Record Environmentalist Deaths in 2019 — Here’s How You Can Support Land Defenders

Activism Aug 07, 2020

Is it a coincidence that documented killings of land defenders is rising? Or that 40% of those killed are Indigenous people? Or that the killings are linked to the biggest carbon-emitting industries?

No, no, and no. Indigenous communities all. over. the. world. experience a lack of support and rights acknowledgement from governments and leaders, who are often dismissive of, and outright racist against, Indigenous people. Those same people and governments prioritize business and industry over Indigenous rights, which leads to polluting industries moving in on stolen land. As the global population's consumption rises businesses become more desperate to fulfil those needs at low cost, extracting resources from the earth. Historically, when land defenders fight for their rights and their land, they are met with violence. This violence continues today.

According to the Defending Tomorrow report by Global Witness, killings (murders) of land defenders has increased by nearly 30%, from 164 in 2018 to 212 in 2019, and violence (including sexual violence towards women) and intimidation is increasing globally. We should note, this violence is increasing just as more and more land defenders are slowing and stopping environmentally destructive projects and winning legal battles.

Land defenders on the front lines are CRUCIAL to protecting biodiversity, water sources, forests, wetlands, oceans, and air. But they are more at risk than ever from violence and death.

'This violence is a human rights crisis but it is also a threat to everyone who depends on a stable climate."
Credit: Global Witness

Key Findings of Defending Tomorrow Report

  • 212 land and environmental defenders killed in 2019 – an average of more than four people a week.
  • Colombian deaths doubled from 2018 with 64 defenders killed in 2019.
  • Honduras experienced the greatest percentage increase in lethal attacks and is the most dangerous country per capita for land and environmental defenders in 2019. Killings rose from 4 in 2018 to 14 last year.
  • Over two-thirds of killings took place in Latin America.
  • Mining was the sector linked to the most murders, with 50 defenders killed in 2019.
  • Logging was the sector with the highest increase in killings globally since 2018, with 85% more attacks recorded against defenders opposing the industry.
  • 19 of the victims killed in 2019 were state officials or park rangers, people employed to protect the environment.
  • Europe remains the least-affected continent. Two people were killed in 2019, both working to stop illegal logging in Romania.
  • Indigenous peoples are at a disproportionate risk of reprisals. Last year, 40% of murdered defendersbelonged to indigenous communities. Between 2015 and 2019 over a third of all fatal attacks have targeted indigenous people – even though indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population.
  • Under reporting, widespread impunity and corruption make it difficult to identify perpetrators, but Global Witness was able to link state forces to 37 of the murders.Private actors like hit-men, criminal gangs and private security guards were also suspected of involvement.
  • Over 1 in 10 defenders killed were women.Women who act and speak out may also face gender-specific threats, including sexual violence. If other members of their household are defenders, they can become targeted too.

According to the report:

GOVERNMENTS: Need to urgently address insecure land rights, protect defenders’ rights to safety, and investigate and bring to justice those responsible for attacks against them.

COMPANIES: Must respect defender rights, develop and implement zero-tolerance policies on threats against defenders and ensure full cooperation with any investigations into attacks.

INVESTORS: Should screen portfolios for defender- related risks, establish early warning systems to detect and prevent potential conflicts, and include contractual provisions in all project contracts requiring compliance with the company’s defender policy.

Credit: Global Witness

4 Ways You Can Support Land Defenders

1. Report violence you encounter against Land Defenders

Help Global Land Governance Index document the increasing violence against land defenders by reporting threats, harassment, arrests, jailing, killings, or missing people, and sexual violence.

2. Sign petitions

There are so many petitions, a quick google and you should be able to find some from the likes of Amnesty International, which will have petitions directed to your country's government.

3. Write to your MP

Voice your support for Land Defenders. Ask you MP if they will publicly commit to policies that protect Land Defenders in your country and others around the world.


Global Witness annual land defenders report: Defending Tomorrow


Activist and organizer with Greenpeace Vancouver. Writes about climate and social justice, feminism, greenwashing, and fossil fuel fuckery.

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