Indigenous communities hardest hit as killings of environmentalists rise dramatically

Indigenous communities hardest hit as killings of environmentalists rise dramatically

The Philippines leads countries in Asia with the highest number of people killed as they defend their land and protect the environment in the face of increased competition over natural resources, says a new report from the London-based Global Witness group which reports on links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses.

Killings worldwide have risen by 20 percent in the last year on disputes over hydropower projects, mining, agribusiness and logging -- the key drivers of deaths where a shocking 40 percent of victims were indigenous peoples.

In the Philippines alone, from 2002-2014, the report entitled, “How Many More?” finds that 82 people were killed.

The report noted that in 2014 alone, 116 cases of killings in 17 countries were recorded in Central and South America and Southeast Asia, with Brazil as the worst-hit with 29 people killed, followed by Colombia with 25, the Philippines with 15 and Honduras with 12.

At least 935 people were killed in 35 countries from 2002 to 2014, compared with 908 from last year's figure (2002 to 2013), stated the study released Monday (April 20) in Washington DC at the announcement of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winners. The prize is the world’s largest award for grassroots environmentalists who protect the natural environment.

“More and more people are being killed protecting rights to land and the environment. This is happening because soaring demand for resources is cranking up pressure on the environment, and on the people most reliant on it,” Billy Kytes, a campaigner at Global Witness, told the InterAksyon.com. “It’s going unnoticed, and largely unpunished, because governments are failing to protect their citizens from harm.”

The Philippines was again the most dangerous place in Asia to be an environmental activist with 15 deaths, Kytes said citing the report. About 9 of these were indigenous peoples.

Many of the killings in the Philippines took place in the context of opposition to mining projects. Paramilitary groups were the suspected perpetrators in many of the deaths.  The legacy of wider armed conflicts continued to endanger the lives of land defenders and limit their protection by the state.

As well as killings, environmental and land defenders suffer acutely from threats and physical violence, criminalization and restrictions on their freedoms.

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