Last year, more than three people who promoted environment protection were killed every week. Many others were threatened or thrown behind bars because they dare to oppose submissive governments and the appetite for profit of multinationals.
164 proven murders
Last week, several dozen heavily armed miners attacked a native village in northern Brazil. Emyra Waiãpi, the leader of the Wajapi community, was stabbed to death. The area where the Wajapi live has been protected since 1966. But since the extreme right-wing Bolsonaro came to power, mining companies have been flouting these rules. They penetrate deep into the protected areas, cut down forests and pollute the rivers. Protests are put down in a particularly violent way.
Every year, the NGO Global Witness publishes a lurid report with an chilling list of dozens of similar murders. It shows the bigger picture behind the current violence in Brazil. People who fight for the preservation of our planet against the predatory behaviour of mining companies and the agro-business (mainly palm oil) are massively prosecuted, threatened and killed.
They say we are terrorists, delinquents, assassins and that we have armed groups here, but really they’re just killing us. - Joel Raymundo, member of the Peaceful Resistance of Ixquisis movement
The report found 164 proven murders, but adds that that may be an underestimate. Often murders don't even make the news. The latest report also examines how extreme right-wing regimes are tailoring laws to fit their needs.
Under the radar
With 30 murders, the Philippines is now the most deadly country for environmental activists. As a continent, Latin America remains the most dangerous. Half of the 164 murders happened in a Latin American country. In Africa, Global Witness found 14 murders, but the researchers immediately add that the weakness of local media and civil society means that much violence may remain under the radar.
Mining companies are the main cause of violence. During a demonstration against a copper mine in South India, 13 people died in one day. Such companies use mercenaries to stifle protest. Governments also participate in the violence. Official security services were involved in 40 murders.
More subtle forms
Those who defend the environment are not only confronted with violence, but also with more subtle forms of intimidation such as criminalization and lawsuits. Global Witness notes that this is especially the case in the US and the United Kingdom.
There is the American Red Fawn Fallis who was sentenced to 57 months in prison when a revolver went off during her arrest at the protests in Standing Rock. Red Fawn Fallis says a fellow demonstrator gave her the gun. Later it turned out that it was an FBI agent who had infiltrated the protest camp. Seven American states have new legislation that makes it possible to crack down on protest movements.
The story of the Mexican Julián Carrillo is horrifying. In the last two years, 5 of his relatives were killed and his house went up in flames. So he knew someone had signed his death sentence. Yet he continued to resist the concessions that had been won by mining companies. His bullet-riddled body was found on 24 October.
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Credits first photo: Mario Tama
In case you are interested, don't forget to download the full report: Enemies of the State?