Most dangerous countries for environmentalists

Written by:
February 11, 2019

Most dangerous countries for environmentalists

With modern-day society’s voracious appetite for agricultural goods, minerals, and fossil fuels, the extraction of those resources requires an increasing amount of land. In this quest, neighboring communities are often the losers.

In 2017, 201 environmental and land defenders were murdered—the highest total ever recorded. The vast majority of them came from Latin America where 60% of killings took place. With 57 defenders killed, Brazil saw the most deaths ever registered in one year in any country. To determine which countries are most dangerous for defending the environment, Stacker looked a Global Witness report released in July 2018 to rank the top 22 deadliest countries for environmental and land defenders. The report uses the number of defenders murdered in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available.

Global Witness defines a land or environmental defender as anyone working to protect the environment. "They are often ordinary people who may well not define themselves as 'defenders,'" the report states. "Some are indigenous or peasant leaders living in remote mountains or isolated forests, protecting their ancestral lands and traditional livelihoods from mining projects, large-scale agribusiness, hydro-dams, and luxury hotels. Others are park rangers, tackling poaching and illegal logging. They could also be lawyers, journalists, or staff at non-governmental organizations working to expose environmental abuse and land-grabbing."

The data shown here only represents reported deaths, suggesting the research is unable to account for extremely remote areas or places where reporting such killings would be dangerous or impossible. Still, the data shows the increased risk faced by environmental and land defenders for protecting their communities, lands, and ways of life. Read on to discover the most dangerous countries on earth for environmentalists.


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#18. Liberia (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 1

Friday Pyne, a forest ranger in Liberia, was killed by a mob of angry miners operating illegally in the country’s only national forest. Another forest ranger was injured in the attack. Pyne posthumously received the 2018 African Ranger Award from the United States Agency for International Development. His death was a "painful realization” to Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority that "more security and support was needed for park rangers in all of Liberia’s National Parks and Protected Areas,” USAID reported.

Defender: Friday Pyne

#18. Mozambique (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 1

When a coal mining company started fencing off land used by residents to graze their livestock and collect firewood in western Mozambique, nearby residents began protesting. Hussen António Laitone was shot in his home near the site of a protest organized by local residents. He was not participating in the protest.

Defender: Hussen António Laitone

#18. Tanzania (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 1

Wildlife conservationist Wayne Lotter was killed on a car ride to the airport in Tanzania’s largest city. He had received numerous death threats related to his activism. Eight people have been arraigned for Lotter’s killing.

Defender: Wayne Lotter

#18. Venezuela (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 1

Activist Freddy Menare founded the Indigenous Organization of the Uwottuja Peoples. The group fought against various mining operations, including plans to create a mine near Menare's village in southern Venezuela. He was killed on the streets.

Defender: Freddy Menare

#18. Zambia (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 1

Wildlife ranger Rodrick Ngulube was killed by poachers in Zambia’s West Petauke game management area. He and his fellow rangers were tracking poachers the day before. Following his death, an official from the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Arts said his ministry would do everything possible to deter threats against wildlife rangers and to bring down the levels of poaching in Zambia.

Defender:  Rodrick Ngulube

#11. Argentina (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 2

One of the activists killed in Argentina was Santiago Maldonado. He vanished after appearing at an indigenous rights protest in Patagonia and his body was later discovered a quarter of a mile from where he was last seen. A year after his death, Amnesty International urged the Argentinian government to do more to investigate his death.

Defenders: Santiago Maldonado, Rafael Nahuel

#11. Dominican Republic (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 2

Luís Manuel Medina and Leo Martínez were colleagues at a local radio station in the Dominican Republic when they were shot and killed during a live broadcast. The two had collaborated on a popular morning news show, which covered social and political issues and refused to stay away from controversial topics. Medina had spoken at length in the weeks before his murder about Laguna Mallen, a polluted lake that is protected in San Pedro.

Defenders: Luís Manuel Medina, Leo Martínez

#11. Kenya (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 2

Duba Issa and Roba Duba were both killed by poachers in 2017. Ruthless gangs of armed poachers driven by the price of ivory have been known to make life especially dangerous for wildlife conservationists in the country.

