OVER the last 12 months I have had the privilege of helping a film-maker prepare the final edit of a four year project. His journey has taken him all over the world, living with tribes and communities in an attempt to discover if we have a ‘connection’ with the environment.
During countless discussions and viewing hundreds of hours of film and interviews, there has been an ever-present fear shown by the indigenous people affected.
Their livelihoods, their way of life, their traditions and more are all at stake. Never, however, did I hear or see any mention of people’s lives being endangered.
It was with real horror, therefore, that I discovered in a recent article in the Independent that in 2015, more than three activists a week were murdered around the world for protecting their causes.
The Global Witness report shows an astonishing 60% increase in killings compared with 2014. These, of course, are the reported figures – we have to assume that in these lawless parts of the world, many more are killed and never reported.
The report states that 185 people were killed in 16 separate countries – the worst hit, Brazil, saw 50 people killed.
What’s terrifying is that these aren’t squabbles between landowners that get out of control, farmers encroaching on each other’s lands or petty gangsters.
These activists are killed while standing up for rights that are being affected by national and international organisations. Hydro-electric engineering projects are not handled by small town bandits.
One Honduran activist, Berta Cáceres, who was shot dead in her home, was a recent recipient of the high profile Goldman Environmental Prize, an award recognising grassroots environmental activism from around the world.
In her acceptance speech, she even spoke of the death threats and kidnapping attempts against her as a result of her struggle against the Agua Zarca dam.
The blatant nature of her killing is staggering in our world. The fact that many of these killings will go unsolved is bad enough, but most will not even be investigated.
Local police and politicians, in the pay of these multi-national companies, often turn a blind eye.
Global Witness says that agribusiness, logging, hydro-electric dams and water rights are the major drivers of killings of activists.
In a number of cases, paramilitary groups were suspected of having carried out the killings to order.
A spokesman for Global Witness was also quoted as saying: “The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages, or deep within rainforests, are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world.”
I have spent years trying not to scaremonger or bang people over the head.
Perhaps I’ve been naive, but if our choices on this side of the world are genuinely leading to people being murdered to order, for our desire for goods, we need to take a good long hard look at the choices we’re making.
With an estimated 80% of timber from Brazil deemed ‘illegal’ – and accounting for 25% of the illicit wood on global markets – please double-check everything you’re buying, at home and at work.
This article was first featured here in the July 2016 edition of PPD magazine.