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An Environmental Defender Was Killed Every Other Day in 2022, Report Finds

More than a third of those killed were Indigenous, and 39 defenders were killed in the Amazon rainforest last year.

A police officer stands guard near the Interior Ministry in Lima, Peru, as Indigenous leaders from the Amazon and Andes, joined by environment conservation activists, demonstrate to demand protection of their land, water and lives, following the assassination of 19 conservationist activists in the country since 2020, on June 17, 2022.

Nearly 180 environmental defenders were killed around the world last year — around one murder every other day — and more than 1,900 have been killed over the past decade, according to a gruesome new tally released Wednesday by the human rights group Global Witness.

The group published the names of those known to have been killed in 2022 in a report titled Standing Firm, while acknowledging that the “names of many defenders who were killed last year may be missing, and we may never know how many more gave their lives to protect our planet.”

The list includes Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips, who were shot to death last year in Brazil’s imperiled Javari Valley. Brazilian authorities charged several people in connection to the murders, including one individual believed to be the leader of a transnational illegal fishing network.

Brazil was the second-deadliest country for environmental and land defenders last year behind Colombia, where 60 people were murdered in 2022 as they worked to protect their communities and precious ecosystems.

Nearly 90% of the 177 recorded killings in 2022 took place in Latin America.

More than a third of the environmental defenders killed in 2022 were Indigenous, and 39 defenders were killed in the Amazon rainforest, a target of illegal logging, gold mining, and other harmful extraction.

“As guardians of the forest, land and environmental defenders are on the frontline of the Amazon’s devastating exploitation,” the Global Witness report notes. “They face dangerous companies acting with impunity, ruthless state security forces, and contracted killers. As they stand up against powerful agribusiness, mining, and logging interests, defenders are systematically intimidated, criminalized, attacked, and murdered. Every year, defenders of this priceless biome pay with their lives for protecting their homes, livelihoods, and the health of our planet.”

Global Witness found that at least 1,390 environmental defenders have been slain since the adoption of the Paris climate accord in 2015 and very few perpetrators have been brought to justice, signaling a lack of commitment to those fighting against the polluting activities that are wrecking the planet.

“Governments around the world must urgently address the senseless killings of those who stand up for our planet, including for the protection of its most precious ecosystems which have a critical role to play in tackling the climate emergency,” said Shruti Suresh, co-director of campaigns at Global Witness. “United action is needed at regional, national, and international levels to end the violence and injustice they face. Far too many lives have already been lost. We cannot afford to lose any more.”

The new report emphasizes that the killings “are just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Beneath that, and largely unreported, are innumerable attacks that, while not taking a defender’s life, do radically transform them. This is the case with criminalization,” the report says. “Defenders are being forced to confront the very legal system that should be protecting them. According to the international human rights organization Front Line Defenders, criminalization of human rights defenders — including arrest, detention, and legal action — was the most prominent form of attack in 2022, accounting for more than a third (34%) of the year’s recorded violations.”

Laura Furones, senior adviser to the Land and Environmental Defenders Campaign at Global Witness, said in a statement that “research has shown again and again that Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of the forests and therefore play a fundamental role in mitigating the climate crisis.”

“If we are to keep the forests standing, we must recognize that this relies upon the protection of those who call the forest home,” Furones added. “Addressing the escalating climate emergency and upholding human rights must go hand in hand.”

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