Nearly four people were murdered every week in 2016 whilst protecting their land, forests and rivers from mining, logging and agricultural companies, a new report from Global Witness reveals today. The trend is both growing (up from 185 in 2015) and spreading, with murders reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015. The report documents a threefold increase in India, for example, as police brutality and state suppression of activist worsens. Latin America remains the worst affected region, home to 60% of murders.
Severe limits on available information mean the global total is likely far higher. Murder is the sharp end of a range of tactics used to silence defenders, including death threats, arrests, sexual assault, abductions and aggressive legal attacks.
“They threaten you so you will shut up. I can’t shut up. I can’t stay silent faced with all that is happening to my people. We are fighting for our lands, for our water, for our lives,” Jakeline Romero told Global Witness.
Jakeline is a Colombian indigenous leader who has faced years of threats and intimidation for speaking out against the devastating impacts of El Cerrejón, Latin America’s largest open-pit mine. Owned by London-listed companies Glencore, BHP Billiton and Anglo-American, the project has been blamed for water shortages and mass displacement. The local operator has denied causing water shortages and condemned threats suffered by activists.
“These reports tell a very grim story. The battle to protect the planet is rapidly intensifying and the cost can be counted in human lives. More people in more countries are being left with no option but to take a stand against the theft of their land or the trashing of their environment. Too often they are brutally silenced by political and business elites, while the investors that bankroll them do nothing,” said Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather.
Almost 40% of those murdered were indigenous, as land they’ve inhabited for generations is stolen by companies, landowners or state actors. Projects are typically imposed on communities without their free, prior and informed consent, backed up by force: police and soldiers are suspected perpetrators in at least 43 murders. Protest is often the only option left to communities exercising their right to have a say about the use of their land and natural resources, putting them on a collision course with those seeking profit at any cost.
Key findings from the report include: