Global Witness Reports 227 Environmental Activists Murdered in 2020 - The Worst Figure Ever

Veronika Sherova,

Environment and Human Rights researcher,

Global Human Rights Defense.

227 land and environmental defenders faced lethal attacks last year, according to the latest report published by Global Witness (September 2021). This makes 2020 the deadliest year on record for environmental activists defending their homes, lands, and livelihoods. The report with the full list of victims is available on the Global Witness’s official website.

The highest number of documented killings is recorded in Columbia (65 people), Mexico (30 people), the Philippines (29 people), Brazil (20 people), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (15 people). A third of all lethal attacks targeted Indigenous Peoples, and almost half were against small-scale farmers. Land was the key driver of the attacks against environmental activists, whereas a third of the attacks were related to hydroelectric dams, resource exploitation, and other infrastructures.

Global Witness warns that the analysis is likely to underestimate the full scale of the problem due to the restriction on free press, the absence of human rights monitoring in many countries, and other reasons. It is also important to note that lethal attacks often take place in more dangerous contexts. Death threats, nonlethal attacks, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalization are often unreported and unaddressed.

Global Witness concludes that the violence against environmental defenders mirrors the climate crisis and its implications worldwide. First, the impacts among countries are unequal - the violence against environmental defenders is concentrated in the developing countries of South America and Africa. Furthermore, businesses are often responsible for the atrocities - many attacks happen after communities raise their voices over their environmental concerns connected to local businesses. And, finally, governments are failing to ensure justice and sustainable development in their societies. In some cases they fail to protect the defenders, in others they perpetuate the violence against them.


To learn more:

Global Witness, Full report “Last line of defense”, September 2021,