Story at a glance

  • More than half of those killed were from mining-affected communities in Latin America.
  • Colombia and the Philippines made up more than half of the 212 murders last year.
  • The report highlights a rise in attacks against land and environmental defenders since 2018, when 164 murders were recorded.

A record number of environmental activists were murdered in 2019 while defending land and water resources from mining, agriculture and logging interests, according to a new report from NGO Global Witness. 

The annual report from the watchdog group said 212 environmental defenders were killed last year, a significant jump from the 164 reported in 2018, making 2019 the deadliest on record for people taking a stand against environmental and human rights abuses driven by the exploitation of natural resources. 


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“Agribusiness and oil, gas and mining have been consistently the biggest drivers of attacks against land and environmental defenders - and they are also the industries pushing us further into runaway climate change through deforestation and increasing carbon emissions,” Rachel Cox, campaigner at Global Witness, said in a statement.

“Many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Land and environmental defenders are the people who take a stand against this,” she said. 

The report notes the number of killings is likely much higher as cases often go undocumented, while countless others are silenced by violent attacks, arrests, death threats or lawsuits. 

Colombia and the Philippines made up more than half of the 212 people murdered last year, followed by Brazil, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Colombia saw 64 murders, the highest Global Witness has ever recorded in the country, while the Philippines recorded 43. The watchdog says the murder of community and social leaders in Colombia has risen dramatically in recent years. 

Mining was the deadliest sector with 50 people killed, followed by agribusiness. More than half of those killed last year were from mining-affected communities in Latin America, where more than two-thirds of the murders took place. The region has consistently been the worst affected since Global Witness began gathering such data in 2012. 

Shifts in local power dynamics following the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Farc have been cited as a driver of the increasing violence in rural areas. 

In 2019, 40 percent of defenders murdered were indigenous people standing up for their territories, despite the fact these communities represent 5 percent of the world population. The Amazon region itself had 33 deaths. 

In the Philippines, Manobo leader Datu Kaylo Bontolan was one of many indigenous people murdered last year after opposing illegal mining in ancestral lands, according to the report. 

The report also shows more than 1 in 10 environmental defenders killed last year were women. The NGO said women face specific threats, including sexual violence and smear campaigns to silence them. 

Published on Jul 29, 2020