01 Aug
  • By James Evans

2016 the deadliest year so far for Environmental defenders

Cover photo: Activists call for justice in the case of Honduran indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who was killed last year. Photograph: Marvin Recinos/AFP

A recent report by the international watchdog organisation, Global Witness, has revealed that at least 200 environmental defenders were killed last year, the highest amount recorded since the NGO’s started monitoring the numbers in 2002. The real number is probably far higher as many of the murders go undocumented. That is also well over twice the number of journalists killed last year which was 79.

200 amounts to over 4 people every week. The amount of countries in which people were killed has also risen, from 16 countries to 26. Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines accounted for more than half of the confirmed deaths, followed by India, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Bangladesh. Sixty percent of those murdered were from Latin America.


(Graph listing the deaths of environmental defenders. Source; Global Witness.)

Much of the violence occurs in tropical regions where mining, forestry and industrial agriculture are poorly regulated. These poor regulations often allow for land grabs and the indigenous people being driven from their lands and homes. It also often leads to pollution, often off water sources. High levels of corruption also contributed to these deaths, as much as 43 police and government security forces have been identified as suspects.

A large percentage of these deaths can be directly linked to industrial expansion, these people are protecting their land and the natural world from industries like mining, logging and agribusiness. Ben Leather, one of the report’s authors, said this “investors often escape from attention and criticism.” and that “Most of the defenders murdered are opposing big projects which could not exist without the financial backing of international investors,” Leather said. A third of the deaths were linked to mining and oil operations, and a fifth each to logging and agribusiness. Many of the people who died were fighting projects which were backed and financed by large international banks and investment funds.


(Activists call for justice in the case of Honduran indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who was killed last year. Photograph: Marvin Recinos/AFP)

One of the biggest contributors to these projects is actually the World Bank, the very people who pushed for the sustainable development theory. A report that came out in January openly accused the World Bank of funding fossil fuel projects on a colossal scale while at the same time claiming to prioritise and fund efforts to shift to a low-carbon climate-protected future. The report was carried out by Bank Information Centre (BIC) whose European and Central Asian Manager, Nezir Sinani, had this to say,

“The World Bank has pledged to help countries adopt a low-carbon development path, specifically by phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and promoting a carbon tax, however, the bank’s policy lending does the opposite, by introducing tax breaks for coal power plants and coal export infrastructure,”

The study, which was released on the 27th of January, examined the World Bank’s Development Policy Financing (DPF) program, which alone accounts for about a third of all World Bank funding. In the countries that this study focuses on the World Bank invested over 5 billion dollars in fossil fuel related projects, something which it actively condemns. Despite this all seeming very distant and out of our control it is actually not, our hands are not as clean as we think, over 186 countries are members of the world bank, meaning they invest their taxpayer’s money in it. “The UK, German and US governments are shareholders in the World Bank,” Ben Leather pointed out. This, of course, means that citizens of these countries could ask their governments, “What are you doing to make sure that our money is not associated with these attacks?” This once again highlights the need for environmental campaigners and efforts in all countries, not just those whose forests and resources are being pillaged but even in the well-regulated and developed countries.


(Government forces were behind at least 43 killings in 2016, the report shows)

People often criminalise and vilify these defenders on the grounds that they are standing in the way of development and progress. The activists are often fighting projects which are imposed on the local communities by the state or large companies without their prior consent and are often backed up by police and security companies. These communities are often faced with violent threats and abuses which are designed not only to silence them but to force a consent. For the sake of our planet and our future we must not let these people’s deaths be in vain. The world has the ability and finances to pursue safer and more environmentally friendly projects, we must all do our part in reminding our governments and business to strive towards a this.


“Defenders of Earth Report “Global Witness 2017 https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/defenders-earth/

‘Life by Latin America’s largest open-pit coal mine’. Al Jazeera, 2016. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/02/life-latin-america-largest-open-pit-coal-160201114829811.html

“World Bank introducing new fossil fuel subsidies, undermining its own climate change commitments and forest protection efforts” Bank Information Centre, 2017. http://www.bankinformationcenter.org/world-bank-breaks-climate-pledges-by-financing-new-fossil-fuel-subsidies-undermining-forest-protection-and-exacerbating-climate-change/

“The Financial system killing environmental activists” Deutsche Welle Akademie, 2017. http://www.dw.com/en/murder-world-bank-asian-development-bank/a-39645233