LONDON (Reuters) - At least one person is being killed in an environmental dispute around the world each week as the battle for land, natural resources and forests becomes increasingly violent, a report said on Tuesday.
Global Witness, a human rights group focused on the exploitation of natural resources, said at least 106 people were killed in 2011 alone, nearly twice the death toll in 2009, in targeted attacks and clashes in resource-rich countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Peru.
A total of 711 people were killed from 2002 to 2011 in such disputes, or more than one a week, it added, saying a culture of impunity pervaded which meant few convictions were made.
“It is a well-known paradox that many of the world’s poorest countries are home to the resources that drive the global economy,” the report said. “Now, as the race to secure access to these resources intensifies, it is poor people and activists who increasingly find themselves in the firing line.”
Natural resources deals were often agreed in secret between officials, political elites and companies, the report said, leaving people who lived off the land or forests affected without any rights or say in the process.
Those who did try to speak out were often punished with violence, forced evictions or killings.
“Killings took a variety of forms - including clashes between communities and state security forces, disappearances followed by confirmed deaths, deaths in custody, or one-off or multiple targeted assassinations,” the report said.
The countries with the highest numbers of reported killings were Brazil, Peru, Colombia and the Philippines, where more than one murder per week took place, Global Witness said.
“Global Witness believes that these trends are symptomatic of the increasingly fierce competition for resources, and the brutality and injustice that come with it,” it added.
“Land and forests are used for a range of purposes including intensive agriculture, mining, plantations, logging operations, urban expansion or hydropower projects.”
In one case described in the report, Eliezer “Boy” Billanes, a community leader in the Philippines who campaigned against a new copper and gold mining project, was shot dead by two unidentified men riding a motorcycle whilst buying a newspaper.
His killing, in 2009, took place a few weeks after he reported being threatened by military forces in the area.
In another case - in April of this year - Chut Wutty, a Cambodian environmental activist, was shot dead by members of the Cambodian Military Police while carrying out field research into illegal logging and land seizures.
Global Witness said a government inquiry into his death was opened and closed within three days. It failed to address how or why he was killed, while banning anyone else from investigating the sell-off of the country’s natural resources, the report said.
“If this problem is not addressed urgently, it is likely to get worse, particularly as we can expect more investments in countries with weak rule of law and land tenure rights,” Global Witness said. “This will mean more violent conflict over investment projects and disputes over land ownership, with potentially tragic consequences.”
Reporting By Maria Golovnina; Editing by Andrew Osborn