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Land & Environmental Defenders

Land and environmental defenders are at the forefront of action to address the causes and impacts of climate change and yet despite their vital contributions to protecting our shared planet, experience threats and violence because of their work, as well as heightened risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Global Witness' 2020 annual report on killings of land and environmental defenders (LEDs) shows that in 2019, the highest number of LEDs were killed in a single year to date.

Indigenous peoples, who comprise less than 5% of the world's population and protect 80% of its biodiversity, are disproportionately affected by attacks, with 40% of killings tracked by Global Witness occurring in indigenous communities.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre tracked 570 attacks (incl. non-lethal) against defenders focused on business-related activities in 2019. Among these attacks, approximately 40% were found to be related to the mining (143) and agribusiness (85) sectors. Official government information on these attacks is incomplete or missing, and investigations are almost non-existent, leading to very high levels of impunity. Underlying these attacks are state development strategies that prioritize resource extraction and profit over sustainable development and respect for human rights and growing competition for natural resources in the context of climate breakdown.

The essential contribution of land and environmental defenders to protecting the earth often goes unseen or deliberately ignored. Instead, these communities and individuals are branded ‘enemies of development’ and attacked by both government forces and business. In the recent years, various coalitions have emerged to collectively strengthen the protection of LEDs. This page gathers the latest news on attacks against land and environmental defenders, actions by civil society campaigns and coalitions to counter this trend, company implementation of commitments in this area, and guidance for governments, companies, and investors.

Attacks on land & environmental defenders (2015-2020)

Over 60%

Mining, food & agriculture and renewable energy

Sectors related to most LEDs attacks

2/3rd

Attacks against LEDs

Of all attacks between 2015-2020 in our database

40%

Indigenous LEDs killed

Percentage of killings in Global Witness 2020 report

314

Attacks on women LEDs

Number of attacks between in our database

Key global civil society coalitions

Defending Land and Environmental Defenders Coalition (DD Coalition)

The coalition coordinates global actions in support of and data collection on attacks on land and environmental defenders.

Defenders in Development Campaign

The campaign engages in collective action to ensure development banks and other actors respect human rights and guarantee a safe enabling environment for public participation.

Zero Tolerance Initiative

This global coalition, led by indigenous peoples, local community representatives and supportive NGOs, is working collectively to address the root causes of killings and violence against human rights defenders linked to global supply chains.

Featured contents

Report provides guidance on due diligence businesses should undertake to address land & environmental defender-related risks in their value chains

Global Witness' report provides practical guidance on how businesses can leverage their influence to create a positive impact, converting risks to defenders into opportunities, and improving supply chain resilience.

Webinar: Defending rights in times of COVID-19 - Defense of the environment & territory

IM-Defensoras' webinar in Spanish, focusing on challenges faced by land and environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America during COVID-19.

'You are not alone': Resource portal for environmental human rights defenders

Environment-rights.org is a collaborative resource portal for environmental human rights defenders - a single one-stop-shop web portal in English, Spanish and Portuguese that provides nformation, resources, contacts and advice for environmental defenders.