Latin America worst region for environment defenders — NGO

The environmental crime watchdog said at least 177 land defenders were killed worldwide last year. One in five of them were murdered in the Amazon rainforest

Indigenous people have been murdered in the Amazon as illegal mining encroaches on their land (photo: ALAN CHAVES/AFP via Getty Images)
Indigenous people have been murdered in the Amazon as illegal mining encroaches on their land (photo: ALAN CHAVES/AFP via Getty Images)


Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world for environmental defenders, according to a new report released by the Global Witness NGO on Wednesday.

The environmental crime watchdog said at least 177 land defenders were killed worldwide last year. One in five of them were murdered in the Amazon rainforest.

The countries where the most environmental defenders were killed were Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Honduras.

Very few perpetrators are brought to justice, which has created a climate of impunity.

"For too long, those responsible for lethal attacks against defenders have been getting away with murder," said Shruti Suresh from Global Witness.

Murders increase in Colombia

Colombia was found to be the deadliest country on the list with 60 land defenders murdered in the past year — accounting for a third of such killings worldwide.

"Once again, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, small-scale farmers and environmental activists have been viciously targeted," the report read.

Since coming to power in August last year, leftist President Gustavo Petro pledged to put an end to such violence.

His government signed on to the Escazu agreement in October 2022 which includes protections for environmentalists.

But despite this, the number of murdered land defenders in Colombia is almost double the figure reported in 2021.

At least 382 defenders have been killed in the country since Global Witness began documenting deaths in 2012. Colombia is also the country with the highest number of reported killings globally over this period.

Dozens of killings last year also occurred in Brazil and Mexico, with 14 land defenders also having been murdered in Honduras in 2022.

Indigenous groups under attack

The report is a reminder that Indigenous communities are disproportionately targeted by lethal attacks, often related to illegal mining, logging and fishing encroaching on their land.

Around 34% of murdered land defenders last year were Indigenous, despite making up around 5% of the world's population.

"Research has shown again and again that Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of the forests and therefore play a fundamental role in mitigating the climate crisis," said Laura Furones, a researcher on land defenders at Global Witness.

"Yet they are under siege in countries like Brazil, Peru and Venezuela for doing precisely that. We hear of new attacks every day, and our report highlights some of those stories."

The murder of Indigenous peoples expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips in the Amazon last year brought global attention to the threat faced by rainforest communities every day. 

A worldwide problem

Outside of Latin America, the Philippines was the most dangerous country for environmental defenders after 11 people were reported murdered in the last year.

Other countries where environmental defenders have been killed recently include India, Indonesia, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Global Witness said many murders go unreported, often due to a lack of independent monitoring in many countries and restrictions on press freedom.

The NGO said it therefore cannot capture the full scale of the problem, while governments around the world also fail to investigate these incidents.

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