Over 75 percent of all environmentalists killed in 2014 were from either Central or South America, according to a new report, illustrating the high level of danger facing land activists and those threatening eco-trafficking interests across the region.
Latin American countries accounted for five out of the six most violent places to be an environmentalist in 2014, according to a new report by non-governmental organization Global Witness (pdf). Brazil ranked first with 29 reported killings of land defenders, and Colombia was second with 24.
However, the report noted Honduras registered the greatest number of murders of environmentalists per capita. Honduras ranked fourth in the world with 12 reported deaths, and was followed by Peru (9) and Guatemala (5).
Many of the perpetrators of violence against environmentalists “are unknown or they are agents of organized crime or commercial interests such as corporations or landowners,” the report states.
In total, 88 of the 116 reported killings worldwide last year occurred in Central and South America.
InSight Crime Analysis
For the past decade, Latin America has been the most dangerous region in the world to be an environmental activist. In Brazil, much of the violence is linked to territorial disputes in the Amazon. According to government statistics, illegal logging accounts for 80 percent of all logging activity in the Brazilian Amazon, and the scarce state presence means hired criminals can kill land defenders with near impunity. Last year, Global Witness reported just one percent of all murders of environmentalists from 2002 to 2013 resulted in a conviction.
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Peru’s lucrative illegal logging industry is also a principal cause for violence against environmentalists in the Andean nation. In 2014, authorities attributed the killing of a prominent indigenous land activist in the Peruvian Amazon to timber trafficking networks.
In Colombia, paramilitary and neo-paramilitary organizations, known as BACRIM (from the Spanish, “bandas criminals”) often act oppose the country’s land restitution process. In 2013, international watchdog Human Rights Watch labeled the BACRIM as the most serious threat to Colombia’s internally displaced population seeking to return to land that has been lost during the country’s armed conflict.
The majority of violence against environmentalists in Honduras is related to local communities who oppose the construction of hydroelectric dams, according to the Global Witness report. However, high rates of violence against land activists are likely a symptom of a wider problem: Honduras has one of the region’s highest homicide rates, and the country’s three major cities have a conviction rate of just one percent for all murder cases.