Since the start of 2015, 132 land and environmental defenders have died in Brazil: the highest number on Earth. Many of the killings were of people trying to combat illegal logging in the Amazon. The Philippines comes second on the list, with 75 deaths in all. Honduras remains the most dangerous country to be a defender, with more killings per capita than anywhere else.
The death toll has risen in recent years, and researchers warn the upward trend is likely to continue if governments and businesses fail to act. The most violent full year recorded so far was 2016, when 201 defenders were killed.
What’s driving this violence?
The short answer is: industry. The most deadly industry to go up against was mining, with 33 deaths last year relating to anti-mining activities. Agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging were also key drivers of violence, Global Witness found. Many of the killings recorded occurred in remote villages deep within mountain ranges and rain forests, with indigenous communities hardest hit.
Recently, six farmers have been shot dead by a criminal gang who wanted to seize their farms to muscle in on the lucrative palm oil trade, according to indigenous Amazon leaders in Peru.
Local leaders in the central Amazon region of Ucayali say the victims were targeted last Friday because they had refused to give up their land.
Observers fear the emergence of palm oil will fuel a new surge in land grabbing, violence and deforestation. Yet the Peruvian government is promoting expansion, claiming its cultivation will not threaten forests.
In another part of the world, Wayne Lotter, 51, was shot in the Masaki district of the city of Dar es Salaam. The wildlife conservationist was being driven from the airport to his hotel when his taxi was stopped by another vehicle. Two men, one armed with a gun opened his car door and shot him.
Lotter was a director and co-founder of the PAMS Foundation, an NGO that provides conservation and anti-poaching support to communities and governments in Africa. Since starting the organisation in Tanzania in 2009, he had received numerous death threats relating to his work.
The PAMS Foundation funded and supported Tanzania’s elite anti-poaching National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) which was responsible for arrests of major ivory traffickers including Yang Feng Glan, the so-called “Queen of Ivory” and several other notorious elephant poachers. Since 2012, the unit has arrested more than 2,000 poachers and ivory traffickers and has a conviction rate of 80%. The NTSCIU was recently featured in the Netflix documentary The Ivory Game. In a previous interview, Lotter said he believed its work had helped to reduce poaching rates in Tanzania by at least 50%.
And with the anti-environment policies of the Trump administration, don’t expect support for increased protections for environmentalists.