Deadly Environment, a report by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Global Witness, revealed that, from 2002 to 2013, at least 908 people were killed globally due to their environmental advocacy, with the rate of murder doubling in the last four years. Latin America and Asia show the highest rates of violence as tensions over limited natural resources in these regions escalate. Will Potter wrote forForeign Policy that, today, “Brazil remains overwhelmingly more dangerous for environmentalists than other countries”; twice as many environmentalists were killed in Brazil as in any other country. However, Brazil is just one especially striking case in what is a global trend.
In a growing global economy, competition for resources is intensifying, pitting local communities against powerful business industries such as mining and logging. Problems arise when indigenous people are unaware of, or unacknowledged by, business deals that violate their land rights. Without more widespread attention on this growing problem, rural communities whose livelihood depend on the land will continue to be threatened by powerful businesses.
Political and economic elites benefit from silencing environmental defenders. In one case, gunmen shot a man, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, both of whom had worked in the Amazon forests for twenty-four years and served as members of an NGO founded to preserve the forests. The two assassins “were convicted in 2013—a rare victory in these kinds of cases—but the landowner accused of hiring the assassins walked free,” Potter reported. This case is typical, he wrote. “Only 34 people worldwide are currently facing charges for violence against environmentalists, and only 10 killers were convicted between 2002 and 2013.” Lack of prosecution sends the message that environmentalists can be “killed with impunity.”
Though the Global Witness report is significant, it has limitations of its own, Potter noted. “The research is confined to 74 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and it only includes murders,” he observes. “Nonlethal violence and intimidation, which is much more pervasive, are left out.” Further, the Global Witness report does not address the “well-documented history of violence against environmentalists in Western countries.”
Will Potter, “When an Activist Falls in the Rain Forest Does It Make A Sound?” Foreign Policy, April 23, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/04/23/activist_falls_rain_forest_sound_brazil_murder_environmentalist.
Student Researchers: Rachel Song and Inga Van Buren (Pomona College)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)