Defenders: Duba Issa, Roba Duba

#11. Myanmar (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 2

Htay Aung, a land rights defender, went to protest the confiscation of land from local villagers in eastern Myanmar. He was beaten to death. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemned the attack and urged Burmese authorities to carry out an investigation into the murder.

Defenders: Lung Jarm Phe, Htay Aung

#11. Pakistan (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 2

Poachers killed Inspector Manzoor and Constable Mushtaq in eastern Pakistan, south of Islamabad, while the two officers were intercepting the illegal hunting of birds. Pakistan’s World Wildlife Fund condemned the killing and urged the country to punish those responsible.

Defenders: Inspector Manzoor, Constable Mushtaq

#11. Spain (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 2

Xavier Ribes Villas and David Iglesias Díez were wildlife rangers who were shot dead in Catalonia after approaching a hunter who was reportedly carrying an unlicensed weapon. The murders prompted calls for Spain’s wildlife service rangers to be routinely armed.

Defenders: Xavier Ribes Villas, David Iglesias Díez


#11. Turkey (tie)

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 2

Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu, a retired couple living in a remote forest in southern Turkey, were killed in their home. They’d taken on the mining industry and had successfully shut down two marble companies. The man accused of murdering the couple committed suicide in prison.

Defenders: Aysin Ulvi Büyüknohutçu, Ali Ulvi Büyüknohutçu


#10. Guatemala

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 3

Sebastián Alonso Juan was killed at a peaceful protest against the construction of a hydroelectric dam in western Guatemala. Indigenous people in Guatemala have routinely protested against environmentally destructive mining and hydroelectric dam projects, and they’ve repeatedly been attacked.

Defenders: Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda, Sebastián Alonso Juan, Carlos Maaz Coc


#9. Nicaragua

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 4

Celedonia Zalazar Point, an indigenous community judge, and her husband, Tito José González Bendles, were shot and killed on the country’s Caribbean coast, an area plagued by violence resulting from an escalating land conflict. The double homicide took place in an area within the judge’s jurisdiction and was carried out by armed settlers interested in agricultural expansion in the region.

Defenders: Camilo Frank López, Celedonia Zalazar Point, Tito José González Bendles, Felipe Pérez Gamboa


#8. Honduras

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 5

José de los Santos Sevilla, a leader of the indigenous Tolupan people, was shot and killed at his home in central Honduras. Authorities did not name a motive. Tolupan indigenous peoples from northern Honduras have long been threatened for speaking out against logging and mining operations that have hurt their community. Though there were fewer murders in Honduras in 2017—five compared to 14 the year before—the country has been the worst for environmental and land defenders per capita, with 128 defenders killed since 2010.

Defenders: José de los Santos Sevilla, José Alfredo Rodríguez, Silvino Zapata, Leodan Mancías, Héctor Noé Cárcamo Castellanos

#7. Peru

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 8

Of the eight land and environmental defenders killed in 2017 in Peru, six of them were farmers shot dead living in the country’s Amazon region, which is plagued by illegal logging. The farmers were killed in a nighttime ambush by a criminal gang looking to seize their land for palm oil production.

Defenders: Elías Gamonal Mozombite, Jorge Calderón Campos, Orlando Burillo Mendoza, Feliciano Córdova Abad, Alcides Córdova López, José Edil Córdova López, Jhony Cáceres González, José Napoleón Tarrillo Astonitas

#6. India

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 11

Mafizul Khan and Alamgir Mullah were killed protesting a power substation project in eastern India. They were shot by police in a skirmish with protesters. The West Bengal government offered compensation to the families of the deceased.

Defenders: Alamgeer Sheikh, Mafizul Khan, Daulat Ram Lader, Dharmendra Vala, Jailal Rathia, Pehelwan Singh, Lalita, Uday Yadav, Niranjan Yadav, Vimlesh Yadav, Sharath Madivala

#5. Democratic Republic of the Congo

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 13

Joël Meriko Ari and Gerome Bolimola Afokao were wildlife rangers killed in a shootout with poachers in the DRC’s Garamba National Park. Of the 19 land and environmental defenders reported killed across Africa, 12 of them were in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Defenders: Joël Meriko Ari, Gerome Bolimola Afokao, Tims Nalola Butinda, