Environmental activists, in particular, those attempting to halt illegal logging for Big Beef, are being killed in alarming numbers, with 185 killings in 2015 — averaging three per week — a 60 percent increase over the previous year.
Last year, a new report titled “On Dangerous Ground,” from London-based advocacy group, Global Witness, states, “was the deadliest year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders — people struggling to protect their land, forests, and rivers.”
As Global Witness notes, conflicts over logging, hydroelectric dams, mining, and agribusiness saw the highest number of killings — but Brazil was the most impacted, losing 50 activists to the fight against illegal logging in the Amazon.
According to the report, “the Amazon states of Brazil saw unprecedented levels of violence in 2015, where communities are being encroached on by ranches and agricultural plantations or gangs of illegal loggers. The rainforest has given way to thousands of illegal logging camps whilst the agricultural frontier is pushing further into previously untouched indigenous reserves. It’s estimated that 80% of timber from Brazil is illegal, and accounts for 25% of illegal wood on global markets. Much of this is being sold on to buyers in the US, Europe and China.”
Perhaps the most alarming finding is a continuance of impunity for those pillaging the land in conjunction with increased criminalization of activists.
“Across the world,” the report continues, “collusion between state and corporate interests shield many of those responsible for the killings. In cases that are well-documented we found 16 were related to paramilitary groups, 13 to the army, 11 to the police, and 11 to private security — strongly implying state or company links to the killings. There was little evidence that the authorities either fully investigated the crimes or took actions to bring the perpetrators to account.”
Though Global Witness highlights countries in Africa for this trend, in the U.S., the FBI has prioritized environmental activists and land defenders as terrorists — and was responsible for illegal surveillance and infiltration of groups fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“Governments and companies are using inflammatory language to denigrate activists and publicly brand them as ‘anti-development.’ At the same time, they are turning a blind eye to corruption, illegalities and environmental degradation. Impunity reigns in many cases, and the suspected perpetrators behind the violence — corporate and state interests — are not being investigated.”
Sadly, indigenous peoples were most frequently killed for defending their land, accounting for 40 percent of the total.
Large-scale land grabbing at the behest of agribusiness “is being supported by governments, donors and investors claiming that it can drive economic growth and food production.”
Activists combating illegal deforestation from both agribusiness and the high-value timber industry are most often killed for their efforts, but the palm oil industry — particularly in the Philippines — also saw a high number of killings.
The top five most deadly countries for environmental activists and land defenders were Brazil, with 50 deaths; the Philippines, with 33; Colombia, with 26; and Peru and Nicaragua, with 12 fatal attacks each.
Global Witness urged increased protections for activists, including support of their right to speak out and full investigations of those responsible for the killings.