More environmentalists were murdered in Latin America in 2015 than anywhere else in the world, with anti-mining causes costing the most lives, a report by Global Witness shows.
According to the UK-based organization, which campaigns against natural resource-related conflict and corruption, the region recorded the highest number of conservationist murders —122 out of a total of 185.
Brazil took the lion’s share with 50 killings, followed by Colombia (26), Peru (12) and Nicaragua (12). Though not located in Latin America, the Philippines ranked second overall in terms of activists’ murders, with 33 victims.
Conflicts over mining were the number one cause of killings in 2015 (42 cases), the report notes, followed closely by agribusiness (20), logging (15) and hydroelectric projects (15).
The unfortunate numbers, said the watchdog, are likely to be much higher given the suppression of monitoring efforts by civil society groups and the media in some of the countries investigated.
For the study, the organization defined land and environmental defenders as “people who take peaceful action to protect environmental or land rights.”
Around 40% of killings (67) were of indigenous people who live in remote locations rich in natural resources but where law enforcement is weak, with the consequence that illegal mining and logging are rife.
Impunity prevails for the perpetrators of violence while activists are increasingly criminalized or branded as “anti-development” by influential elites, the report said.
The document calls on national governments, companies and investors and international organizations to take immediate steps to better protect environmental activists.
Among the recommendations, they suggest proper law enforcement by local authorities and the ratification of International Labour Organization (ILO) convention 169, which protects indigenous people’s rights to grant prior consent on projects affecting their land.
While in Brazil most deaths were related to land conflicts, in Colombia and Peru murders were mostly linked to mining and extractive industries.
From 2002 to date, around 80% of the 69 killings documented by the watchdog in Peru have been linked to the mining sector.
It is estimated that about $22 billion worth of mining projects have been cancelled or delayed in the South American country in recent years as a result of social conflicts and red tape.