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Killing Nature's Defenders: Study Finds Global Surge in Murders of Environmental Activists

Since 2004, the killing of environmental and land rights activists worldwide has tripled.
 
 
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A new reports finds the killings of environmental and land rights activists worldwide has tripled over the past decade. The group Global Witness documented 147 activists who were killed in 2012, compared to 51 in 2002. The death rate is now an average of two per week. Almost none of the killers have faced charges. We air interviews with some of the late activists featured in the report, including José da Silva, a Brazilian conservationist and environmentalist who campaigned against logging and clearcutting of trees in the Amazon rainforest. In 2011, José and his wife, Maria, were murdered by masked gunmen. "This could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the scale of the real problem," says Global Witness campaigner Oliver Courtney, who says details about the murders were nearly impossible to locate.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

Amy Goodman: A new report says the killings of environmental activists defending land rights worldwide has surged over the past decade. The group Global Witness documented 147 activists who were killed in 2012, compared to 51 in 2002. The death rate is now an average of two per week. Brazil was the world’s deadliest country for environmental defenders, with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013. Honduras was second with 109 deaths over that same, well, little bit more than a decade.

One of the activists featured in the report is José da Silva, a Brazilian conservationist and environmentalist who campaigned against logging and clearcutting of trees in the Amazon rainforest. In 2011, José and his wife Maria were murdered by masked gunmen. José’s ear was ripped out as proof of execution. Before his execution, José da Silva described the difficulties he and other environmentalists face.

José da Silva: [translated] It’s a very uneven fight between us environmentalists and the buying power of money. We fight for everything, then someone shows up and throws his money on top of the misery of someone who lives there, and they entice the guy to start destroying the forest. I’m protecting nature, because I live in the middle of it and won’t sell it.

AG: That was José da Silva, a Brazilian environmentalist who was murdered in 2011 by masked gunmen. In 2012, the United Nations posthumously recognized José and his wife Maria as forest heroes.

For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Oliver Courtney, senior campaigner with Global Witness and the lead author of their new report, "Deadly Environment: The [Dramatic] Rise [in] Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders."

Oliver Courtney, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what you have found.

Oliver Courtney: Well, as you’ve said, we found a sharp rise in the number of people getting killed defending their rights to land and the environment, people like José da Silva and his wife. And what we found is, and what’s the most — perhaps the most worrying, is we really feel that this could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the scale of the real problem. Information about what’s happening to activists, like we just saw, is very hard to come by and even harder to verify. On the back of that, there seems to be an enormous level of impunity attached to — attached to this problem. So whilst the vast majority of killings, there’s almost nothing known about the perpetrator and who was behind it. And we’ve seen just 1 percent of cases, in our analysis, has seen a conviction, so the person has actually been brought to justice. We think that this kind of level of impunity obviously has a knock-on effect in terms of silencing further dissent. And those who would protect the environment are being killed in ever greater numbers, when really they should be being protected as heroes.