Climate Activists Endured Worst Year On Record in 2020
(Bloomberg) -- Last year was the most dangerous on record for people defending their land and the environment for biodiversity and climate reasons, with nonprofit Global Witness counting 227 murdered environmentalists.
Over half the attacks were documented in Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines, according to its Last Line of Defence report released on Monday. The challenge of recording killings in places affected by conflict means the figures are almost certainly an underestimate, Global Witness said.
Most activists who died were defending forests from deforestation and industrial development, while others lost their lives as they advocated for preserving rivers, coastal areas and the oceans. Over a third of the attacks were linked to resource exploitation—including logging, mining and large-scale agriculture—as well as hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure.
Indigenous peoples were disproportionally affected, the report said. More than a third of green activists who died last year were indigenous, despite only making up 5% of the population globally. They were the target of five of the seven mass killings recorded in 2020.
In Colombia, which registered the highest number of deaths for the second consecutive year, those advocating for environmental protection are increasingly being caught up in the country’s endemic violence, the report said. Coca crop substitution programs, which support farmers to move to legal crops, were linked to 17 lethal attacks last year and rural communities involved in these programs have seen more threats from criminal and paramilitary organizations.
Mexico saw a 67% increase in lethal attacks last year compared with 2019; half were against indigenous communities. The impunity for these crimes remains shockingly high, the report found, with as many as 95% of murders not resulting in any prosecution.
Among the killings highlighted in the report is that of Mexican indigenous activist Oscar Eyraud Adams. A 34-year-old small farmer in Baja California, Adams advocated for indigenous peoples’ rights to dig water wells amid widespread drought and water shortage, which threatened the community’s livelihood. Authorities denied these requests, even as they awarded permits to multinational companies in the region.
“With all the challenges he took on, I was afraid that something might happen to him,” his mother Nora Adams told Global Witness. “I thought people might beat or kidnap him, but I never imagined they would go as far as they did.”
Adams was murdered in Tecate, Mexico, on Sept. 24, 2020.
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