By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – According to a report released on Monday by non-governmental organization Global Witness, Brazil ranks as the most dangerous country in the world for environmental and land activists. The NGO states that fifty activists were killed in 2015, an increase of 59 percent compared to 2014.
“In 2015, Brazil recorded more killings of land and environmental defenders than any previous year. The Brazilian government must do more to protect activists and stop the killings of land and environmental defenders,” states the report On Dangerous Ground released by the Global Witness, a UK-based environmental watchdog.
Brazil is followed in the ranking by the Philippines with 33 murders, Colombia, with 26 and Peru and Nicaragua, with twelve assassinations each. Worldwide, according to the organization 185 activists were killed in 2015.
Although the organization lists the main cause of death among activists as the involvement in conflicts against mining activity, in Brazil those who rally to save the Amazon forest from loggers and farmers were the ones in greatest danger. The report points out that in the Amazon there are thousands of illegal logging fields that devastate the forest to supply the international market.
The vulnerability of indigenous peoples in land conflicts is also highlighted in the document. According to the entity Brazil must address the causes that generate threats and risks to land and environmental defenders, ‘in particular the prioritization of formal demarcation of the lands of indigenous peoples and ‘assentamentos’ (settlements) for rural communities’.
The report cites the case of the Guarani-Kaiowá Simeão Vilhalva, 24, killed on August 29th last year in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The crime occurred when a group of farmers tried to retake by force farms occupied by natives on land which was approved in 2005 by the federal government, then suspended, and awaiting a final decision by the Supreme Court.
The NGO states that the common interests of governments and companies often protect those responsible for the deaths of activists involved in land conflicts or the protection of the environment and little is done to bring the perpetrators to justice. The organization warns that if there is no State intervention, the numbers will increase.