A new report from Global Witness reveals that the killing of environmentalists is on the rise. The report, which defines environmentalists as activists, journalists and community members who defend rights to land and forests, says that more than 700 environmentalists have been murdered in the last ten years. The report notes that in 2011 the number of killings was 106 people, a figure that has nearly doubled over the past three years.
CBS News illustrates the growing problem with the case of Chut Wutty. Mr. Wutty was a Cambodian activist who tried to fight illegal deforestation. The environmentalist lost his battle, however, when he was shot by a military policeman in April as he investigated logging operations in the country’s abundant forests. CBS News also brings up the case of Nisio Gomes. Mr. Gomes, the chief of a Brazilian tribe, was killed by masked gun men in November. The chief was killed trying to protect his land from ranchers.
“This trend points to the increasingly fierce global battle for resources, and represents the sharpest of wake-up calls for delegates in Rio. Over one person a week is being murdered for defending rights to forests and land,” said Billy Kyte, a campaigner at Global Witness, in a press release.
The report, which draws its conclusions from research based on conversations with communities and organizations as well as information from online databases, reveals a number of alarming statistics about the growing threat to the lives of environmental activists.
The report found that there is a disturbing absence of information on murders in a high number of countries. In addition, Global Witness discovered that the number of murders has risen over the past ten years. Research also suggests that few perpetrators are punished for the crimes. Killings of environmentalists are highest in Brazil, Columbia, the Philippines and Peru. Global Witness notes that private sector involvement in the killings continues to be a concern in the aforementioned countries and others.
Global Witness posits that governments need to guarantee that environmentalists can speak freely without fear of reprisal. Land and forest deals also need to be open and fair so that both parties are on equal footing when determining the impact of such projects on the community.
“The international community must stop perpetuating this vicious contest for forests and land. It has never been more important to protect the environment and it has never been more deadly,” Mr. Kyte said.
The international community needs to step in soon or the killings will continue at a worsening rate, Julian Newman of the Environmental Investigation Agency said. “To people protecting their lands, their forests, it’s very personal, and they suffer when confronted with influential forces who have protection, be it the police in Indonesia or thugs in China,” Mr. New Man posited, according to CBS News.
Global Witness says that environmentalists are being killed at the rate of one per week.
The findings are particularly relevant as the Earth Summit 2012 (Rio+20) is currently taking place in Brazil. “A combination of a global financial crisis, a food crisis, volatile oil prices, accelerating ecosystem degradation and an increasing number of climate-induced extreme weather events” have grabbed the attention of countries and organizations around the world, says the summit’s website.
If the killing of environmentalists continues to rise, the next Earth Summit will need to address ways to protect those who practice environmental activism.