AT LEAST 177 land and environmental defenders were killed last year for trying to protect the planet – one person every other day – according to a new report by Global Witness, working in collaboration with global partners. The new figures bring the total number of defender killings up to 1,910 between 2012 and 2022.
The findings come ahead of world governments convening at COP28 in UAE in November, where states will take stock of the progress made in implementing the historic Paris Agreement established in 2015. The new Global Witness report emphasises the crucial role that defenders play in advocating for and achieving climate justice, yet highlights that at least 1,390 defenders were killed between the adoption of the historic climate Agreement on 12 December 2015 and 31 December 2022.
Colombia was found to be the deadliest country in the world with 60 deaths in total last year – more than a third of all killings globally. Despite Colombia ratifying a key legally binding regional agreement in October 2022 requiring the government to prevent and investigate attacks against defenders, this figure is almost double the number of killings reported in 2021.
At least 382 defenders have been killed in Colombia since Global Witness began documenting deaths in 2012, making it the country with the highest number of reported killings globally during that time.
The majority of recorded killings in 2022 took place in Latin America, home to 88 per cent of lethal attacks. Other deadly countries last year within the region include Brazil, with 34 killings, and Mexico with 31, and Honduras with 14. A total of 11 defenders were killed in the Philippines.
The research also found yet again that Indigenous communities around the world face a disproportionate level of lethal attacks, as victims of more than a third (34 per cent) of global killings last year whilst making up only around five per cent of the world’s population.
Despite the relentlessness of defender murders over the past 11 years, very few perpetrators are ever brought to justice due to the failures of governments around the world to properly investigate these crimes, resulting in impunity fuelling further attacks.
Shruti Suresh, Co-Director of Campaigns (Interim) at Global Witness, said: “For too long, those responsible for lethal attacks against defenders have been getting away with murder. Violence, intimidation, and harassment are also being inflicted to silence defenders around the world. Despite being threatened by irresponsible corporate and government actions, this global movement of people, united by determination and a commitment to defending their homes and communities, are standing firm – and they cannot and will not be silenced. We continue to honour the work of those who have lost their lives, and we dedicate our report to them, and to their families and communities. We will continue to work to elevate the voices of defenders – vital in tackling climate change and protecting our environment from exploitation.
“Governments around the world must urgently address the senseless killings of those who stand up for our planet, including for the protection of its most precious ecosystems which have a critical role to play in tackling the climate emergency. United action is needed at regional, national, and international levels to end the violence and injustice they face. Far too many lives have already been lost. We cannot afford to lose any more.”
The Global Witness analysis reveals that the Amazon is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a defender, with 39 killings last year – more than one in five of all killings worldwide (22 per cent) – taking place in the world’s largest rainforest. Included in these figures are British Guardian journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who were killed by gunmen while travelling through Indigenous territory in the Brazilian Amazon last June. Overall, at least 296 defenders have been killed in the Amazon since 2014.
The report also explores cases of Indigenous communities across the rainforest who face a range of threats from activities such as gold mining and logging. It notes that several companies based in the UK, the EU and the US have been linked to human rights violations committed against these communities.
Laura Furones, Senior Advisor to the Land and Environmental Defenders Campaign, said: “Research has shown again and again that Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of the forests and therefore play a fundamental role in mitigating the climate crisis. Yet they are under siege in countries like Brazil, Peru and Venezuela for doing precisely that. We hear of new attacks every day, and our report highlights some of those stories.
“More than 100 countries committed to halting deforestation by 2030 when they signed the Glasgow Declaration at COP26 less than two years ago. Yet we now know that 10 per cent more primary forests were lost in 2022 than in 2021 – in other words, we’re heading in the wrong direction and wasting precious time we don’t have. If we are to keep the forests standing, we must recognise that this relies upon the protection of those who call the forest home. Addressing the escalating climate emergency and upholding human rights must go hand in hand.”
According to the report, the new data on defender killings cannot fully capture the true scale of the problem, with restrictions on a free press and a lack of independent monitoring in many countries, particularly across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, leading to underreporting of killings. Furthermore, the analysis highlights that defenders are increasingly being subject to other forms of silencing through criminalisation, with legal frameworks that ought to be protecting them instead being weaponised against them, with a worrying pattern of cases emerging across the globe.
* Read: Standing firm: The Land and Environmental Defenders on the frontlines of the climate crisis here.
* Source: Global Witness