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More than 1,700 environmental activists murdered in past decade

Environmental activists murdered; More than 1,700 murders of environmental activists have been recorded over the past decade,

By Ground report
New Update
More than 1,700 environmental activists murdered in past decade

As per the latest report by Global Witness, at least 177 environmental activists were killed in 2022 for defending their homeland 1. The Amazon rainforest is one of the most dangerous places for environmental activists, with every fifth killing last year occurring there.

Colombia was the deadliest country, with 60 people killed in 2022. Indigenous people, although accounting for only 5% of the global population, represented 34% of the total number of victims.

More than 1,700 murders of environmental activists have been recorded over the past decade, an average of one murder nearly every two days, according to a new report.

177 killed in 2022

In 2022, 177 individuals lost their lives while fighting to protect water, land, forests, and the environment. This means that almost every other day, someone, somewhere in the world, is making the ultimate sacrifice for environmental conservation. Since 2012, a staggering 1,910 people have been killed for these causes.

Regrettably, in most of these cases, the perpetrators have not faced legal consequences. Due to government investigations often falling short, very few wrongdoers are held accountable. This lack of fear of the law has only emboldened more attacks. These revelations come from a new report by Global Witness, an international organization dedicated to environmental issues.

The report also underscores that indigenous people are the primary targets globally. Despite making up just 5% of the world's population, indigenous individuals accounted for 34% of all murders related to environmental protection.

According to the report, the Amazon is one of the most perilous places for environmental activists, with 39 defenders losing their lives there last year. Shockingly, one in every five environmentalists killed worldwide was in the Amazon, where at least 296 protectors have been murdered since 2014.

The report highlights the threats faced by indigenous communities living in the rainforest due to activities such as mining and deforestation. It also reveals the involvement of certain companies from the European Union, UK, and the United States in human rights violations against these communities.

Activists worldwide facing increasing deadly threats

A plan by the new UK government to roll back environmental regulations has sparked a fierce backlash, while the country's largest power station, Drax, has also come under fire for sourcing wood from "environmentally important" forests in Canada.

Murdered by hit men, organized crime groups and their own governments, at least 1,733 land and environmental defenders were murdered between 2012 and 2021, according to figures from Global Witness, with Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras being the most deadly.

The NGO has published its report on the killings of environmental and land defenders around the world every year since 2012, following the murder of Chut Wutty, a Cambodian environmentalist who worked with Global Witness CEO Mike Davis investigating the illegal logging. Murders hit a record high of 227 in 2020 despite the pandemic.

The figures underestimate the true scale of the violence, the report's authors argue. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The figures underestimate the true scale of the violence, the report's authors argue. Many of the cases are not formally reported because they occur in conflict zones or where there are "restrictions on the freedom of the press or civil society and due to a lack of independence in monitoring the attacks."

In addition, few responsible for the murders are brought to justice because governments do not adequately investigate the crimes. Authorities actively ignore or prevent investigations into the killings, often due to the perceived coexistence of business and state interests.

“All over the world, indigenous peoples and environmental defenders risk their lives in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. Activists and communities play a critical role as the first line of defense against ecological collapse,” said Mike Davis, CEO of Global Witness.

A decade of murder

The number of land and environmental activists murdered killed in the last decade. Source: Global Witness

The killings have disproportionately affected low-income countries and indigenous communities; 39% of the victims belonged to this demographic group, despite the fact that it represents only 5% of the world's population.

When the cause was known, mining and extractive industries, logging, and agribusiness drove murder most commonly. The report's authors cautioned that the figures were likely a significant underestimate and do not capture the full scale of the problem, as deaths often occur in ecosystems crucial to avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis.


Eleven people were killed on May 22, 2018, during a protest in Thoothukudi, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, due to violence instigated by state police. Among them were social justice advocate M. Karthi and 17-year-old J. Snowlin.

“Over 100 people were injured that day,” reports Global Witness. "People had gathered at the local district office to mark the 100th day of peaceful demonstrations against the copper smelting plant, Sterlite Copper."

Environmental activists murdered. Source: Flickr

The NGO reported that in 2021, India recorded the highest number of attacks against human rights defenders, accounting for around 20% of attacks in the Asia-Pacific region.

Many authorities imprison and label indigenous women seeking justice as terrorists because of their human rights work. They routinely use laws in India to target human rights defenders. For example, they have used the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act 2010 to block much-needed funds, freeze bank accounts, and subject NGOs to investigations, thereby creating a chilling effect on civil society.

The way to follow

Global Witness states that the situation for environmental defenders around the world has gotten worse rather than better in recent years. The growing climate and biodiversity crises, as well as the expansion of authoritarian governments, have led to an increase in murders since 2018.

Eight park rangers in the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who faces the additional threat of oil and gas extraction, included among the 200 people killed in 2021. Environmental activist Joannah Stutchbury, who was shot outside her home in Kenya, and Ángel Miro Cartagena, who was one of 50 small farmers killed last year, died in Colombia.

Environmental activists murdered. Source: Flickr

Journalist Dom Phillips, who wrote extensively for The Guardian and The Observer, and Bruno Pereira, a Brazilian expert on isolated indigenous peoples, were killed in the Javari Valley in the Brazilian Amazon after disappearing in June this year. Phillips was working on a book on sustainable development called How to Save the Amazon, and Pereira was helping him with interviews. The investigation into their murders continues.

What is an environmental defender?

The term environmental defenders can include anyone involved in the protection of land, forests, water and other natural resources.

Environmental defenders can be community activists, indigenous peoples, lawyers, journalists, or non-governmental organization (NGO) staff. They are not defined by job title or political identity, but by their struggles to protect the environment or land rights. Many are part of collective struggles: they do not act alone.


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