At Least 908 Environmentalists and Land Rights Protectors Killed Since 2002 with 1% Conviction Rate Globally

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At Least 908 Environmentalists and Land Rights Protectors Killed Since 2002 with 1% Conviction Rate Globally



There are now 908 documented cases of environmentalists and lands right activists being killed in the 2002-2013 decade. However, this is only the tip of a much larger iceberg because many of these killings occur in rural, isolated areas with little media coverage, and, in fact, mostly media indifference to these murders. Compounding the problem is the impunity the perpetrators feel, knowing that there is a global conviction rate of 1%. Typically those few who are convicted are only hired, often poor, henchmen, while the wealthy and corporate leaders who are often behind these killings virtually never face punishment.

It is time to start publicizing this and demanding that those behind this are convicted.



José and Maria da Silva, who denounced illegal logging, were murdered by masked gunmen in 2011. José’s ear was ripped out as proof of execution.

Killings of people protecting the environment and rights to land increased sharply between 2002 and 2013 as competition for natural resources intensifies, a new report from Global Witness reveals. In the most comprehensive global analysis of the problem on record, the campaign group has found that at least 908 people are known to have died in this time. Disputes over industrial logging, mining and land rights the key drivers, and Latin America and Asia-Pacific particularly hard hit. ...

Released in the year of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Brazilian rubber tapper and environmental activist Chico Mendes, the reportDeadly Environment, highlights a severe shortage of information or monitoring of this problem. This means the total is likely to be higher than the report documents. ...

This lack of attention to crimes against environment and land defenders is feeding endemic levels of impunity, with just more than one percent of the perpetrators known to have been convicted. ...

The key findings in Deadly Environment are as follows:

  • At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries protecting rights to land and the environment between 2002 and 2013, with the death rate rising in the last four years to an average of two activists a week.
  • 2012 was the worst year so far to be an environmental defender, with 147 killings—nearly three times more than in 2002.
  • Impunity for these crimes is rife: only 10 perpetrators are known to have been convicted between 2002 and 2013—just more than one percent of the overall incidence of killings.
  • The problem is particularly acute in Latin America and South East Asia. Brazil is the most dangerous place to defend rights to land and the environment, with 448 killings, followed by Honduras (109) and the Philippines (67). ...

“Human rights only have meaning if people are able to exercise them,” said John Knox, United Nations independent expert on human rights and the environment. “Environmental human rights defenders work to ensure that we live in an environment that enables us to enjoy our basic rights, including rights to life and health. The international community must do more to protect them from the violence and harassment they face as a result.”

Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. In many cases, their land rights are not recognized by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by powerful economic interests who brand them as “anti-development”. Often, the first they know of a deal that goes against their interests is when the bulldozers arrive in their farms and forests.

Land rights form the backdrop to most of the known killings, as companies and governments routinely strike secretive deals for large chunks of land and forests to grow cash crops like rubber, palm oil and soya. At least 661—more than two-thirds—of the killings took place in the context of conflicts over the ownership, control and use of land, in combination with other factors. The report focuses in detail on the situation in Brazil, where land disputes and industrial logging are key drivers, and the Philippines, where violence appears closely linked to the mining sector. ...

“This rapidly worsening situation appears to be hidden in plain sight, and that has to change,” said Andrew Simms of Global Witness. “2012, the year of the last Rio Summit, was the deadliest on record. Delegates gathering for climate talks in Peru this year must heed this warning—protection of the environment is now a key battleground for human rights.”

“While governments quibble over the text of new global agreements, at the local level more people than ever around the world are already putting their lives on the line to protect the environment,” Simms continued. “At the very least, to start making good on official promises to stop climate change, governments should protect and support those personally taking a stand.” ...

Global Witness is calling for a more coordinated and concerted effort to monitor and tackle this crisis, starting with a resolution from the UN’s Human Rights Council specifically addressing the heightened threat posed to environmental and land defenders. Similarly, regional human rights bodies and national governments need to properly monitor abuses against and killings of activists, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. Companies must carry out effective checks on their operations and supply chains to make sure they do no harm.




The 28 page Global Witness report, entitled DEADLY ENVIRONMENT: THE DRAMATIC RISE IN KILLINGS OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND LAND DEFENDERS 1.1.2002–31.12.2013, documents the extensive use of violence, including murder, to ravage the environment and destroy those who attempt to protect the land and environment. it goes on to make recommendations that local, provincial, national and international governments need to implement to counter this trail of global murder.  



This problem is poorly understood and addressed. Where cases are recognised or recorded, they are generally seen in isolation and not as part of a larger trend. Definitions of those affected vary widely, with the unique set of problems these defenders face often seen solely in terms of their human rights or environmental dimension. Plenty of excellent and highly courageous work is being done by NGOs in specific contexts, generally in a single country or region, but they need more and better support from outside. A key theme emerging from our consultation process was the view that a more coordinated, concerted effort is required from governments, civil society and international bodies such as the UN to monitor and tackle this crisis as a global phenomenon in its own right. ...

