One of five murders of land advocates is in the Amazon

Brazil is the second most lethal country for environmentalists

Published on 13/09/2023 - 13:51 By Carolina Pimentel - Brasília

One in five murders of land and environmental defenders across the planet recorded in 2022 took place in the Amazon. Altogether, 177 lives were lost worldwide—of which 39 (22%) were in the world’s largest continuous rainforest, located in South America.

The numbers can be found in a survey by NGO Global Witness, which for more than a decade has been denouncing the deaths of people dedicated to defending the environment and the land and the threats targeting them—including indigenous people, rangers, authorities, and journalists. For the first time, the organization counted attacks on environmentalists working in the biome.

Gabriella Bianchini, senior consultant at Global Witness, pointed out that the figures brings the Amazon under the spotlight as one of the most dangerous places for activists, with violence, torture and threats shared by communities across the region. The Amazon covers nearly 6.9 million square kilometers and encompasses a significant portion of eight countries in South America.

By standing up against agricultural pressure, deforestation, and illegal mining, she argued, these champions are intimidated and attacked.

“This frightening number is the translation of the absence of the state, i.e. the absence of public policies focused on the protection of defenders, the preservation of traditional territories, and the preservation of the environment, in addition to the demarcation of traditional territories and the impunity of companies and other agents involved in violations of the human rights of these advocates,” she told Agência Brasil.

Among the most emblematic cases of this violence was that of Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and UK journalist Dom Phillips. Champions of the forest and indigenous populations, the two were killed on June 5, 2022, victims of an ambush while traveling by boat through the Vale do Javari region, in Amazonas state.

Indigenous people

Indigenous people are among the most threatened. Over 36 percent of the activists murdered in the world in 2022 were of indigenous origin. Next are small farmers (22%) and people of African descent (7%). In the Amazon alone, 11 indigenous people were killed.

“Every year, the protectors of this invaluable biome pay with their lives for the protection of their homes, livelihoods, and the health of our planet,” she added.

The organization points to the efforts to expand the protection of activists in Latin America, the region with the highest number of murders, through the Escazú Regional Agreement, signed in April 2022, but most Amazon countries have yet to join.

Death toll

Brazil is the second most lethal country for environmental activists. Together with Colombia and Mexico, they account for more than 70 percent of cases worldwide, equivalent to 125 deaths.

In Brazil, 34 people were murdered last year, compared to 26 in 2021. Since 2012, the beginning of this time series, 376 defenders have lost their lives on Brazilian territory.

Colombia tops the world ranking, with 60 murders, almost double the number of deaths recorded in the country in 2021.

In the view of Global Witness, Brazil’s plight is worrying and has been made worse by the policies of the previous government. “Land defenders in Brazil have faced the relentless hostility of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, whose policies have opened up the Amazon to exploitation and destruction, dismantled environmental agencies, and fueled illegal invasions of indigenous lands,” Gabriella Bianchini argued.

Regarding the current government, the organizations hope the creation of new ministries, that of indigenous peoples, for instance, as well as the restructuring of regulatory agencies, can help protect those who defend the environment.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Marcelo Brandão

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