Human rights violations and ecological consequences deepen as borders become more militarized

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Image by Transnational Institute/Evan Clayburg.

This past June, Peace Brigades International signed this statement with other organizations that expresses concern about the “militarization of borders, particularly in the United States, Mexico and Guatemala.”

Now, Guardian columnist George Monbiot writes: “Worldwide, the number of fenced borders has risen from 15 to 70 since the end of the cold war [around 1991]: there are now 47,000 kilometres of hard frontier.”

He further warns: “This is the century in which humanitarian and environmental disasters converge. Climate breakdown has driven many millions from their homes, and is likely to evict hundreds of millions more.”

Monbiot then raises the point: “The humanitarian effects of these walls are well documented. But their ecological impacts are also devastating. …Border walls are accelerating the extinction crisis and making ecosystems inviable.”

Borders and ecosystem destruction

In October 2020, Indigenous land defenders with Defend O’odham Jewed and the O’odham Anti Border Collective established a highway blockade on unceded Hia-Ced O’odham territory on the Arizona/Mexico border.

The Collective highlighted: “The U.S / Mexico international border cuts through ancestral O’odham homelands. Trump’s border wall is now desecrating those homelands by blasting grave sites, depleting scarce water resources for construction, posing threats to endangered species and committing colonial violence on indigenous lives.”

These land defenders called for an end to the border wall and the immediate demilitarization of O’odham lands.

Borders open to goods, closed to people stripped of their livelihoods

Peace Brigades International is also part of the Cantabrian Coordinator of NGO for Development, an autonomous network of non-profit organizations, which has stated: “We open the borders diligently to all the goods that maintain the consumption demanded by the neo-capitalist system, but we close them, regardless of the deaths and suffering that this causes, to the people who have consequently been stripped of their livelihoods.”

“Migration is an accounting for global violence”

Harsha Walia, the author of Border & Rule and Undoing Border Imperialism, agrees: “More and more people are being forced out of their land because of trade agreements, mining extraction, deforestation, climate change.”

She adds: “What we need to understand is that migration is a form of reparations. Migration is an accounting for global violence. It’s not a coincidence that the vast number of people who are migrants and refugees in the world today are black and brown people from poor countries that have been made poor because of centuries of imperialism, of empire, of exploitation and deliberate underdevelopment.”

And Walia offers this critique: “Borders maintain a massive system of global apartheid. They are preventing, on a scale we’ve never seen before, the free movement of people who are trying to search for a better life.”

Border militarization vs climate justice

It appears clear that governments are prioritizing the militarization of their borders over addressing the climate crisis.

This report by the Transnational Institute found that Canada spent an average of $1.9 billion a year (over the years 2013-18) on the militarization of its borders while only contributing $149 million a year over the same period on climate financing to mitigate the impacts of climate change that drive forced migration.

Similarly, it found that the US spent $19.6 billion a year on the militarization of its borders and just $1.1 billion on climate financing.

Meanwhile, Mexico has deployed 10,000 troops on its southern border, Guatemala has placed 1,500 police and military personnel on their border, and Honduras recently deployed 7,000 police and military to its border “to disperse a large contingent of migrants”.

Other impacts of militarized borders

Along with the ecological impacts of border walls, these massive deployments of troops can have multiple impacts, including aggressions against human rights defenders and social movements, sexual violence against women and girls, and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands.

The joint statement on the militarization of borders signed by PBI notes: “There are hostilities, harassment, surveillance, defamation and aggressions against human right defenders, shelters and spaces supporting migrants, even during the pandemic.”

Gustavo Castro, the founder of Otros Mundos Chiapas in Mexico, has also commented: “One of the greatest threats of militarization is the repression of social movements and protest, especially for a region with a long history of organisation.”

And Cata Hernández of the National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Women in Mexico has also stated: “What we know is that in the past, the deployment of the military has had a negative impact, particularly for women and girls.”

We continue to follow this with concern.

Related reading: PBI-Honduras: The other side of militarisation: human rights violations

Image: USA Today/May2018.

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