Africa: An environmental defender is killed every two days worldwide

Africa: Over 2,000 Earth And Environmental Advocates Killed Between 2012 And 2022 For Protecting The Planet

A report published by the NGO Global Witness reveals that at least 177 environmental defenders were killed worldwide in 2022. Between 2012 and 2022, this number exceeded 1,900 murders. Latin America is by far the most affected region, with nearly nine out of ten deaths occurring there.

The figure of at least 177 environmental defenders assassinated in 2022 worldwide is slightly lower than the previous year’s total of 200 deaths. However, according to Global Witness, the organization behind this report, “the situation has not significantly improved.” The average rate of one activist killed every two days has remained constant, and Latin America remains the most hostile region toward environmental defenders.

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The data from Global Witness speaks for itself. In 2022, 88% of the deaths occurred in Latin America, with Colombia holding the unfortunate record for the highest number of killings of environmental activists: 60 people killed last year (double the number in 2021) and 382 recorded in the past 10 years. Laura Furones, the lead author of the NGO’s report, provides insight into this situation:

“Latin America is a region with very important and strong social movements. It is also a region rich in natural resources, producing a large part of the agricultural products for the rest of the world. Consequently, there is tremendous pressure on the land. The people living there witness how these natural resources are exploited. They feel somewhat compelled to defend the land and are attacked for their commitment and efforts.”

According to Global Witness’ senior adviser, “the agricultural sector is linked to most of the murders.” “But there is also a significant mining interest, poaching, or activities related to water usage. In essence, anything related to the utilization of natural resources for economic gain,” she adds.

“Defending the land in Colombia is a risky job”

Traditionally, Colombia has been one of the deadliest countries in the world for environmental defenders. President Gustavo Petro, who took office in August 2022, has pledged to reduce these acts of violence, but his actions are deemed insufficient by several local NGOs.

The Agence France Presse (AFP) interviewed Nadia Umana, a 35-year-old sociologist who is among the threatened activists in Colombia and has faced such violence: four of her fellow activists have already been assassinated. “Knowing that one of your comrades has been killed is a pain that words cannot describe,” she confided to AFP in Bogota.

Nadia Umana denounces “a systematic attack” against her organization for opposing paramilitaries and their illegal activities. “Defending the environment, defending nature, defending the land […] here in Colombia is a risky job,” she laments. Tired of the threats, the activist and her comrades now fight from a distance in the capital, in order to “avoid one more death.”

The figures in Africa may be underestimated

While Latin America is designated as the region where environmental defenders are most frequently killed, it is unfortunately possible that the figures regarding Africa are underestimated. “In Latin America, we have a strong civil society that provides information. We also have media outlets that document these cases, which does not exist in Africa,” explains Laura Furones, who believes that there may be more unreported cases in Africa.

According to the NGO’s study, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ranks 8th among countries with the highest number of killings of environmental defenders worldwide. Laura Furones highlights the deaths of two park rangers last year in Virunga National Park: “Between 2012 and 2022, at least 72 defenders were killed in the DRC, and most of these murders are linked to land conflicts or poaching and often occur within nature reserves.”

The author from Global Witness calls on governments and companies to better protect citizens and workers who are fighting to save their environment from destructive economic interests.

Amnesty International denounces abuses by mining companies in the DRC

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, multinational corporations are accused of engaging in forced evictions and threats to expand their mining activities. In a report presented on Tuesday, September 12, in Kinshasa, Amnesty International documents violations against local populations in cobalt and copper extraction sites in the southeast of the country. According to the NGO, the demand for these minerals, which are essential for the production of batteries for electric vehicles, is driving mining groups to expand their operations, resulting in numerous violations.

Instead of benefiting from the growth of the mining sector, says Jean-Mobert Senga, a researcher at Amnesty interviewed by Alexandra Brangeon from the Africa editorial team, some residents of the Kolwezi region are forced to leave their homes and farmlands. “For instance, there’s a company called Chemaf, based outside Kolwezi, which exploits copper and cobalt. This company obtained a lease for a mining concession that was partially occupied by a community. The company secured the eviction of this community, but the eviction took place in a very violent manner with the involvement of the Congolese army.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 members of the community suddenly found themselves homeless and with nowhere to go. While they were not landowners, this does not give the company or the state the right to forcibly evict them as they did. Sometimes, they weren’t even informed in advance; they suddenly saw state or mining company agents appear, drawing crosses on their houses or bringing in excavators to demolish their homes. Each member of the community received between 50 and 200 dollars, which is woefully insufficient to find a new home or field, etc. The expulsion itself is not illegal, but what is prohibited is expelling people without prior information about their rights, without consulting with them and assessing adequate compensation, and without paying appropriate compensation.”

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