Last year, at least 177 land and environmental defenders were killed worldwide, bringing the total number of defenders killed between 2012 and 2022 to 1,910, according to a new report from Global Witness.
Almost 90% of the recorded murders in 2022 occurred in Latin America, with over a third of the deadly attacks taking place in Colombia, making it the deadliest country for defenders. In the Amazon rainforest alone, one-fifth of all defender murders worldwide occurred last year. Violence, torture, and threats have become a harsh reality for communities in the region.
In addition to the deadly attacks, defenders are increasingly being criminalized, using laws to silence those who raise their voices. Global Witness urgently calls on governments worldwide to implement enhanced protection measures for defenders and recognize their role in the fight against the climate emergency.
At least 177 land and environmental defenders were killed last year for trying to protect the planet, which is equivalent to one person every two days, according to a new report released today by Global Witness in collaboration with our global partners.
These new figures bring the total number of defenders killed between 2012 and 2022 to 1,910. These findings come just months before the global governments’ meeting for COP28 in November in the United Arab Emirates, where they will assess progress in implementing the historic Paris Agreement reached in 2015.
Global Witness’ new report highlights the crucial role defenders play in advocating for climate justice and emphasizes the murders of at least 1,390 defenders between December 12, 2015, when the historic climate agreement was adopted, and December 31, 2022. Colombia has emerged as the deadliest country, reporting a total of 60 deaths last year, accounting for over a third of all murders worldwide.
Despite ratifying a key legally binding regional agreement in October 2022, requiring the government to prevent and investigate attacks against defenders, the number of recorded murders nearly doubled compared to 2021. Since Global Witness began documenting killings in 2012, at least 382 defenders have been killed in Colombia, making it the country with the highest reported number of murders in the world during this period.
The majority of the documented murders in 2022 occurred in Latin America, with 88% of the deadly attacks taking place there. Other neighboring countries with a high number of murders include Brazil (34 murders), Mexico (31 murders), and Honduras (14 murders). A total of 11 defenders were killed in the Philippines. The report also reveals, once again, that indigenous communities face an excessive level of deadly attacks, accounting for over a third (34%) of all murders worldwide last year, despite representing only about 5% of the global population. Despite repeated murders of defenders over the past 11 years, very few perpetrators are brought to justice as governments worldwide neglect to investigate these crimes, leading to impunity that fuels further attacks.
Shruti Suresh, Interim Co-Director of Campaigns at Global Witness, said, “For too long, those responsible for deadly attacks against defenders have gone unpunished. Violence, intimidation, and harassment are also used to silence defenders worldwide. Although threatened by irresponsible actions from companies and governments, this global movement of people united by their determination and commitment to defend their homes and communities resists and cannot be silenced.”
“We continue to honor the efforts of those who have lost their lives, dedicating our report to them, their families, and their communities. We will continue to work to amplify the voices of defenders who play a crucial role in the fight against climate change and the protection of our environment from exploitation.” “Global governments must urgently act in the face of the senseless killings of defenders of our planet and the protection of its most precious ecosystems, which play a vital role in addressing the climate emergency.
Joint actions are needed at regional, national, and international levels to end the violence and injustices they face. Too many lives have already been lost. We cannot afford to lose any more.” The Global Witness analysis reveals that the Amazon is one of the most dangerous places for defenders, with 39 murders occurring there last year, accounting for over one-fifth (22%) of all murders worldwide in the world’s largest tropical forest.
This includes the killings of Dom Phillips, a British journalist for The Guardian, and Bruno Pereira, an indigenous expert, who were both murdered by armed men while crossing indigenous territory in the Brazilian Amazon last June. In total, at least 296 defenders have been killed in the Amazon since 2014.
The report also examines the situation of indigenous communities in the rainforest, who are particularly threatened by gold mining and logging. It states that several companies from the UK, European Union, and United States have been implicated in human rights violations against these communities.
For example, gold illegally extracted from Kayapó lands ends up in the supply chains of the Italian refiner, Chimet, and gold mining company Serabi Gold*. Laura Furones, Senior Adviser for the Land and Environment Defenders campaign, said, “Research has repeatedly shown that indigenous peoples are the best protectors of forests and therefore play a fundamental role in mitigating the climate crisis.
Yet they are besieged in countries like Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela precisely for this reason. New attacks are reported to us every day, and our study documents some of them.” “Over 100 countries committed to ending deforestation by 2030 by signing the Glasgow Declaration at COP26 less than two years ago.
However, we now know that the loss of primary forests increased by 10% in 2022 compared to 2021. In other words, we are moving in the wrong direction and squandering precious time that we do not have. If we want to preserve forests, we must recognize that it starts with protecting their inhabitants.
Combating the intensification of the climate emergency and respecting human rights must go hand in hand.” According to the report, the new data on defender killings does not reflect the true scale of the problem.
The restriction of press freedom and lack of independent monitoring in many countries, particularly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, result in underreporting of murders.
Moreover, the analysis highlights that defenders are increasingly being silenced through other forms, including criminalization. Legal frameworks that are meant to protect them are instead being used against them, with a worrying pattern of emerging cases worldwide.