Extractivism as a significant driver of violence against human right defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

What are the causes of violence against human rights defenders? It may be a basic question to ask, but it’s important to examine the context and the roots of violence as a way to perhaps mitigate or even prevent it.

While there are multiple causes for violence against human rights defenders, the statistics indicate that resource extraction is a key driver.

Canadian author Naomi Klein has defined extractivism as “a nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth, one purely of taking. It is the opposite of stewardship, which involves taking but also taking care that regeneration and future life continues.”

She continues, “Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones – places that, to their extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress.”

Front Line Defenders, which releases an annual global analysis each January, found that 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work in 2018.

Their report states, “More than three-quarters of these, 77% of the total number of activists killed, were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects.”

Front Line Defenders describes these human rights defenders as “those who attempt to defend equitable and sustainable ways of living and rural communities who want to manage their own ecosystems, oppose the devastation and pollution of forests, lands and water on a macro scale.”

Furthermore, Global Witness, which releases an annual report on the deaths of land and environmental defenders each July, “documented 164 killings of land and environmental defenders – ordinary people murdered for defending their homes, forests and rivers against destructive industries” in 2018.

Their report details the number of killings by sector: mining and extractives (43), agribusiness (21), water and dams (17), logging (13), poaching (9), fishing (2), wind power (1), other (7), and no clear link to a sector (55).

Their report finds, “Governments and business are failing to tackle the root cause of the attacks – overwhelmingly, the imposition of damaging projects on communities without their free, prior and informed consent.”

In his November 2019 address to the United Nations session titled Prevention is better than cure: exploring best strategies by States to prevent attacks on human rights defenders (co-organized by Peace Brigades International), the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst made some notable observations.

Forst stated, “As you know for the last few years news of killings of defenders and a lot of those who condemn the bad practices of businesses have increased and are now happening daily. It’s an epidemic which is spreading as business tries to conquer new markets, as natural resources are found in areas that had been until then untouched.”

Forst highlighted, “Many positive measures have been taken [but] this is not enough to turn around the trend. States must go to the root of environmental conflicts, such as imbalance of power, making nature into a commodity, impunity and the current development model in order to ensure long-term solutions.”

It’s also important to note that Global Witness has observed, “More than half of 2018 murders took place in Latin America, which has consistently ranked as the worst-affected continent since Global Witness began publishing data on killings in 2012.” Front Line Defenders adds, “Colombia and Mexico alone accounted for 54% of the total killings” in 2018.

The Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project has commented, “Mexico, as in many countries in the region, has an impressive richness of natural resources, and the neoliberal policies that privilege the exploitation of these resources over the rights of indigenous people to their lands, has provoked conflicts and violence in many parts of the continent.”

Peace Brigades International has concluded, “In a system that favours profit over rights, economic models that encourage the forced displacement of those defending their resource-rich territories will continue and those at the forefront will remain at risk of violence.”

For more, please see the Peace Brigades International publication I Think, Therefore I Resist: Grassroots experiences of alternative protection and promotion of human rights in the context of large-scale economic investment.

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