Environmental activism is an increasingly dangerous vocation, with a high risk of criminalization, incarceration, and extreme—sometimes fatal—violence, especially for Indigenous activists. Now, a recent comprehensive study from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona is revealing the depth of both the danger, and the imbalance in who faces it.
Adán Vez Lira of Mexico, Berta Cáceres of Honduras, and Chut Wutty of Cambodia were all renowned environmental activists, writes Grist. And all were murdered by interests determined to silence champions of the natural world.
Using data from the Environmental Justice Atlas, which the university launched in 2011 to monitor social conflicts related to the environment, an international group of political ecologists analyzed almost 2,800 cases. They found that “20% of environmental defenders faced criminal charges or were imprisoned, 18% were victims of physical violence, and 13% were killed between 2011 and 2019,” reports Grist. Indigenous defenders paid an even steeper price: “27% faced criminalization, 25% were victims of physical violence, and 19% were murdered.” The study, recently published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also “draws on last year’s report from the human rights and environmental watchdog organization Global Witness, which found that at least 164 environmental activists were killed in 2018 alone.”
The report’s authors hopes that recognizing the imbalance can be a first step to addressing it. “Being aware of these connections may help to connect struggles against various forms of racism worldwide,” said lead author Arnim Scheidel. “Protest is key for the success of such struggles, particularly when using diverse channels and building on broad alliances.”