On September 29, Global Witness published a report on Environmental Defenders and Activists which contains information on individuals who have been targeted and murdered for their actions in defense of natural resources and the environment. The organization shines a light on the stories of these whistleblowers, collects data on killings of environmental defenders around the world, and provides recommendations on how to strengthen the protection of environmental whistleblowers and, therefore, protect our planet. .
Shining a light on conservationists and their stories
“We are not just in a climate emergency. We are at the foot of the sixth mass extinction, and these defenders are among the few standing in the way,” writes Dr. Vandana Shiva in the preface to the report. Dr. Shiva, herself an environmental activist, says that “[t]The future of our species and our planet depends on the protections of conservationists. “In 2021, 200 people were killed protecting their homes and their rights. I invite you to read all their names. To honor the dead with your attention. Get angry on their behalf, then act,” she wrote.
The report first testifies to the environmental defenders murdered in 2021, with a list of their names and countries of origin. According to Global Witness, 200 environmental defenders were murdered last year.
Interspersed with statistics on murders of conservationists and the industries they tried to combat in the service of preserving natural lands are more personal accounts of specific whistleblowers. The report first highlights Joannah Stutchbury from Kenya, who had previously received multiple death threats. Stutchbury spent years battling private developers trying to build on Kiambu Forest. She received no police protection even though she received death threats, and the report states that “in the months leading up to her murder, she had legitimately won a lawsuit against a developer wishing to build on the wooded land. “.
For each personal story and profile of an environmental defender, Global Witness provides recommendations to the defender’s country on how to tackle killings of defenders, regulate wildlife and environmental crime and strengthen the protection of environmental whistleblowers. The report includes specific recommendations to the governments of Kenya, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and the state of Tamil Nadu in India.
Statistics and analysis: Deaths of environmental defenders
The report provides data on environmental defenders murdered in 2021 as well as a grim retrospective of a decade of data on environmental defenders who have been killed. The data includes the country in which the advocate lived and the sector, if confirmed, in which the advocate was advocating for change. Mining and extractive, fishing, hydropower and logging were among the industries for the 2021 figures. Global Witness notes: “The majority of these cases were related to land disputes, including those related to illegal crops and changes in land ownership. Land is a key factor in attacks on defenders, but in many cases the economic motives behind land-related violence go unreported. According to the report, since 2012, 1,733 environmental defenders have been killed. Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines are the countries with the most murders of environmental defenders.
Additionally, Global Witness reports that in 2021, “the disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous Peoples has continued once again, with more than 40% of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous Peoples, despite represent only 5% of the world’s population. These have been documented primarily in Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines. According to the report, “[a]Of the defenders killed in 2021, 1 in 10 were women, of whom nearly two-thirds were indigenous. Gender-based violence rooted in misogyny and discriminatory gender norms is disproportionately used against women environmental and human rights defenders to control and silence them, and remove their power and authority as leaders .
What contributes to attacks on environmental defenders?
A section of the report describes and analyzes what drives “threats and attacks against land and environment defenders”. This section discusses land inequality, corruption, violent conflict, “shrinking civic space” or weakening of civil society, and “corporate culture of impunity” as common threads in countries where attacks on environmental whistleblowers are most prevalent. Global Witness considers all of these factors and explains how these factors contribute to unsafe conditions for environmental defenders.
Celebrate wins and make recommendations
A section towards the end of the report presents an overview of the victories: situations in which the perpetrators of crimes or murders against environmental defenders were sentenced to prison terms, decisions in which land was protected, etc.
In terms of recommendations for governments and businesses around the world, Global Witness focuses on strengthening protections for environmental defenders and individuals who speak out. “Existing laws that protect defenders must be enforced. Where such laws do not exist, new frameworks must be established. And efforts to use any legislation to criminalize defenders should be declared null and void. Governments must protect the rights of defenders, including the rights to free, prior and informed consent, the rights of indigenous peoples to their livelihoods and culture, the right to life, liberty and freedom of expression, and the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment,” the report states.
The report recommends that governments and businesses “ensure that commitments to implement the Paris Agreement are consistent with existing international human rights obligations and standards, and promote just and equitable solutions to the climate change. This should include strengthening the land rights of indigenous and traditional communities and improving their participation in decision-making in recognition of the key role they play in protecting the world’s last remaining areas of biodiversity.
Furthermore, the report calls on the EU to be a leader in corporate responsibility, writing that the EU “is obliged to contribute to the protection of human rights and the environment, in particular when Union actions have an international impact”. Global Witness suggests that the EU’s mandate “that companies engage with affected indigenous and local communities and other land and environmental defenders in a safe, meaningful and inclusive manner”, requires “that financial institutions are required to adhere to internationally recognized standards of due diligence, including conducting ongoing due diligence, safely disengaging harmful business relationships where harm cannot be avoided, and conducting due diligence on business partners in based on risk (rather than the size of the partner company)”, and ensuring that “companies conduct effective climate due diligence in accordance with the proposed human rights and environmental due diligence requirements .
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