Environmental activists, in particular, those attempting to halt illegal
logging for Big Beef, are being killed in alarming numbers, with 185
killings in 2015 - averaging three per week - a 60 percent increase over the
Last year, a new report titled "On
Dangerous Ground," from London-based advocacy group, Global Witness,
states, "was the deadliest year on record for killings of land and
environmental defenders - people struggling to protect their land, forests,
As Global Witness notes,
conflicts over logging, hydroelectric dams, mining, and agribusiness saw the
highest number of killings - but Brazil was the most impacted, losing 50
activists to the fight against illegal logging in the Amazon. According
to the report, "the Amazon states of Brazil saw unprecedented levels of
violence in 2015, where communities are being encroached on by ranches and
agricultural plantations or gangs of illegal loggers. The rainforest has
given way to thousands of illegal logging camps whilst the agricultural
frontier is pushing further into previously untouched indigenous reserves.
It’s estimated that 80% of timber from Brazil is illegal, and accounts for
25% of illegal wood on global markets. Much of this is being sold on to
buyers in the US, Europe and China."
Perhaps the most alarming finding is
a continuance of impunity for those pillaging the land in conjunction with
increased criminalization of activists.
"Across the world," the report
continues, "collusion between state and corporate interests shield many of
those responsible for the killings. In cases that are well-documented we
found 16 were related to paramilitary groups, 13 to the army, 11 to the
police, and 11 to private security - strongly implying state or company
links to the killings. There was little evidence that the authorities either
fully investigated the crimes or took actions to bring the perpetrators to
Though Global Witness highlights countries in Africa for this
trend, in the U.S., the FBI has prioritized environmental
activists and land defenders as terrorists - and was responsible for illegal
surveillance and infiltration of groups fighting the Keystone XL
"Governments and companies are using inflammatory language to
denigrate activists and publicly brand them as ‘anti-development.’ At the
same time, they are turning a blind eye to corruption, illegalities and
environmental degradation. Impunity reigns in many cases, and the suspected
perpetrators behind the violence - corporate and state interests - are not
Sadly, indigenous peoples were most frequently
killed for defending their land, accounting for 40 percent of the total.
Large-scale land grabbing at the behest of agribusiness "is being
supported by governments, donors and investors claiming that it can drive
economic growth and food production."
Activists combating illegal
deforestation from both agribusiness and the high-value timber industry are
most often killed for their efforts, but the palm oil industry -
particularly in the Philippines - also saw a high number of killings. The
top five most deadly countries for environmental activists and land
defenders were Brazil, with 50 deaths; the Philippines, with 33; Colombia,
with 26; and Peru and Nicaragua, with 12 fatal attacks each.
Witness urged increased protections for activists, including support of
their right to speak out and full investigations of those responsible for
Below is a powerful video highlighting the murder of one
incredible environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, who was murdered just
three months ago.