Nearly 4 were killed every week last year.
Anyone can be an environmentalist these days, but it’s those that go above and beyond to protect nature and wildlife that are truly at risk, according to the watchdog group Global Witness. The group uses a number of resources to uncover corruption and advocate for transparency in the mining, logging, oil and gas sectors and has also turned their attention to the number of environmentalists that are murdered annually.
According to the non-profit group, two hundred environmentalists, wildlife rangers, and indigenous leaders were killed in 2016, which adds up to nearly 4 every week. These deaths were classified as murders, and The Guardian has teamed up Global Witness to accurately count the deaths that occur in 2017. By the end of May, 98 killings were identified.
While people and organizations that fight against corporations involved in the destruction of Earth may seem like little more than a nuisance, those that go too far in stopping the companies from continuing their damaging work become at risk of getting hurt.
“There is now an overwhelming incentive to wreck the environment for economic reasons. The people most at risk are people who are already marginalized and excluded from politics and judicial redress,” said John Knox, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
“Everywhere in the world, defenders are facing threats. There is an epidemic now, a culture of impunity, a sense that anyone can kill environmental defenders without repercussions, eliminate anyone who stands in the way. It [comes from] mining, agribusiness, illegal logging and dam building.”
The death of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran activist, made international headlines and struck a chord with Global Witness, who worked with Cáceres and considered her a friend. Cáceres had made a name for herself in the international community by winning the Goldman Environment Prize in 2015 for her grassroots work to protect indigenous people and their land. She was murdered one night in 2016 by armed men who broke into her home and shot her in the head. Cáceres was 1 of 14 Honduran activists killed last year, according to Global Witness, making it the worst country to live in as an environmentalist.
Since many deaths occur in forests or remote villages because so many of the intense activists live off of the land, it’s hard to get an accurate reading on just how many people have died while advocating for the Earth.
“These are just the reported ones. There could be three times as many. There is much more violence now,” said Cass business school researcher Bobby Banerjee who has studied resistance to global development projects for 15 years.
“The conflicts are happening worldwide now because of globalisation. Capitalism is violent and global corporations are looking to poor countries for access to land and resources. Poor countries are more corruptible and have weaker law enforcement. Companies and governments now work together to kill people.”
Indeed, many of the reports suggest that many of the killers are hired by corporations or state forces affected by the activism. In the death of Cáceres, three of the eight people arrested in connection with her murder were linked to U.S.-trained elite troops.
As Banerjee points out, it’s mostly impoverished nations that experience a high rate of deaths because it’s so much easier to sweep under the rug or disregard. The poorer the people, the less voice they have in the global community and the less coverage they get for their issues, making them easy targets.
“These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a systematic assault on remote and indigenous communities by state and corporate actors,” said Billy Kyte, campaign leader on this issue at Global Witness.
The only way to begin to combat these deaths in the future is to raise awareness now to let corporations and state leaders know that the world is watching and will not stand for these murders. With more information about these deaths being spread, agribusiness companies will feel less able to simply kill those that fight against them because they know it won’t go unseen in most cases. To learn more about this issue, visit Global Witness’ website to find out how this affects the greater community.