Philippines deadliest nation for environmental activists

Three people were murdered each week in 2018 across the globe for defending their land and the environment, according to global NGO Global Witness, with the Philippines being the most deadly country in the world to be an environmental activist.

Global Witness just published their annual report into killings of land and environmental defenders has found that 164 land and environment activists were murdered around the world in 2018, with 30 people being murdered in the Philippines. One third of killings in the Philippines occurred on the island of Mindanao.

Across the region, India saw 23 environmental activists killed, while Cambodia saw 3, and Indonesia saw 1 killed for defending their land or environmental rights.

Global Witness' report, Enemies of the State?, draws attention to the massacre of 9 sugar cane farmers, including children, killed during a land dispute in Negros, in central Philippines. According to Rappler, the farmers were resting in a makeshift shelter when 40 armed men attacked them, while a few days later the lawyer representing the farmers was also shot dead.

The report also points out that the UN's Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, has been places on a Philippine list of "terrorists" after "speaking out against the administration's human rights violations." In 2018, Corpuz had been a vocal critic of the Duterte administration, and in particular had raised "concerns over the rapid increase in large scale commercial projects globally," and had also pointed out that many projects "show little or no regard for the rights of local indigenous communities and environmental protection."

Corpuz has since been removed from the list, and is still the UN Special Rapporteur, but faces constant threats and false accusations in the Philippines.

Corpuz summed up the threat to environmental defenders as follows: "This violence is a human rights crisis, but it is also a threat to everyone who depends on a stable climate. Land and environmental defenders are among the best stewards of the world’s great forests and biodiversity, and when their rights are trampled, it is often to make way for environmentally destructive logging, mining, or plantations. Protecting indigenous land rights defenders is therefore not only a human rights imperative – but also urgent to mitigating the climate crisis."

The report states that corporations and governments are also turning to non-lethal tactics, including the criminalisation of environmental activists, to silence dissent.

Alice Harrison, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, said that “Overall, there is no sign that the underlying causes of violence are improving. In fact, they look to be worsening. Governments in some of the worst-affected countries, from Brazil to Mexico to India, are prioritising business opportunities for extractives and agricultural companies over the protection of the environment and human rights, setting the stage for more conflict over land. This is being matched with a global crackdown on protest and freedom of expression, from recognised authoritarian regimes like China and Russia to longstanding democracies like the US.”

The full report can be found here.

Photo: Unsplash/Văn Ngọc Tăng

Protecting environmental rights, and the ability for people to stand up for those rights, is essential to achieving a sustainable climate. Acts of violence towards environmental defenders also puts in danger progress towards Global Goal 16 - creating peaceful a nd just societies with the rule of law center to that effort.


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