Hundreds of people have been killed while defending the environment and land rights around the world, international monitors said in a report released Tuesday, highlighting what they called a culture of impunity surrounding the deaths.
At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries from 2002 to 2013 during disputes over industrial logging, mining, and land rights – with Latin America and Asia-Pacific being particularly hard-hit .
Only 10 people have ever been convicted over the hundreds of deaths.
The rate of such deaths has risen sharply – with an average of two activists killed each week – over the past four years as competition for the world’s natural resources has accelerated.
The report’s release followed a dire warning by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said global warming is driving humanity toward unprecedented risk due to factors such as food and water insecurity. Global Witness said this puts environmental activists in more danger than ever before.
Land rights are central to the violence, as “companies and governments routinely strike secretive deals for large chunks of land and forests to grow cash crops,” the report said. When residents refuse to give up their land rights to mining operations and the timber trade, they are often forced from their homes, or worse.
The study ranked Brazil as the most dangerous place to be an environmentalist, with at least 448 killings recorded.
Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable. In many cases, their land rights are not recognized by the state in law or practice. These communities are often branded as “anti-development” for not being willing to leave their land and sustainable environmental practices.
Nearly 50 percent of the Amazon rain forest could be gone by 2020 if current levels of deforestation persist, Amazon Watch has warned, adding that almost 400 different indigenous peoples depend on the forest for their survival.
“We hope our findings will act as the wake-up call that national governments and the international community clearly need,” said Courtney, the campaigner from Global Witness.