It’s a dangerous time to take a stand for the environment. 2015 was the worst year on record for killings of people defending their forests, rivers, and lands from industrial projects, according to a report published on June 20 by Global Witness, a London-based NGO.
The report, On Dangerous Ground, documents 185 cases of environmental activists murdered in 16 countries around the world in 2015. The figure is the highest since Global Witness began collecting data in 2002, and represents a 59 percent increase from 2014.
The failure of governments to investigate and prosecute the killings likely factors into the increase, according to Billy Kyte, a Global Witness campaign leader and report author.
“The vast majority of these crimes go unpunished which means those responsible know they can get away with it. This, in turn, breeds more violence and we’ve seen attacks become more brazen because of it,” Kyte told Mongabay via email.
The countries with the most killings in 2015 were Brazil with 50 and the Philippines with 33, followed by Colombia (26), Peru (12), and Nicaragua (12). Latin America accounted for more than two-thirds of all cases documented last year.
The total of 185 killings documented by Global Witness is likely an underestimate, according to the organization. Many deaths go unreported, and others could not be adequately verified. Data availability varies widely between countries, and some governments hinder its reporting.
“The lack of monitoring and suppression of the media and civil society in some countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, means, invariably, there are more cases than we have documented,” according to the report.