A deadly decade for land and environmental activists – with a killing every two days

NewsA deadly decade for land and environmental activists - with a killing every two days
  • A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide’ – report from Global Witness highlights the increasing urgency to protect land and environmental defenders as climate and crisis worsens
  • Research shows that in the past decade, a land and environmental defender was killed every two days (> 1,700)
  • Thousands more continue their activism globally, despite serious ongoing threats to their lives
  • Deadliest countries include Brazil, Colombia, Philippines, and Mexico


29th September 2022, London – Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on the killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet remains persistent. Research has found that a total of 1,733 people have been killed over the past ten years, that’s one person killed every two days.

The report highlights that the control and use of land and territory is a central issue in countries where defenders are threatened. Much of the increasing killing, violence and repression is linked to territorial conflicts and the pursuit of economic growth based on the extraction of natural resources from the land.

Evidence also shows that the data on killings does not capture the true scale of the problem. In some countries, the situation facing defenders is hard to gauge – restrictions on a free press and a lack of independent monitoring in many countries often leads to underreporting. Land disputes and environmental damage can also be difficult to monitor in parts of the world affected by conflict.

Research has found that few perpetrators of killings are ever brought to justice due to the failures of governments to properly investigate these crimes. Many authorities ignore or actively impede investigations into these killings often due to alleged collusion between corporate and state interests.

A spokesperson for Global Witness said: 

“All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. They play a crucial role as a first line of defence against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalisation and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritising profit over human and environmental harm.” 

“With democracies increasingly under attack globally and worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems and makes an urgent appeal for global efforts to protect and reduce attacks against them.” 

The data found within the report shows that over half of the attacks over the 10-year period have taken place in Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines. From the 2021 data specifically, Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of killings and over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America. The research has also highlighted that Indigenous communities in particular face a disproportionate level of attacks – nearly 40% – even though they make up only 5% of the world’s population.

Global Witness is calling for companies and governments to be held to account for violence against land and environmental defenders – the people who stand on the frontline of the climate crisis. Urgent action is needed at regional, national, and international levels to end the violence and injustice that they face.