A key theme emerging from our consultation process was the view that a more coordinated, concerted effort is required from governments, civil society and international bodies such as the UN to monitor and tackle this crisis as a global phenomenon in its own right.

Our analysis highlights an endemic culture of impunity, which national governments and their aid donors have a responsibility to address. Often, defenders face threats from the very people supposed to protect them – a number of cases involve state security forces, often in collaboration with corporations and private landowners. The lack of political will to ensure large resource deals are done fairly and openly appears matched by the lack of political will to deliver justice for those killed in resulting conflicts. Evidence suggests that responsibility rarely only lies with the person pulling the trigger – complex and secretive networks of vested interests ultimately lie behind these crimes. ...

The work of environmental and land defenders to protect indigenous land rights, opposing powerful economic interests and protesting the activities of extractive indus- tries and development projects leaves them particularly vulnerable to abuse, and therefore they should be given special attention. The often isolated, rural context of their struggle, poor resources and lack of understanding of their rights adds to their exposure.

National governments, including those in acutely affected countries such as Brazil and the Philippines, must take immediate steps to:

• Publicly reaffirm and recognise the important work that environmental and land defenders do, and take steps to respect, protect and promote their rights, as stipulated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in 2011.15

• Implement and respect all provisions set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;16 with special attention to a state's duty and responsibility to protect, promote and implement all human rights including the right to a safe and healthy environment.

• Ensure prompt and impartial investigations into allega- tions of attacks and violations against defenders, and carry out appropriate redress and reparation for victims.

• Recognise and implement the right of communities potentially affected by investment and extractive projects to genuinely free, prior and informed consent before a deal is done.

• Sign and adhere to (where eligible) the Aarhus Conven- tion,17 giving citizens the right to participate in environ- mental decision-making, to have access to environmental

information and to seek justice in environmental matters. In addition, the Convention should be opened up for signature and ratification by all UN member states

• Address the heightened risk posed to environmental and land defenders in the UN Human Rights Council’s Uni- versal Periodic Review process, both in their own reports and in their recommendations to other states’ reports

All governments must:

• Take firm and decisive steps to address the heightened threat posed to environmental and land defenders. In the first instance we recommend calling for a UN Human Rights Council resolution to this effect and ensuring all member states provide improved and properly resourced protection plans.

International bodies:

• The Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures, specifically those mandated to Human Rights Defenders, Indigenous Peoples, Business and Human Rights, Envi- ronment and Human Rights and Extrajudicial Killings should address the increase in risk posed to environmen- tal and land defenders in their reporting procedures.

• The ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Human Rights Commission and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should establish a mecha- nism based on the Inter-American Human Rights Com- mission’s framework to provide emergency protection for human rights defenders (“precautionary measures”).

Companies operating in areas where environmental and land defenders are under threat must take immediate steps to:

• Refuse to make any investment decision or project plan unless genuinely free, prior and informed consent is given by potentially affected communities.

• Refrain from operating in militarised areas, or using private security where there are credible allegations of prior involvement in human rights violations.

• Implement due diligence checks on supply chains to ensure that their purchasing policies are not linked to companies whose operations cause social and environ- mental damage.

• Adopt and implement the Voluntary Principles on Human Rights and Security,18 the UN’s Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights19 and other relevant international human rights standards.

• Adopt and implement the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests.





ETA: The Global Witness report, DEADLY ENVIRONMENT: THE DRAMATIC RISE IN KILLINGS OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND LAND DEFENDERS 1.1.2002–31.12.2013, notes that the 908 environmentalists and land rights activists confirmed killed since 2002 is almost the same as the 913 journalists, killed in the same period. Yet, while journalists and media outlets have not only given large coverage and even repeatedly sounded the alarm about these injustices, almost no coverage is given to the almost equal number of environmentalists and lands right activists murdered during the same period.

The picture below shows one of the most common destructive actions that leads to such murders when environmentalists and indigenous people attempt to stop such catastrophes to an ecosystem. This one shows the burning of 500,000 hectares of the Tapajos National forest in Northern Brazil in 2009. 

Brazil has been one of the worst hit areas both in terms of environmental damage and related murders. "An estimated 230,000 square miles (600,000 square km), an area bigger than France, has been already been chopped down and 77,200 square miles (200,000 square km) of that total is idle. Brazil's military dictatorship began settling the Amazon in the 1960s in a bid to populate the remote, Western Europe-sized rainforest. Many settlers continue to be sent to jungle areas which are quickly destroyed."  (




The most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists is Brazil, with 448 killings over the last 10 years. According to the report, “this can be attributed to Brazil’s land ownership patterns, which are among the most concentrated and unequal in the world.” The country’s rapid economic growth has frequently brought powerful business interests into conflict with small and medium-sized farms as well as indigenous groups, often with deadly consequences.

To be fair, the high totals from Brazil may also be a result of the fact that the country has a relatively robust civil society and media sector, so killings in the context of land and environmental disputes are more likely to be reported.





more evironmentalists are dead than horses at the Stampede. maybe the animal rights activists are on the wrong page?


Or maybe it's possible to walk and chew gum at the same time.


