More than three-quarters of the world’s killings of environmental activists took place in Latin America last year, an annual review by watchdog Global Witness showed on Thursday.
The group said a total of 200 land and environmental defenders – who they named individually – were killed in 2021, up from a record 227 in 2020.
These killings came “in the context of a broader spectrum of threats against defenders who are being pursued by governments, corporations and other non-state actors with violence, intimidation, smear campaigns and criminalization,” the London-based group said.
“More than three-quarters of recorded attacks took place in Latin America,” said Global Witness, which has been issuing such reports since 2012.
It maintains a database of the killings based on reviews of “reliable sources of publicly available online information,” the report said.
Mexico had the highest recorded number of homicides at 54 in 2021, Global Witness found. That number was up from 30 the previous year, and more than 40 percent of the victims were tribal peoples, it said.
Global Witness reported that there were also heavy Latin American casualties in Colombia with 33 killings, Brazil with 26 and Nicaragua with 15.
While most of the killings could not be linked to a specific industry, the report identified 27 cases linked to the mining and extractive industries.
– “We feel abandoned” –
Among the Mexican victims identified by Global Witness was Jose Santos Isaac Chavez, an indigenous leader and lawyer in Ayotitlan, Jalisco state, who opposed the local Pena Colorada mine.
Chavez was assassinated in April last year.
“He was found dead in his car, which had been driven off a cliff. His body showed signs of torture,” Global Witness said.
No one has been brought to justice for these and other murders linked to mine opponents, she added.
“The mines are destroying and polluting the environment,” said Ayotitlan community activist Jose Santos Rosales, whose 17-year-old son Rogelio Rosales Ramos was murdered in 2020.
“I urge the authorities to do justice and punish those responsible,” Rosales, whose brother also disappeared in 1993, told AFP by phone.
“We feel left to our fate” because criminals, when confronted with criticism of the mine, “send someone to murder,” he added.
Global Witness said that “impunity remains rife in Mexico,” with more than 94 percent of such crimes going unreported and just 0.9 percent solved.
It called for urgent action to hold companies and governments accountable for actions against land and environmental defenders “who are often on the front lines of the climate crisis.”
Among the measures said governments should require companies to conduct due diligence on human rights and environmental risks and ensure an enforceable legal environment that protects land defenders.