Week of 13 September 2021
2020 saw yet another an increase in murders of human rights and environmental defenders
Our key takeaway: 2020 was the worst year on record for human rights and environmental defenders, with at least 227 people killed for defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and the ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate.
NGO Global Witness published its annual report on human rights and environmental defenders (HREDs):
- 2020 was the worst year on record for defenders: with at least 227 people killed for “defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and the ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate” (though Global Witness believes this is likely to be an underestimate). This amounts to an average of four people murdered every week in 2020, amidst a broader context of non-lethal violent attacks, lawsuits, surveillance and threats against countless other HREDs globally. The report finds that Latin America was the worst place for human rights defenders in 2020, with four out of the top five countries where HREDs were killed, ranked per capita in Latin America (Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala), with the remaining country being the Philippines. There were also large numbers of people killed in Mexico, Brazil and the DRC.
- Resource exploitation is the biggest driver of killings. According to Global Witness, more than one-third of the murders were linked to logging, mining, and large-scale agribusiness, as well as hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure projects like road construction—though the real figure it likely to be higher because many attacks are not investigated or reported on. In addition, “[w]here reports indicate that defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, the majority – 71% – [were] working to defend the world’s forests (earth’s natural carbon sinks) from deforestation and industrial development – vital to efforts to curb the climate crisis. Others died for their work protecting rivers, coastal areas and the oceans.”
- Indigenous peoples were disproportionately targeted, and women faced further risks. Over a third of the attacks in 2020 were carried out against indigenous HREDs, “despite only making up 5% of the world’s population.” Indigenous peoples were also targeted in 5 of the 7 mass killings of HREDs in 2020. One-tenth of the murders in 2020 targeted women, and women also face specific threats, like sexual violence. Further, “[w]omen often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, water and our planet, and the often-invisible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families. In many parts of the world, women are still excluded from land ownership and discussions about the use of natural resources.”
For more, see Global Witness, Last Line of Defence: The Industries Causing the Climate Crisis and Attacks Against Land and Environmental Defenders (September 2021)