The issue is notoriously under-reported, but between 2002 and 2013, we have been able to verify that 908 citizens were killed protecting rights to their land and environment. Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week. There were almost certainly more cases, but the nature of the problem makes information hard to find, and even harder to verify. However, even the known level of killings is on a par with the more high-profile incidences of 913 journalists killed while carrying out their work in the same period. The death rate also points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which are not documented in this report. [...]Please read below the fold for more on this story.
People have died protecting a wide range of environmental needs and rights, but dominant themes also emerge. Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposting land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation. Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. In many cases, their land rights are not recognised by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by powerful economic interests who brand them as 'anti-development.' Yet local communities are invariably struggling to secure good livelihoods as a result of their stewardship of natural resources, which is fundamental to sustainable development. Often, the first they know about a deal that goes against their interest is when the bulldozers arrive in their farms and forests.
The report includes a case study of Brazil where, in 2011, José Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo were two of the 448 environmental and land activists have been murdered since 2002, about half of the world total. The assassins ripped out José's ear as proof he had been killed:
Dr. Clifford Welch, Professor of the Contemporary History of Brazil from the University of California, says:As the Global Witness report notes, however, impunity protects most of the perpetrators of these slayings. Activists, journalists and workers with non-governmental organizations are intimidated, attacked and murdered for resisting the exploitation of the environment, sometimes in their own backyards, but nothing is done. Just 10 of the assassins have been known to be brought to any kind of justice and punished. For instance, the killers of the da Silva and Espírito were convicted.
"The main model of land usage values commodity production and large land holdings, and devalues nature, devalues forest. It devalues the people who already live there, and tend to then push them out of the way."
These land conflicts in Brazil are also closely linked to deforestation in the Amazon, which accounted for 68 percent of all murders linked to land disputes in Brazil in 2012. Many of these take place in recently logged forest areas, which are then opened up to further commercial uses such as cattle farming and soya plantations.
The high number of known cases in Brazil is also partly attributable to a greater awareness and better monitoring of this issue compared to other parts of the world. Brazil has a strong civil society with wide-ranging observation of human rights concerns, with several groups focusing specifically on protecting rights to the environment and land.
In some instances, the deaths are clearly the result of police or military action. Sometimes, the evidence indicates that killings were carried out "at the behest of private sector interests or political actors."
An economic model that thrives on the unsustainable exploitation of nature in the developing world to feed the insatiable appetite of the industrial nations is bound to produce such results. As population growth and climate change put more stress on nature, we can expect violence against environmental advocates to increase unless there is a widespread, planet-wide effort to stop it and the economic system that promotes it.