Killings and threats against land rights defenders soar in 2017 - rights group

Umberto Bacchi, Reuters

Posted at Feb 07 2018 06:43 AM

LONDON - More than 120 activists campaigning to protect their land, environment and labor rights from business interests were killed last year - an almost 50 percent increase on 2016, a rights group said on Tuesday.

The London-based Business & Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC) said it documented 388 attacks on campaigners in 2017, including beatings, threats, lawsuits and arbitrary detentions, up 34 percent from the previous year.

The rise was partially due increased global attention, which led to more incidents being reported and documented, and came as rights group were coming under growing pressure worldwide, said BHRRC's spokeswoman Ana Zbona.

Charities in dozens of countries, from Angola to India and Tajikistan, have faced restrictions targeting their funding and operations over the past 2 years, according to an EU report .

"We are seeing attacks on activists and civic freedoms in general increasing around the world," Zbona told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and the Philippines were the most dangerous countries for activists confronting corporate interests, accounting for 212 of all incidents, BHRRC said.

Victims, including the 127 killed, were activists, trade union representatives, indigenous leaders, journalists and lawyers - mostly involved in land rights campaigns opposing mines, plantations and power plants.

Mining and agriculture remained the most affected sectors but attacks related to renewable energy projects, like dams and wind farms, were rising fast, fueled by growing investments in clean energy, the group said.

Zbona said big companies were sometimes unaware of conflicts in their supply chain - which carried potential risks such as high legal costs and damage to reputation – and could only gain by engaging with rights defenders on the ground.

"Responsible companies should see defenders and civil society as partners in identifying risks and problems in their supply chains," she said.

Frontline Defenders, another campaign group, said last month at least 312 activists were killed in 2017, up 11 percent from the previous year.