A Rising Tide of Violence Against Environmental Activists : Short Wave (Encore episode.) Global Witness documented that 212 environmental and land activists were murdered in 2019. Over half of those documented murders took place in Colombia and the Philippines, countries where intensive mining and agribusiness has transformed the environment. NPR Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong speaks with three activists about the intersection between natural resource extraction and violence, and what keeps them going in their work.

A Rising Tide of Violence Against Environmental Activists

A Rising Tide of Violence Against Environmental Activists

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/986451622/986456071" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Environmental activist Francia Márquez takes part in a march in August 2020 in Colombia, demanding justice for the murder of five Afro-Colombian teenagers. Márquez herself has faced violent threats and attempts on her life. AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
AFP via Getty Images

Environmental activist Francia Márquez takes part in a march in August 2020 in Colombia, demanding justice for the murder of five Afro-Colombian teenagers. Márquez herself has faced violent threats and attempts on her life.

AFP via Getty Images

(Encore episode.) In many countries around the world, it is increasingly dangerous to be a grassroots environmental activist.

A 2020 report from Global Witness, an international human rights group, documented that 212 environmental and land activists were murdered in 2019. Over half of those murders took place in Colombia and the Philippines, countries where intensive mining and agribusiness have transformed the environment. Both countries also face the intensifying impacts of climate change.

The activists most at-risk are those with close connections to the land: subsistence farmers, tribal leaders, lawyers, and organizers, who speak out against environmental and human rights abuses. The United Nations calls these individuals "environmental defenders."

In the last 20 years, Global Witness has recorded a surge in the number of murders and attacks on environmental activists, in addition to discriminatory laws and practices that criminalize environmental activism, or intimidate those who speak out.

Moreover, these murders disproportionately impact indigenous communities. In Colombia, indigenous groups account for 4.4% of the population — yet half of the documented killings in 2019 targeted an indigenous Colombian.

Colombia and the Philippines have distinct political histories and armed actors driving this violence, but the relationship between violence and industry is worrisome.

"When people who depend on land or natural resources or on forest are displaced or are threatened by large projects, such as mining or plantations, this is a driver for conflict," said Jaybee Garganera, an anti-mining activist in the Philippines.

Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong speaks with three activists about the intersection between natural resource extraction and violence, and what keeps them going in their work.

  • Jaybee Gargarnera, the National Coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) in the Philippines

More resources:

This episode was produced by Brit Hanson, fact-checked by Ariela Zebede and edited by Viet Le.