LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly four people were murdered each week last year while defending their homes, lands and forests from mining, dams and agricultural projects, a campaign group said Thursday, making it the deadliest year on record.
At least 200 people were killed in 2016, up about 10 percent from 185 in 2015, according to human rights watchdog Global Witness.
In its annual report, the UK-based campaign group said the phenomenon of violence against land rights activists is not only growing but spreading, with murders recorded in 24 countries, compared to 16 nations last year.
Global Witness noted that while Brazil remains the deadliest country in terms of sheer numbers, Nicaragua has overtaken Honduras as the most dangerous place for activists per capita.
“This tide of violence is driven by an intensifying fight for land and natural resources, as mining, logging, hydro-electric and agricultural companies trample on people and the environment in their pursuit of profit,” the report said.
Nearly 60 percent of all killings occurred in Latin America. Brazil fared worse with 49 deaths followed by Colombia with 37 activists murdered, Honduras 14 and Nicaragua 11. In the Philippines, 28 activists died defending their lands.
The report also noted a spike in killings in India which it attributed to increased police repression of peaceful protest and civic activism.
The report found 33 murders were linked to mining - the bloodiest industry - while logging and defending national parks has become riskier with a rise in deaths to 23 from 15.
Global Witness highlighted the vulnerability of park rangers, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo where nine were killed last year.
While almost 40 percent of those murdered were indigenous, the report said, the wave of violence is not confined solely to developing nations.
“Developed countries are ramping up other methods to suppress activists, notably in the United States, where environmental defenders are being given every reason to protest by the Trump administration,” the report said.
“It is increasingly clear that globally, governments and companies are failing in their duty to protect activists at risk. They are permitting a level of impunity that allows the vast majority of perpetrators to walk free, emboldening would-be assassins.”