This report is good but I couldn't find a section that names the corporations involved in the disputes.  This is a good development and hopefully our courts will hold the company responsible.


The Canadian Centre for International Justice, an NGO that brings human rights cases to Canada, has today filed a civil lawsuit in British Columbia's Supreme Court asking to declare Tahoe Resources legally responsible for the injuries caused to Guatemalan local villagers by the mine's security on April 2013.

"This case is about bringing justice for the seven men who were shot and for holding Tahoe responsible as a company," says Matt Eisenbrandt of the Canadian Centre for International Justice.

Tahoe Resources has maintained it is not responsible for any wrongdoing.

The suit, depending on the outcome, could forever change assumptions about how Canada's international mining sector -- the world's largest -- must conduct business overseas.

In recent years, a number of human rights abuses connected to global Canadian mining operations have made headlines but rarely are they investigated, in part because the Canadian legal system hasn't offered a venue with "real teeth," as Eisenbrandt puts it.

Pogo Pogo's picture



Driving these killings is ever growing demand for cheap natural resources by a continually expanding global economy and the conflict that this generates with local people who depend on the natural environment for their survival. 


It has been 25 years since the assassination of Chico Mendes, the rubber tapper who made defense of the Amazon rainforest an international cause célèbre after he was shot dead by the son of a rancher. And it has been nine years since Ohio-born nun Dorothy Stang was killed in similar circumstances. The shattered plaque offers a grim testament to how risky it still is to stand up for the rainforest. Environmental activists in Brazil and around the world continue to pay the ultimate price for their convictions. And their numbers are mounting.

Zé Cláudio and Maria, both in their early 50s at the time of their deaths, had been married for nearly 30 years. For even longer they’d been fighting to protect their lush forestland from illegal loggers, ranchers and the operators of clandestine charcoal pits that reduced magnificent, centuries-old trees to sacks of briquettes. In 1997, they helped succeed in petitioning the federal government to create the Praia Alta-Piranheira agro-forestry settlement, 84 square miles of public land to provide themselves and other family farmers a sustainable living while keeping the forest intact. Its purpose stood in stark contrast to other pursuits that had turned so much of southern Pará, a state in Brazil, into an epicenter of violence and devastation.

But the boundaries of the reserve could hold back neither the bloodletting nor the pillage. Fourteen years after Zé Cláudio and Maria helped found the settlement, its forest cover had shrunk from 80 percent to 20 percent. Speculators snatched up parcels and sold off the timber. They flipped the land to cattlemen and wheeler-dealers looking for a quick buck. They imposed their own brand of frontier justice, tapping when necessary into an abundant pool of underemployed enforcers, or jagunços, from the rough-and-tumble slums of Marabá, Pará’s fourth-largest city, which boasts one of the highest murder rates in Brazil. ...

Violence unleashed against green activists is on the rise. ...

Many of the victims of environmentally motivated violence are not your typical placard-waving rabble-rousers, but rather are grass-roots leaders who stand up for their communities when threatened by environmental calamity. “Often these people become involved because they’re fighting for what’s being taken away from them and their communities,” says Jane Cohen, an expert in environmental health at Human Rights Watch in New York City. “They’re especially vulnerable because they usually don’t have a support network, and things can really escalate before their stories get on the national or international radar.”

Worldwide, the most violent years were 2010, when 96 activists were killed, and 2011, the most recent year assessed, when 106 were slain. At that rate, chances are that someone will be killed somewhere on the planet this week for investigating toxic runoff from a gold mine, protesting a mega-dam that will flood communal farmland or trying to shield endangered wildlife from well-armed poachers. Rights advocates warn the upward trend is likely to continue. And because of the spotty quality of reporting, the overall number of killings is likely to be a good bit higher.

“We may be seeing just the tip of a much larger iceberg,” says Bill Kovarik, a communications professor at Radford University in Virginia who tracks cases of abuse perpetrated on green activists. “

The world needs to be aware of the people who are dying to save what’s left of the natural environment.” ...

The underlying cause of the violence appears to be the expanding reach of the global economy into hitherto inaccessible hinterlands. These are regions where governance is shakiest and where traditional, subsistence-oriented communities find themselves up against much more powerful, profit-hungry players.

“It is a well-known paradox that many of the world’s poorest countries are home to the resources that drive the global economy,” reads a 2012 Global Witness report. “Now, as the race to secure access to these resources intensifies, it is poor people and activists who increasingly find themselves in the firing line.” ....

Brazil has set itself on a course that will see more land conflict, not less, as it seeks to boost commodity exports—minerals, beef and soy—to pay for massive public-works projects and social programs. It could be the government applying eminent domain over indigenous lands to dam a river. Or a rancher illegally clearing land for cattle. Wherever the challenge comes from, there will be push-back from traditional communities. “We see the greatest number of conflicts where the frontier is expanding into the Amazon,” says Afonso, who pledges to stand behind those who resist. “We’re going to confront the loggers, the cattle breeders, the ranchers. We will impede their advance.” It’s a fight he almost seems to welcome. In any case, it’s a fight that’s far from over.