Global Witness ‘Last Line of Defence’ report: 227 land and environmental defenders killed in 2020

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Juana Zúñiga is a member of the Municipal Committee of Tocoa, Colón. In 2014, the Guapinol River was endangered when the state allowed mining exploration in the Carlos Escaleras National Park. The people of Guapinol organized against this and have found themselves criminalized – many community members are behind bars to this day. Global Witness/María Aguilar/Iolany Pérez.

Global Witness has released their annual report LAST LINE OF DEFENCE: The industries causing the climate crisis and attacks against land and environmental defenders.

Among the findings in the report:

Global Witness recorded 227 land and environmental defenders killed in 2020 – an average of more than four people a week. They note that this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. Global Witness has previously recorded that 212 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019, 164 in 2018 and 197 in 2017.

Global Witness also recognizes that beyond killings, many defenders and communities also experience attempts to silence them, with tactics like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalization.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020 with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country.

In Mexico, Global Witness documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high. Up to 95% of murders do not result in any prosecution.

Additionally, 17 land and environmental defenders were killed in Honduras and 13 in Guatemala. On a per capita basis, Honduras ranks second and Guatemala fourth in the global total of defenders killed in 2020 making those countries among the most dangerous in the world for land and environmental defenders.

In 2020 the disproportionate number of attacks against indigenous peoples continued once again – with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting indigenous people despite only making up 5% of the world’s population.

The data on attacks against land and environmental defenders, which Global Witness has been recording since 2012, show that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also having an increasingly violent impact on people. The process of climate breakdown is violent, and it manifests not just in violence against the natural world, but against people as well. The violence against land and environmental defenders and the climate crisis are intimately connected, and we will not solve one without the other.

Among the recommendations in the Global Witness report:

-Ensure State commitments made at COP26 to implement the Paris Agreement align with existing international human rights obligations and standards applicable to business operations, defenders, and indigenous and other communities.

-Explore all avenues within the UN system to support the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, as well as UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

To read the full Global Witness report, please click here.

For perhaps the first time, Global Witness has recorded the death of a land and environmental defender in Canada. On June 19, 2020, Canadian animal rights activist Regan Russell was run over and killed by an animal transporter after a demonstration outside Sofina Foods Inc., a pig slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario.

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