More than three-quarters of the world’s murders of environmental activists took place in Latin America last year, an annual review by watchdog Global Witness showed on Thursday.
The group said a total of 200 land and environmental defenders — whom it named individually — were killed in 2021, down from a record 227 in 2020.
These killings came “in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders who are being targeted by government, business and other non-state actors with violence, intimidation, smear campaigns and criminalization,” the London-based group said.
“Over three-quarters of the attacks recorded took place in Latin America,” said Global Witness, which has issued such reports since 2012.
It maintains a database of the killings based on reviews of “reliable sources of publicly available online information,” the report said.
Mexico had the highest recorded number of killings at 54 in 2021, Global Witness found. That figure was up from 30 the previous year, and more than 40 percent of the victims were Indigenous people, it said.
Global Witness reported that heavy Latin American tolls also occurred in Colombia, with 33 killings, Brazil where there were 26 and Nicaragua, which had 15.
While in most cases the killings could not be connected to a specific industry, the report identified 27 tied to mining and extractive industries.
Among the Mexican victims identified by Global Witness was Jose Santos Isaac Chavez , an Indigenous leader and lawyer in Ayotitlan in Jalisco state who opposed the local Pena Colorada mine.
Chavez was murdered in April last year.
“He was found dead in his car, which had been driven off a cliff. His body showed evidence of torture,” Global Witness said.
No one has been brought to justice for this and other killings linked to opponents of the mine, it added.
“The mines destroy and pollute the environment,” said Ayotitlan community activist Jose Santos Rosales, whose 17-year-old son Rogelio Rosales Ramos was murdered in 2020.
“I ask the authorities for justice and to punish those responsible,” Rosales, whose brother also disappeared in 1993, told AFP by telephone.
“We feel abandoned to our fate” because criminals, when faced with any criticism about the mine, “send someone to murder,” he added.
Global Witness said that “impunity remains rife” in Mexico, with more than 94 percent of such crimes not reported and only 0.9 percent resolved.
It called for urgent actions to hold companies and governments accountable for actions against land and environmental defenders, “who are often standing on the front line of the climate crisis.”
Among the measures, it said governments should require companies to carry out due diligence on human rights and environmental risks, and must ensure an enforceable legal environment that protects land defenders.