A view of the Anavilhanas Islands, formed by the Amazonas River in Brazil, where heavy deforestation has taken place over the years. Since then, Brazil has become the deadliest country in the world for environmental activists, a new report said Tuesday. File Photo by Marcelo Sayao/EPA
July 24 (UPI) -- At least 207 land and environmental activists around the world were killed in 2017, making it the deadliest year on record, British organization Global Witness said in a report Tuesday.
The report, At What Cost?, shows the rise in killings has been linked to an increased demand for consumer products like palm oil and coffee.
A growing number of attacks are carried out against people who refuse to give up their land to grow these products, Global Witness said. But demand in other industries, such as mining, also result in killings against indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists trying to protect their land.
"Local activists are being murdered as governments and businesses value quick profit over human life," said Ben Leather, a senior campaigner at Global Witness. "Many of the products emerging from this bloodshed are on the shelves of our supermarkets. Yet as brave communities stand up to corrupt officials, destructive industries and environmental devastation, they are being brutally silenced. Enough is enough."
Latin America accounted for about 60 percent of the killings. The deadliest country for land activists was Brazil, where 57 died last year. Mexico and Peru saw dramatic increases in killings, from 3 to 15 and 2 to 8, respectively. And Nicaragua, with a population of 6 million people, saw 4 homicides of land activists, making it the deadliest country per capita.
John Knox, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, told Al Jazeera Latin America's population and corruption make it dangerous ground for environmental activists.
"You see indigenous peoples who are still directly dependent on natural resources in forests or sometimes fisheries who are already discriminated against or marginalized," he said. "When conflicts between the companies and governments that want to profit from natural resources and the people who depend upon them occur in countries or regions that have a weak rule of law, then they are much more likely to result in violence and killing."
The Philippines was the deadliest country in Asia and second-deadliest in the world. Culprits vary, with criminal gangs blamed for at least 90 deaths last year, and government forces for at least 53.
The deadliest industry was agribusiness, in which 46 land activists were killed. At least 40 were killed in the mining sector and 23 in the logging industry.
Data limits means the numbers of those killed could be much higher. It also doesn't include people attacked in other ways, including death threats, arrests, intimidation, cyber-attacks, sexual assault and lawsuits, the organization said.
"The appalling stories of women threatened with rape, homes burnt down, and families attacked with machetes are shocking at an individual level," said writer and environmental activist Margaret Atwood, a supporter of Global Witness. "Collectively, they show an epidemic of violence visited upon defenders of the earth. This violation of human rights calls for vigorous protest."