Once can read chilling stories on Democracy Now and The Guardian about a report by the group Global Witness which identifies a global surge in the number of environmental activists murdered whilst protecting their land and the environment. Brazil is the world’s deadliest country for environmental activists with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013.
Almost none of the killers have faced charges.
The report argues these killings are just the tip of the iceberg and the actual numbers being killed are far greater. Under-reporting and difficulties verifying killings in isolated areas are a significant problem. Reports from many countries – a number of African countries, Zimbabwe and Myanmar- where civil society groups are weak and the regimes are authoritarian, are not included in the count.
The environmental activists are being targeted for killing in a struggle between those trying to protect and conserve the natural environment and buying power. The report points to competition over land and natural resources resulting from industrial logging, mining and land rights as the trigger for the murders.
The Democracy Now story includes an interview with José da Silva, a Brazilian conservationist and environmentalist who campaigned against logging and clearcutting of trees in the Amazon rainforest. In 2011, José and his wife Maria were murdered by masked gunmen. José’s ear was ripped off as proof of execution.
They’re often ordinary people who are resisting these operations. As I’ve said, it’s very difficult often to pinpoint the exact perpetrator. There’s a very startling low number of convictions. But what we have seen is that they are resisting operations to these companies. And we do feel like it’s down to the companies to make sure that they’re not being associated with this kind of violence, and also that governments need to monitor this problem much more clearly and much more actively and protect those citizens who are facing these threats, ensure that any perpetrators are brought to justice ………………………………………
Mr. Penetra was one of the most striking cases in our report, because we published our first round of research into this issue shortly before the Rio summit, and we tried to issue a wake-up call to the international community to say that we felt that this problem was increasing and that the threat to environmental activists was increasing, just before the—before delegates gathered to discuss better ways to protect the climate and the environment. Now, Mr. Penetra was an advocate for fishermen’s rights who had been fighting for the rights of local fishermen against the—against the advance of oil operations in the area. And now, the day after the summit ended in Rio, Mr. Penetra was abducted, and he was found executed with another campaigner just a few days later. We really think that sends out a symbol about how much needs to be done. He was one of 18 activists who were murdered in the month after Rio, which shows how far we have to go and how much work needs to be done by governments and the international community to make sure that these people who are laying their lives on the line to protect the environment are getting the protection they deserve.