At least 212 people were killed last year while defending their land from being taken over by industry, Global Witness said on Wednesday, making 2019 the deadliest year since the advocacy group began compiling data in 2012.
More than half the killings were in Colombia and the Philippines and Indigenous people made up 40 percent of the victims, the UK-based group said in its annual report. It was a significant rise on 2018, when 164 killings were recorded.
The threat from mining and large-scale agriculture caused the most number of deaths, with these sectors also responsible for worsening climate change effects, Global Witness said.
“Insecure land tenure, irresponsible business practices and government policies that prioritise extractive economies at the cost of human rights are putting people, and their land, at risk,” said Rachel Cox, a campaigner at Global Witness.
“Land and environmental defenders play a vital role in protecting climate-critical forests and ecosystems. When they take a stand against the theft of their land, or the destruction of forests, they are increasingly being killed.”
Latin America accounted for more than two-thirds of all victims last year, with Colombia the deadliest country of all, with 64 killings.
Earlier this year, a UN report said the single most targeted group were rights defenders advocating on behalf of Afro-Colombians. It also said killings of female human rights defenders increased by almost 50 percent in 2019 compared with 2018.
In Asia, the Philippines had 43 killings compared with 30 the previous year, with six in India, three in Indonesia and one in Cambodia, according to Global Witness.
Many more were attacked, arrested, threatened and sued, said Global Witness, which recorded incidents in 21 countries.
In the Philippines – which was the deadliest country in 2018 – “relentless vilification” of activists by the government and impunity for attackers may be spurring an increase in killings, it said.