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2015 saw record number of murdered environmentalists: three per week

Latin America was adversely affected, counting more than 100 victims. Most of these crimes go unpunished.
20 Jun 2016 – 06:32 PM EDT
Berta Cáceres Crédito: Goldman Environmental Prize

A global report reveals that 2015 was the deadliest year ever for environmental activists; 185 activists were killed in clashes or assassinated because they lived on land wanted for exploitation.

The new report, from the organization Global Witness, reveals that 42 people were killed defending territories against mining; 20 against invasive agriculture; 15 against logging; and 15 more against hydroelectric dams. The report is dedicated to the memory of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was shot dead in March. Cáceres had long opposed the proposed Agua Zarca Dam, to be built on indigenous land.

The 2015 numbers represent an almost 60 percent increase in the number of murders from 2014, and the highest since Global Witness began compiling data in 2002. Latin America was particularly affected; across the region, 100 people were killed.

In Brazil, 50 people were killed protecting Amazon lands, making it the most dangerous nation to be an environmental activist last year.

The Philippines was second, where the fight against mining killed 33. Among them, activist Michelle Campos' father and grandfather were executed publicly for defending native territories in the community of Mindanao.

Colombia was third, with 26 deaths, followed by Peru and Nicaragua, where 12 activists were killed in each.

"Most of the dead are ordinary people who never considered being environmental activists,” says Global Witness Campaign leader Billy Kyte. “They may have lived in remote areas and first heard the sound of a chainsaw or heavy machinery around them and then began to wonder: what is going on? What are you doing to my land.”

Increasing demand for minerals, timber and palm oil has spawned the growth of mafias and criminal gangs, which often move to remote sites to increase production and profits, the report explains.

“Communities that take a stand are increasingly finding themselves in the firing line," Kyte said.

The actual number of people killed fighting for the environment could be even higher; many cases are never reported to authorities due to fear or language barriers.

"We are dying and our government does nothing," Filipino activist Michelle Campos told organization Global Witness.

According to Kyte, impunity for these murders may also contribute to the rising death toll. "For each recorded death, many more go unreported,” he said. “Governments must intervene urgently to stop this spiral of violence.”

Global Witness says environmentalist deaths can only be reversed with greater public pressure on governments to protect environmental activists and whistleblowers. In addition, consumers and investors around the world can do their homework and check if products they are buying promote environmental injustice or conflict, Kyte said.