Deaths of Land Rights Defenders Treble in a Year as Violence Surges, says Report

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Workers level a salt pan in Mumbai, India, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI, Dec 12 – The battle over land and resources turned bloodier in the past year with treble the number of land rights defenders killed, according to a human rights group that fears the violence will get even worse.

An average of nearly 16 farmers, indigenous people and advocates of land rights were killed every month through November worldwide, or three times the average in 2015, according to advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP).

From January to end-November, 171 people were killed in relation to land rights, PANAP’s data showed.

At least 118 were detained through November, compared with 82 last year, as conflicts with rural communities and indigenous people intensified.

“People’s collective rights to own or control their land and resources for livelihood and cultural needs are wantonly being violated by corporations and governments,” Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP’s executive director, said in a statement.

“The sharp rise in the number of killings and the overall increase in human rights atrocities against poor rural communities embroiled in land conflicts underscores the impunity with which these killings and brutalities are being committed.”

In the fight for land and the environment – which UK-based watchdog Global Witness calls “a new battleground for human rights” – communities are locked in deadly struggles against governments, companies and criminal gangs exploiting land for products including timber, minerals and palm oil.

Global Witness documented 185 murders in 16 countries last year, or more than three people a week being killed defending land, forests and rivers in the deadliest year on record.

In Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia saw the most number of victims, while in Latin America, it was in Honduras, Bolivia and Peru, PANAP data showed.

In Africa, the countries most affected were Ethiopia, Kenya and Sierra Leone, it said.

Conflicts between rural communities and governments and corporations will intensify further, hurting and massively displacing farmers and indigenous people, according to PANAP.

Massive infrastructure projects in China, and its hunger for resources are leading to the displacement of rural communities, both within the country and in the region, PANAP said.

Harassment and killing of land rights defenders in India are also on the rise, as land is increasingly sought for industrial use in the world’s fastest growing major economy.

In Brazil, more than 20 land rights activists were killed as of August this year, according to watchdog the Pastoral Land Commission.

But communities are fighting back, staging protests, stalling projects and seeking legal recourse.

In Cambodia, for example, a group of farmers is at the centre of a landmark legal case that could change the way global corporations manage large-scale land acquisitions.

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