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200 environmental activists killed worldwide last year, says Global Witness report

SOME 200 environmental and land defence activists were killed around the world last year, including 54 in Mexico, which became the deadliest country in the annual report by Global Witness.

More than three-quarters of the killings took place in Latin America, with double-digit death tolls in Colombia, Brazil and Nicaragua.

It was the third consecutive year of increases for Mexico and a jump from 30 such activists killed in 2020.

“Most of these crimes happen in places that are far away from power and are inflicted on those with, in many ways, the least amount of power,” the report, published on Wednesday, said.

Global Witness warned: “Our data on killings is likely to be an underestimate, given that many murders go unreported, particularly in rural areas and in particular countries.”

The victims died fighting resource exploitation and in land disputes. Conflicts over mining were tied to 27 deaths worldwide, the most for any sector.

Fifteen of those mining-related killings were in Mexico.

In the western Mexican state of Jalisco, local politician Jose Santos Isaac Chavez was killed in April 2021. He had made opposition to a long-running mine a central part of an election campaign.

Days before the vote, he was found dead in his car, which had been driven off a cliff, and his body showed evidence of torture. Armed men had dragged him out of his home and driven him away in his own vehicle.

The same month, Sandra Liliana Pena Chocue, an indigenous governor in south-western Colombia who had fought for the eradication of coca crops in Caldono, a town in Cauca county, was killed near her home by armed men.

Overall, killings of environmental activists in Colombia dropped in 2021 to 33 from 65 the year before. The Philippines saw fewer such killings too, 19 compared with 30 in 2020.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, all eight recorded victims were killed in the Virunga national park in the east of the country.

The park is home to some of the world’s last mountain gorillas, but armed groups frequently vie for control of the area’s natural resources.

Global Witness called on governments to enforce laws that protect activists and require informed consent from indigenous groups, while also holding companies accountable throughout their global operations and showing zero tolerance of attacks on land defenders.

“Activists and communities play a crucial role as a first line of defence against ecological collapse, as well as being frontrunners in the campaign to prevent it,” Global Witness chief executive Mike Davis said in the report.

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