Last week Global Witness released the report, A Hidden Crisis?, documenting the murders of environmental activists around the world. The report examines reported killings of journalists, activists, and community members that have been targeted and killed because of their involvement in the defense of the environment. Spanning back to 2002, the report finds that 711 people have been killed in the last decade, or more than one person a week. The report paints a stark picture of the threats community members are facing as the mining industry, logging, and cattle ranching look to develop new lands. Killings have skyrocketed in the past years. Global Witness reports that there were over 106 murders in 2011 alone.
Just two weeks ago a community leader in Guatamala, Yolanda Oqueli Veliz, was the victim of attempted murder. Yolanda, was targeted as a vocal opponent of Radius Gold’s El Tambor mine. She was shot as she left a peaceful blockade of mine. She thankfully survived the attack and the community continues to protest the mine.
Even more recently, two environmental and human rights defenders were gunned down in Mexico. Bertín Vásquez Ruiz and Guadalupe Vázquez Ruis were shot for their involvement in the opposition of the Fortuna Silver mining operation in San José del Progreso. Their murders are the third and forth this year believed to be related to the Fortuna mine, which communities fear threatens their major water sources.
Perhaps the most disturbing piece of the report is what is not in the report. Peru, Colombia, and Brazil account for over ½ of the environmentally motivated murders. Their place at the top, to certain extent, is likely due to their ability to have some resemblance of a reporting mechanism. However, even these counties are likely underestimating the real extent of murders associated with corporate land development in Latin America. Many of the other counties in the report lack comprehensive reporting mechanisms for killings of environmental defenders. With just a handful of murders reported on the entire continent of Africa and in Southeast Asia island countries were palm oil and mining development remains largely unchecked yet highly opposed, these already disturbingly high numbers likely only scratch the surface.
This report, however, is not about reporting mechanisms, as important those are. This report is about the deadly threats communities face around the world as governments and corporations continue major land grabs in the name of development. Global Witness has laid out recommendation at the conclusion of the report. We’d do well to support them, and to continue to support the communities that live in daily threats of real violence.
Global Witness’ recommendations:
• Carry out full and impartial investigations into such attacks and killings, bring those responsible to justice and ensure redress for the families of those killed.
• Countries, especially Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Indonesia, Peru and the Philippines, should invite/ allow full access by the UN Special Rapporteurs on Extra-judicial Executions, Human Rights Defenders and other relevant UN mechanisms to enable them to fulfill their mandates.
• Ensure that anyone with concerns about how land or forest is being managed can voice these without fear of being persecuted, killed or harassed, in line with the UDHR article 19 and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998. Furthermore, each State should publicly reaffirm and recognise the important work that defenders of land and forest do, as stipulated by the UN in 2011.50
• Ensure that land and forest deals and investment projects are not approved unless affected communities have given their free, prior and informed consent and customary and traditional land rights have been respected.
• Ensure that state security forces adhere to international standards on the use of force, and that allegations of abuse are investigated promptly, independently and where appropriate perpetrators are prosecuted.
• Ensure private security companies accused of human rights violations are brought to justice. Governments must put adequate regulations and laws in place to improve oversight and accountability of the private security industry. These companies, at a minimum, must adhere to the Voluntary Principles on Human Rights and Security and other relevant international human rights standards in all their operations around the world.