Author: Maria Eduarda
Translator: Maria Eduarda
Imagine this scenario: you are a journalist looking for information and, while traveling to the Amazon rainforest, you are threatened with death and days later the newspapers report you as missing. It may look like a soap opera plot, however, it is the real story of Dom Phillips, a contributor to newspapers such as The New York Times and writer, who, like many others in search of information and environmental justice, was also persecuted. The climate and resource crisis has recently demanded a bigger platform for those who speak out in favor of sustainable movements, precisely due to the seriousness of their consequences. Even so, the silencing, persecution and even murder of activists does not reach visibility in the media.
At first, the statistics may seem low: 227 land and environmental defenders were murdered in the year 2020. However, it is wise to analyze the context behind each lost life. First, it is considered that environmental activism, both as a social agenda and as a political agenda, does not receive the deserved notoriety. Therefore, environmentalists in field work are more subject to the risk of their lives when they are not supported by states unconcerned with Human Rights and sustainability. As shown in the table below, the murders of activists occurred mostly in Central and South American countries, which are home to large forests with potential for exploitation, as well as indigenous communities.
With a close analysis of the diagram, it is possible to establish a relationship between the reasons for the persecutions and the countries in which they occurred, given that they harbor high rates of logging, mining and agribusiness, many operating illegally. Estimates are that 90% of deforestation in Brazil is illegal, so weak enforcement of environmental laws becomes an incentive for such exploitation to continue. As for unregulated gold mining, about US$429 million in social and environmental damage was caused in the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve.
In this way, the reflection is raised: who should be held responsible? Obviously those responsible for the crimes must pay legally, however there is a system that shelters them and still justifies the persecution against environmental activism. Although legislation focused on the sustainable cause is strong in countries of great diversity such as Latin American countries, governments do not ensure the safety of activists by turning a “blind eye” to the link between persecution and their economic development, as well as in the weak application of their punishments.
For example, Brazil has an economy based on agricultural production and its elected politicians do not show concern for less aggressive methods or for the mass exploitation of the Amazon, let alone with the indigenous peoples who live there. With this in mind, the private companies that continue to be favored are, even if they harm the environment, those whose generate capital. A great example is the company Samarco which, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, was responsible for what is considered the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the country: the rupture of the Mariana dam in 2015 due to negligence on the part of the company.
Therefore, there is a general need for greater assurance for the lives of environmental defenders, who are on the front lines and pay for intruding on the unregulated profitability of extractivism. To support this, it is recommended that the United Nations (UN) intervene when necessary to demand compliance with the due legal punishments and guarantee the way to achieve its 13 and 15 development goals . Furthermore,it would be wise for people to research and elect political candidates who fight for preservation and sustainability, thus leading to the firm imposition and judgment of those who take the lives (even if indirectly) of activists.