Environmental Activists Are Being Murdered In Record Numbers

At least 37 Colombian environmentalists were killed in 2016. Rafael Rios

Last year was the bloodiest year on record for environmental activists, according to a new report by Global Witness.

At least 200 people were killed for their role in protecting land, forests, and rivers from mining, logging, and agricultural projects in 2016.

Almost 40 percent of the victims were indigenous people who clashed with political, business, or criminal interests over natural resources. Protesters, park rangers, lawyers, journalists, and NGO staff are at risk of the violence, yet the greatest portion of victims are indigenous leaders living in remote areas often protecting their ancestral lands.

The report notes that these figures are likely to be dramatically higher since statistics on the issue are limited and murders occasionally go unreported or misreported. Furthermore, they stress their figures don’t account for the high numbers of threats, arrests, assaults, sexual assaults, abductions, and aggressive legal attacks against people defending the environment.

The figures are up from 185 reported deaths in 2015. However, the intense violence is not just increasing in numbers, it also appears to be spreading , with murders reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015.

Mining was the bloodiest industry of all, followed by logging and agriculture projects.

“These reports tell a very grim story," Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather said in a press release. "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."

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Once again, Brazil topped the chart, with at least 49 murders occurring in 2016. Per capita, Honduras was the most deadly over the past decade, with the deaths of at least 127 environmental activists since 2007. Check out the interactive map above for more insight.

India comes under a lot of heat in the report, as the country has seen 16 deaths in the last year, a 300 percent increase on the previous year. Global Witness point towards a rise in police brutality and state suppression of activists for the increase, as nearly half of the victims were killed during public protests.

“Governments and business are failing to tackle the main root cause of the attacks: the imposition of projects on communities without their free, prior and informed consent,” the report concludes. “Protest is often the only recourse 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.”

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