In 2020, Global Witness recorded 227 murdered land and environmental defenders – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and the ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate.
However, our 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, or where the independent monitoring of attacks on defenders is not taking place, can lead to underreporting. Land disputes and environmental damage, two of the prominent underlying causes behind communities’ activism, can also be difficult to monitor in parts of the world affected by conflict. We know that beyond killings, many defenders and communities also experience attempts to silence them, with tactics like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalisation – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported.