Human rights group Global Witness last month released figures naming Honduras as the most dangerous country for environmental defenders, based on a finding of at least 109 killed there between 2010 and 2015 "for taking a stand against destructive dam, mining, logging and agriculture projects." The report of course noted the March 3 slaying of Berta Cáceres, a leader of indigenous environmental group COPINH. But this was only the latest in a string of such slayings. Another COPINH member, Moisés Durón Sánchez, was murdered in May 2015 after receiving death threats for defending his community's land rights. COPINH leader Tomás García was shot dead by a military officer in a protest in 2013.
"Hondurans are being shot dead in broad daylight, kidnapped, or assaulted for standing in the way of their land and the companies who want to monetise it," said Billy Kyte, campaigner at Global Witness. "These are not isolated incidents—they are symptomatic of a systematic assault on remote and indigenous communities by a collusion of state and corporate actors. Urgent action is needed to protect those in the firing line, and bring perpetrators to justice."
Last year, Global Witness documented 116 defenders killed in 17 countries in 2014—some 40% of them indigenous people. The report notes that this is nearly double the number of journalists killed worlwide in the same period. The greatest number killed were in Brazil (29), followed by Colombia (25), the Philippines (15) and Honduras (12). Land disputes formed the backdrop to most killings, but 2014 saw a spike in murders related to hydro-power projects and control of water. "This hidden crisis is escaping public attention, both because it is not being adequately monitored and because many defenders live in remote, poor communities with limited access to communications and the media," the report stated. It also warned that the actual figures may be far higher: "Scant data on killings in much of Africa and areas like China, Central Asia and the Middle East may be linked to poor civil society monitoring, and the suppression of media and other information outlets." (El Espectador, Colombia, March 30; Global Witness, March 4)