May 17, 2014
Being Green Is Killing People
In some parts of the world, environmentalists are almost an endangered species. It may be hard to believe, but they are being killed in large numbers for their beliefs and for being activists trying to defend their world. According to the UK’s Global Witness Organization, at least 908 people in 35 countries have died between 2002 and 2013 as a result of defending their environmental and land rights. They believe that the true figure could be considerably higher due to under-reporting. Being Green is becoming a deadly pursuit.
Global Witness’s report, Deadly Environment, is the most comprehensive of its kind and examines “known killings” during the period in question. They identify increasing conflict due to competition for natural resources as manifested by industrial scale logging, mining, and other land rights disputes as being the key drivers. Though this is a major issue in many countries, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific regions are the worst affected areas. As we might expect, it is the “little guy” that suffers most – the one that tries to protect his own local interests against the big money operations. Big money buys big influence and a lot of protection. As Global Witness says, “This lack of attention is feeding endemic levels of impunity, with just over one per cent of perpetrators known to have been convicted”. It seems that in some places there is almost a license to kill. This is at a time when it has never been more vital to act on environmental threats.
While ordinary environmental campaigners in developed countries suffer harassment and surveillance, it is those who live in the frontline “battle zone” where the dangers are escalated to such lethal levels. The study reveals that Brazil has the highest number of deaths with 448, followed by Honduras, the Philippines, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico. Death rates are increasing annually with 2012 being the “bloodiest year yet”.
Brazil is a classic case. Here there is a massive drive to boost the economy and the demand for exportable products has seen a surge in industrial scale operations in logging, agriculture, and cattle ranching. These need vast amounts of land and conflict is inevitable when the local populations are driven from their homes. The brutal reality of this struggle is brought home by the story of Chico Mendes. A Brazilian rubber tapper in the Amazon and a fierce campaigner, Chico was killed as he stepped out of his back door in 1998. His death has become a touchstone for many people.
Men and women like Chico Mendes can be protected but the will has to be there. In one of the few successful prosecutions, the murders of Ze Claudio and his wife Maria, it was high profile political and media pressure that resulted in convictions. The couple were nut harvesters and activists. They were ambushed and shot in Brazil’s Para state in May 2011. Two men have been convicted and a third is on trial (for the third time) but only because of the fearless campaigning of supporters and media. But for those left behind the dangers and intimidation remain. Even today Maria’s sister Laisa is still trying to cling to her land in spite of death threats. She is subject to a Federal Government protection scheme. Others do not have that protection and their stories may never be told.
Image Credit: Thinkstock