Environmental defenders are being killed at alarming rates 

in September 23rd, 2021

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Environmental threats are soon to be the greatest challenge to human rights. The global South is suffering the most, with 227 recorded killings last year, a third of which are concentrated in Colombia. Why?

  • Since the 1960s, the Colombian government has fought against rebel groups who settled in remote, rural areas through violent land grabbing from indigenous people and historical negligence of the Colombian government.
  • The largest of these rebel groups is FARC, which sought redistribution of wealth and funded political attacks through illegal activities such as drug trafficking.
  • After five decades of conflict, a peace deal was reached in 2016 between FARC and the Colombian government. In exchange for a ceasefire, the government promised FARC representation, conversion of FARC members to civilians, and even economic development
  • But the government has been slow to make good on these promises, resulting in continued land grabs and violence against indigenous people defending that land.
  • Simultaneously, government attempts to support marginalized farmers cut into profitability for drug cartels since both groups largely grow coca. By 2018, three-quarters of activists in coca-growing regions had been killed.
  • Now, the latest report is showing that activists defending their lands are being killed at record rates. And, the pandemic has only worsened the situation as protections were cut while activists were targeted in their homes during lockdown.

And it’s a global problem with over 1,700 environmental defenders killed this century. The murders in 2020 were highest (after Colombia) in Mexico and the Philippines — a third of which were indigenous people, who are not only at the front lines of defending land but often also the most impacted by climate change, despite representing just five percent of the global population. Only 10% of the killings from 2002-2013 even resulted in a conviction.

So what can be done? Global Witness, who released the report, believes the burden of stopping these killings fall on businesses and governments. Businesses seeing profit (soaked up almost entirely by the richest one percent) have dumped waste into rivers, polluted the air, produced toxic waste, and much more without having to suffer any consequences for it. Not only are they operating with near complete impunity thanks to negligent governments, but they mislead well-meaning consumers with sustainability brochures that wash away or ignore corporate human rights abuses.

Turning a blind eye is still not the worst offense with some governments outright encouraging harmful industrial activity. For example, despite the record killings in Colombia, the government is still pursuing an economic growth agenda based on land-intensive industries. The Philippines’ president has also enacted legislation that prioritizes harmful industries and potentially endangers indigenous defenders.

Though hope is brewing in Europe, where a new law could require companies to address human rights and environmental standards within their supply chain. With over 70% support, the legislation would hold companies accountable for both direct and indirect harm to human rights and the environment.

🎬 Take Action 

Nonprofit 350.org provides ways to stand with climate defenders, learn more about the companies with human rights abuses, or simply donate to the work they do.

Resource Center:

  • Al Jazeera (Where we found this story) 9 days old | 6 minutes long
  • Global Witness Attacks against defenders report 9 days old  | 13 minutes long
  • The Conversation History of killings in Colombia and 2018 violence 3 years old | 8 minutes long
  • Al Jazeera Climate crisis leading to human rights crisis  9 days old | 4 minutes long
  • The Conversation Environmental defenders killed in this century 2 years old | 7 minutes long
  • European Parliament E.U. paving path for law holding companies accountable 6 months old | 5 minutes long
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Isn’t that majorly polluting the air?

But, have you seen our new recycling program?

Art Credit: Below the Fold

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