Bogota Colombia Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for environmental defenders, a report published on Monday by Global Witness, an international human rights group.
For the second consecutive year, the Andean nation saw the largest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defendants killed, the report said.
Since the end of a five-decade war between the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group and the Colombian government with a peace agreement in 2016, new violence has erupted in the rural areas where the FARC has demobilized. Existing and new illegal armed groups fight for control to use land for illegal mining, logging or drug trafficking, and they often operate in indigenous or Afro-Colombian territories.
Those who try to defend their country are threatened, or in many cases killed.
In the report, Global Witness reported that 227 land and environmental activists worldwide were killed in a single year, the worst figure ever.
“The situation in Colombia is particularly worrying,” Global Witness senior adviser Laura Furones told Al Jazeera in an email.
“Global Witness recorded more murders of land and environmental defenders in Colombia in 2020 than anywhere else in the world. Murders have risen sharply from 2017 and 2018, and the country was responsible for 29 percent of all documented murders in 2020. ”
The rights group added that floods as well as droughts are likely to increase in Colombia, which according to the UN has a high risk of the effects of climate change.
“Despite this, the government is pursuing an agenda for economic growth based on land-intensive industries. Colombia is currently the fifth largest exporter of coal and has significant oil, gas and palm oil sectors,” she said.
‘The 2016 peace agreement … did not bring peace to large parts of the country. Colombian civil society points to a deplorable implementation of this agreement. In many remote areas, paramilitary and criminal groups have increased their control through violence and lack of state action. ”
The pandemic also exacerbated the situation, the report said. Official closures in Colombia have led to environmental defenders being targeted in their homes, and state protection measures being reduced.
Other Latin American countries, including Mexico – in second place – Brazil and Honduras were high on the list.
“Three out of four recorded attacks in 2020 were in Latin America, as were seven of the ten countries worst affected,” Furones said. ‘The region has consistently suffered the worst in our data. Latin American countries have experienced persistently high levels of violence for decades, and there is high impunity in many countries in the region. ”
Francia Marquez, 2018 winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award for her work against illegal mining in her south-southwest Cauca region, calls the Global Witness report ‘very worrying’.
Marquez, an Afro-Colombian, has had several near-fatal attacks on her life. In Cauca in 2019, she escaped a violent attack when masked men attacked a meeting of rights defenders with rifles and a grenade. Her two bodyguards are dead.
“It is worrying that it is mostly the ethnic groups that are most targeted,” Marquez, who is running for the Colombian presidency in 2022, told Al Jazeera by telephone. “It’s really sad, very worrying.”
“It is undoubtedly an alarm that there is a serious situation on earth regarding the environmental crisis and the desperate calls of men and women from communities in rural areas,” Marquez said. “As a community, we must tackle the challenge of stopping the environmental crisis that humanity is experiencing.”
Gimena Sanchez, of the Washington Office on Latin America, said it has been a problematic issue for many years now.
A major underlying effect is the lack of implementation of what was agreed in the peace agreements, especially all that has to do with territorial consolidation in cooperation with Afro and indigenous peoples in those areas, and the ethnic chapter [of the peace agreement] as well as the drug chapter, ”Sanchez said.
“Unless the international community truly pushes for the peace agreement – in its fifth year of existence – and its implementation resumes, forcing any government in Colombia to take it seriously, we are seeing an increase in these kinds of killings. “