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Doubled the number of environmental activists killed in just two years, of which 40% are indigenous

Friday, 9 August 2019
Rosa M. Tristán

  • Research reveals more environmental defenders die than British and Australian soldiers in war zones: 1,500 in 15 years

  • Guatemala has fivefoldd the killings of leaders in just 12 months.

  • Alliance for Solidarity continues campaign for the release of Guatemalan Mayleader Bernardo Caal Xol, who has been in jail for over a year and a half

Scientific research published this week reveals that 1,558 people leading protests over environmental conflicts have died in the world between 2002 and 2017, a figure that exceeds the number of British and Australian soldiers killed in war zones in that Time. The deadliest regions for these defenders, the majority of indigenous origin (they are 40% of those killed) were from Central America (36% of deaths) and South America (32%), according to the magazine's work 'Nature Sustainability', reflecting how the number of crimes doubled in these 15 years, especially in countries with high levels of corruption and a weak rule of law.

To mark the International Day for Indigenous Peoples, celebrated on August 9, Alliance for Solidarity denounces this growing pressure on indigenous communities and remembers that conflicts are almost always provoked or counted on the collaboration of large transnational corporations. Many of the indigenous activists who are not killed end up crimininalized, persecuted and harassed.

Alliance for Solidarity remembers, on this day, the case of the Mayan leader q'Q'qechí Bernardo Caal Xol, imprisoned in Cobán (Guatemala) for more than a year and a half. Caal Xol is a master who led the defense of the Oxec River and the Cahabón River in Alta Verapaz, facing large hydroelectric plants. It should be remembered that the works of the Cahabón riverbed, the Renace hydroelectric plant that affects more than 29,000 q'eqchís, are carried out by the Spanish business group Cobra (ACS). Alliance, which documented the espoli of this river, keeps a campaign active demanding Bernardo's immediate release, a campaign that has already collected more than 13,000 signatures:


The latest data, collected by Global Witness, indicate that in this country in only one year the murders of defenders of the territory and the environment have increased fivefold, from three in 2017 to 16 in 2018, making Guatemala the most dangerous country in the world into the related to its population. Colombia is the second country (after the Philippines) with the most indigenous deaths recorded: 22 in two years. In any case, Alianza recalls that these are documented cases, given that many crimes are recorded as cases of common crime or account adjustments that conceal their real causes.

25% of the Earth is indigenous

Indigenous peoples manage or have tenure rights over at least 38 million square km worldwide, a quarter of the land area that overlaps with about 40% of protected land areas and/or ecologically intact landscapes , point out the authors of research from the universities of Queensland, Sussex and Oxford.

Conflicts over natural resources and land are based on a lack of recognition of indigenous land rights or misapplication of the law to protect those rights, when this legislation is violated or misrepresented. This is the case with ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous Peoples, which does not even apply in the countries where it has been ratified. In the case of the Renace hydroelectric plant, recently a court ruling requires a consultation in the affected communities that should have been previady and for which there is no date yet, despite the work practically finished.

"While there is growing evidence that indigenous territories are equally or more effective in conserving forests than state-run protected areas, continued lack of rights, repression and marginalization and liberalization external investment means that these groups are more subject to violence with impunity," the research says.

Among the most damaging initiatives, we should point out agro-industry, mining and large hydroelectric plants, which have government and even judicial support in many of the countries. The case of indigenous leader Bernardo Caal, also denounced by the UN Special Rapporteur, is a clear example of this: he was imprisoned and sentenced to more than seven years in prison for "instigation to unlawful delinquency, threats and withholding" after participating in a protest against a hydroelectric plant; the appeal that has been brought against this judgment should have been seen at the Audiencia de Cobán at the end of July, but the judges did not appear and has now been postponed at the end of August: "The magistrates did not come. These are delaying tactics, a strategy: in that appeals room there are already five occasions when I am suspended from hearings. This is pure criminalization," Caal Xol said in a message since the infamous Prison of Cobán.

Alliance for Solidarity keeps active actions, research and support to indigenous communities affected by non-responsible investments of companies, within the campaign TieRRRa . In this regard, it maintains open initiatives to support indigenous communities and leaders in Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia.

Alliance for Solidarity, on the occasion of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, calls on the Spanish Government in functions to support measures in international for a that promote the obligation of defence and maximum protection of human rights and corporates, as well as support for defenders threatened and criminalized by the defense of their territories whose lives are at risk.


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