A record number of activists working to protect the environment and land rights were murdered last year, according to a report by a campaign group.
According to the Global Witness report, 227 people were killed in 2020, the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year.
Almost one-third of the murders were allegedly linked to resource exploitation, including logging, mining, large-scale agribusiness, hydroelectric dams, and other infrastructure.
According to the report, the victims were “environmental defenders” killed for protecting natural resources that must be preserved, such as forests, water supplies, and oceans.
According to the organisation, four activists have been killed each week since the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed in 2015.
Because of growing restrictions on journalists’ and other civic freedoms, this “shocking figure” is likely to be underestimated, according to the report.
With 23 cases, the logging industry was linked to the most murders, with attacks in Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines.
Indigenous peoples, who are frequently on the front lines of climate change, accounted for another one-third of all cases. Colombia had the highest number of recorded attacks last year, with 65 people killed.
‘Unbearably heavy burden’
Chris Madden, a senior campaigner for Global Witness, urged governments to “get serious about protecting defenders.” He warned that unless businesses start putting “people and planet before profit,” “both climate breakdown and killings” would continue. This dataset serves as yet another stark reminder that fighting the climate crisis imposes an unfathomably heavy burden on those who risk their lives to protect the forests, rivers, and biospheres that are critical to mitigating unsustainable global warming. This has to stop.”
The organisation urged governments to formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment and to ensure that commitments made at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in November include human rights safeguards.
In response, COP26 President Alok Sharma told the BBC that he had “prioritised meeting people on the front lines of climate change” in order to “ensure that all voices are heard.”
‘Shot dead in her living room’
South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, was among those killed. He was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was assassinated in her own living room.
Malungelo Xhakaza, her 31-year-old daughter, said her “mother’s struggle lives on.” She stated, “No arrests have been made in the investigation into my mother’s murder to date. No one has been held accountable. Someone, it appears to me, wants the mine expansion and extraction to go ahead regardless of the cost.”
Petmin Limited, which owns the Somkhele mine via its subsidiary Tendele Coal Mining, told Global Witness that “community tensions may have played a role in Fikile’s death.” According to the company, it “strongly condemns any form of violence or intimidation” and has offered full cooperation to the police.
Among those killed was scar Eyraud Adams, who was assassinated in Mexico in September 2020. He was working to improve water access for the indigenous Kumiai community in Baja California.
According to Global Witness, activists are still under threat in Guapinol, Honduras, where dozens of people have been protesting against an iron oxide mining concession granted by the central government in a protected area. Campaigners believe the Guapinol River, a vital source of water, is under threat. According to the organisation, “many community members remain incarcerated.”
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