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The danger of defending the earth and nature

26 September, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

The non-governmental organization Global Witness based in London, has presented in September 2023 its Report “Standing firm. The land and environmental defenders on the frontlines of the climate crisis”.

As it has been doing for years, GW reports on attacks on human rights defenders around the world and this time, it focuses on land and environmental defenders.

Since 2012, GW has recorded 1,910 murders, with 70%, 1,335 murders, occurring in Latin America. In addition, the organization recorded that, of the 1,910 murders, 1,390 took place between the approval of the Paris Agreement on December 12, 2015 and December 31, 2022.

With the methodological precision that the figures presented in the report should be considered only as a partial picture of the magnitude of the aggressions and murders that occurred against defenders of lands, territories, and the environment around the world in the year 2022. Cases were identified in only 18 countries in 2022, but there are multiple reasons to assume that in many other places, these situations also occur.

On average, one defender was killed every two days in 2022, a figure like that recorded in 2021.

The worsening climate crisis and the ever-increasing demand for agricultural products, fuels and minerals only intensify the pressure on the environment – and on those who risk their lives to defend it.

The situation in Latin America remains particularly serious since it is in it that 88% of the murders out of a total of 177 were documented; eleven of the eighteen countries documented belong to the region.

Honduras, with 14 murders, has the highest per capita average in the world. Although President Xiomara Castro recognizes the problem and has pledged to protect the defenders, the year 2023 continued with widespread violence with reports of murders and attacks throughout the country.

For example, in the early morning of September 19, 2023, armed individuals entered the community of Vallecito, Colón, with the aim of attempting against the life of Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH).

The Working Group CLACSO Civilizational Crisis, reconfigurations of racism, Afro-Latin American social movements, has issued a statement stating that “…this attack is not an isolated event, but is part of a plan of genocide and extermination that has been affecting the Garifuna people for too long. From threats and assassinations to enforced disappearances, the Garifuna people have faced a series of unacceptable aggressions that have only served to increase the levels of impunity and racism they face”[1]

The country where the most murders against land and environmental defenders have been recorded is Colombia. In 2022, 60 cases were documented, which is almost double the 33 cases in 2021. Also in Colombia, the president has recognized the serious problem and since taking over the government in August 2022 has initiated actions to confront it.

Overall, more than a third (36%) of the defenders killed were indigenous peoples and 7% were of African descent. More than a fifth (22%) were small farmers. They all depended on their lands and natural resources to earn a living.

Let us recall that, at the time, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), stated that “Indigenous peoples must be part of the solution to climate change. This is because you have the traditional knowledge of your ancestors. The important value of such knowledge simply cannot (and should not) be underestimated. You are also essential to find solutions today and in the future. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change recognizes this. It recognizes their role in building a world that is resilient in the face of climate impacts.”

As Vandana Shiva expressed, in the preface of the previous year’s GW report, these defenders of the earth and nature are the ones who understand, at the deepest level, how the fate of humanity is intertwined with the fate of the natural places they defend. That is why they are willing to risk everything to defend them and therefore, more than anyone, they deserve protection.

However, the data in this report, and the daily news, seem to indicate that states, companies, and society in general as a whole, either do not become aware of it or fail to implement actions that really protect them.

[1] https://www.clacso.org/repudio-y-solidaridad-con-miriam-miranda-y-el-pueblo-garifuna/