazon”, the report says. Most of these victims fought against deforestation caused especially by large agricultural and mining projects. “Not only will these people not receive state support, but they will also be criminalized. By opposing, for example, a mining project, they will refuse to transfer the concession to the state and in the long run, they will be considered on the verge of terrorism,” he said. geographer.

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The development of mines and its consequences for the environment and the health of families living nearby promotes a climate of significant tension and violence. In all countries, about fifty activists were killed last year and opposed mining projects. The agricultural industry comes next, with 34 defenders murdered, after fighting against the installation of palm oil, sugar or tropical orchards, especially in Asia.

In total, more than a third of the victims (40%) are members of indigenous peoples who wanted to defend their cultures. And this, even though they make up only 5% of the world’s population. “These indigenous peoples claim land that they consider ancestors, but for which they do not always have ownership. It is then a power struggle between the state and these societies that has very little meaning that their voices are heard in their country. Their struggle is better known abroad, thank you whether support from non-governmental organizations “, says the academic.

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Impunity for murderers

In addition to these indigenous peoples, the victims of these tragedies are also simple peasants trying to protect their exploitation and their private interests in order to survive. “Behind the term ‘environmental defender’ can be imagined an environmental activism. But it is also about people simply defending their land and their right to water in order to live and eat”, nuance Marie-Émilie Glöm.

In addition to the bill, the report shows a general culture of impunity towards the perpetrators of these murders. Sad observation: “89% of defense killings do not lead to a conviction,” Global Witness recalls. The pressure on the police can, among other things, hinder their investigative work. “[Au Brésil,] the police are poorly paid, easily perishable and often threatened or intimidated “, already explained to France 24, Hervé Théry, geographer.

As cruel as they are, these killings are just “the tip of the iceberg”, states the report, which condemns inaction, even the involvement of states in the face of threats against activists. “Governments and corporations use different, lesser-known tactics to silence environmental activists, such as arresting and imprisoning activists, or enacting and amending laws to make certain forms of protest illegal.”

Can the future be drawn differently? Nothing is less certain. Because if the protection of environmental activists is “crucial” in connection with a reconstruction of a greener post-covid world, NGOs, on the contrary, emphasize an “intensification of the problems”. “Governments all over the world, from the United States to Brazil [en passant par] Colombia and the Philippines have used the crisis to step up draconian measures to control citizens and reverse difficult environmental rules. “