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Threat to environmental defenders and indigenous communities in Latin America increasing

In this 23 March 2015 file photo, a boat leaks oil in the waters of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In this 23 March 2015 file photo, a boat leaks oil in the waters of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File

This statement was originally published on article19.org on 9 August 2016.

  • Human rights violations (from murder and physical attacks to arbitrary detention and surveillance) often linked to business interests of extractive industries and the State.
  • Mining and construction projects implemented at the cost of local communities and the environment. Absence of transparency and a lack concern for the environment are major issues.
  • Honduras is the most dangerous country for EHRDs. Proposed new laws to restrict protest and civil society activity are a worrying trend.
  • Vested interests and weak rule of law increase vulnerability. Attacks on women environmental defenders doubled between 2012 and 2014.

Latin America is, by far, the most dangerous region in the world for environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs). The murder of campaigner Berta Cáceres in March reverberated worldwide, but a new report by ARTICLE 19, CIEL, and Vermont Law School, "A Deadly Shade of Green", reveals this to be only the tip of the iceberg, documenting an atmosphere of violence and physical threats, as well as surveillance, spurious charges, and arbitrary detention, across the region.

"Those with vested interests in the exploitation of land in Latin America employ an armoury of threats to silence dissenting voices, who speak out against business and state interests," stated Thomas Hughes, Executive Director at ARTICLE 19.

"Those who violate the rights of EHRDs often do so with impunity, with state apathy or even complicity, creating a climate of fear and self-censorship. The situation is dire: urgent action is needed to protect defenders, and the environment they fight to protect," Hughes added.

The report calls for immediate action to end the harassment and murder of human rights defenders, and for accountability for those perpetrating attacks across the region. Resource extraction and development projects must begin only with meaningful, inclusive and participatory consent processes. EHRDs must be empowered with knowledge of their rights, and the means to defend those rights.

"The persistent escalation of violent attacks against environmental defenders can and must end," said Marcos Orellana, Director of the Human Rights & Environment Program at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). "Across Latin America, the systematic persecution of environmental human rights defenders is so pervasive that defending the environment has become synonymous with risking your safety and well-being. Both governments and corporations must be held accountable for their role in attacks against environmental defenders."

The report is available in English and Spanish.

ARTICLE 19 is a global human rights organisation, with nine offices worldwide, which promotes and defends freedom of expression and information. ARTICLE 19's vision is a world in which all people can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear or discrimination.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) uses the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training and capacity building.

Vermont Law School, home to the top-ranked environmental law program in the United States and to the Center for Applied Human Rights, is committed to developing a generation of leaders who use the power of the law to make a difference in our communities and the world, because the status quo is not acceptable.

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