"Indigenous people are crucial in protecting the environment, but many of them are killed and thousands more are threatened and intimated by industry representative (mines, large scale agriculture, oil and gas industry...)", stated an Indigenous leader from Guardians of the forest at the conference.Ramon Cruz: "Violence against those who defend nature is not only a human rights violation, but a violation to nature itself, to its biodiversity and to the future generations"
The deadliest countries for environmental defenders are Honduras and Brazil. The environmental defenders are usually killed in remote places that are scenes of mining activities, oil extraction or palm oil extraction. Contractors, who are usually never persecuted and judged, usually do the killings.
To denounce state and non-state actors who are breaking environmental rights is dangerous all over the world, and usually people who are fighting against big corporations are just ordinary citizens from different local communities, who end up being killed, threatened and tortured. Sexual violence also proves to be a popular tool to silence female environmental defenders.
People who are defending their own and nature’s rights are usually people who are already marginalised and depended on their natural surroundings for their livelihoods. It is should be a primary aim to protect those defenders and to allow common people to speak up, to express themselves and to have the right on information and rights to protect their environment and their homes.
Nina Gualinaga, a Kichwa leader from Ecuador is a spokesperson for indigenous people that take a stand against the extraction industry. In Ecuador, oil exploitation is a big threat to Indigenous communities, so indigenous women marched to Quito to resist against oil exploitation. Instead of being listened too, they were jailed and charged as terrorists. Corporations and governments have a system in place that uses fear, sex violence, threats and murders against anyone speaking up against mines and oil exploitation.The deadliest countries for environmental defenders are Honduras and Brazil. The environmental defenders are usually killed in remote places that are scenes of mining activities, oil extraction or palm oil extraction
Carol Gonzalez from Aquilan in Colombia (OPIAC) was living in the Amazon jungle in Colombia and would never have noticed that her country was in a 50-year-old war until the day the FARC and government forces started a fight near her community. Many people were killed and she was forced to move to Bogota. When she returned home after a few years, her land was occupied by gold diggers and other intruders. She decided to become a defender of different tribes in the Amazon region of Colombia.
Unfortunately, killings of environmental defenders are on the rise, and it has now become a global phenomenon, especially in tropical regions. Many voices at COP23 advocated for giving Indigenous people more space in negotiations, with a need to take these groups more seriously. Moreover, their representatives should not be chosen by governments, but by indigenous people and organisations themselves, since governments often chose people that are loyal to them and will favour government’ interests before indigenous rights.
Several other campaigns at COP23 promoted the rights of environmental defenders, like the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance & Movement Strategy Center, that held a press conference, entitled Berta Caceres: Protecting Environmental Defenders Should be a Center Issue at Climate Talks. Berta Caceres is a well-known environmental defender that was killed last year in her home in Honduras for defending the land, water and human rights of the Lenca People.People who are defending their own and nature’s rights are usually people who are already marginalised and depended on their natural surroundings for their livelihoods
Jaron Brown from Grassroots Global Justice Alliance opened the press conference by saying: "We cannot talk about climate or energy policies without talking of fundamental issues of human rights, the rights of women, the conditions of women and the rights of indigenous people".
Brown also officially presented the report entitled Dam Violence: The Plan That Killed Berta Caceres that COPING and Berta’s family released by the International Advocacy group and experts known as GAIPE. GAIPE did an independent investigation that was demanded by the members of Berta’s family because they knew that the government of Honduras would not start an investigation. It explicitly names Berta's killers.
Her daughter, Bertha Zúniga Cáceres, joined the press conference over Skype to denounce the state and big corporations that were behind the assassination of her mother, saying that the Assassination of hermother was not an individual attack, and it is "a continuing threat to all environmental defenders".Jaron Brown: "We cannot talk about climate or energy policies without talking of fundamental issues of human rights, the rights of women, the conditions of women and the rights of indigenous people"
Alberto Saldamando from the Indigenous Environmental Network said that: "Persecution by industry and the state, as mining, palm- oil, soya, gas and oil extractions are directed against people that defend their rights and their homes and forests. The recent 2nd Global Witness report on the persecution and murder of environmental activists found that almost one half of the victims are Indigenous. The case of the assassination of Bertha Caceres, the impunity of the perpetrators recently was found to be at the highest level of the Honduran government and industry. They should be prosecuted".
Ramon Cruz, from the Sierra Club International also added to this: "The Sierra Club stands in solidarity with all of the courageous environmental justice groups that are speaking out against impunity. Violence against those who defend nature is not only human rights violation, but a violation to nature itself, to its biodiversity and to the future generations... We call on international institutions and civil society groups the world over to keep these repressive governments accountable and demand that they bring all those implicated in Berta Caceres’murder and the murders of hundreds of other environmentalists around the world to justice".
Violence against environmental defenders is not only a violation of human rights, it is also a violation against nature and against future generations. It has to be stopped immediately.