Navajo activist Leroy Jackson had been fighting against the mining and logging corporations who had wanted to exploit the resources from America’s largest Indian reservation. On October 9, 1993, Jackson was found dead under suspicious circumstances.
Today, the shocking number of environmentalists who are murdered, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, continues to rise.
Global Witness, the human rights group, reported that at least 908 environmental activists worldwide were murdered between 2002 and 2013 in retaliation for their work. According to the London-based NGO, only 10 of the killers were convicted.
In 2014, 116 environmental activists worldwide were killed, 20% more than the previous year.
40% of these 116 murdered activists belonged to indigenous communities.
The reason why so many of these environmental activists are indigenous is because corporations have been fighting to gain control of tribal lands and their rich natural resources.
However, as The Guardian reported, “indigenous peoples have an intuitive relationship with nature, a wealth of traditional knowledge, and have used natural resource management practices for centuries to preserve their lands.” Because of this, many tribe members have protested corporate activity on their lands.
“We aren’t going to give up the struggle to keep our natural resources clean and in the hands of the community,” a member of the indigenous Tolupán group from Locomapa told Global Witness. “There are those who want easy money by tearing up the land, contaminating the water. We have been here respecting the earth that gives us our food and we intend to stay here fighting for our right to feed ourselves.”
Unfortunately, numerous environmentalists and protesters have been and continue to be met with violence. According to the BBC, fourteen people died in the past year defending their land and rivers by protesting against dam projects. Four Peruvian tribal leaders were also murdered while on their way to a meeting to discuss ways to cease illegal logging. And, as Global Witness reported, 15 activists were killed in the Philippines last year, 9 of which were indigenous peoples.
These are only some examples of the violent acts against activists around the world.
Although activists have been met with violent opposition, the fight to protect the environment continues. Berta Caceres, the General Coordinator of the Indigenous Lenca organization COPINH, has been a major figure in the defense of human rights and environmentalism in Honduras. She too has faced danger because of her work. The BBC reported, “Berta Caceres, an indigenous Lenca woman… had received numerous death threats because of her opposition to a dam that would force her community off their ancestral land.”
Nonetheless, Caceres continues to raise awareness about both the environment and the horrendous violence that activists face worldwide. After winning the Goldman Environmentalist Prize, Caceres told The Guardian that she hoped her achievement would “give higher visibility to the violence of plunder, to the conflict, and also to the denunciations and resistance.”
It is urgent that this issue of violence against environmentalists be addressed. People should be able to peacefully protest without fear of being attacked or killed. These protesters have every right to fight to protect their land, and the governments need to take a stand against their attackers.
To read the Global Witness’ full report of the murders of activists worldwide, please visit globalwitness.org.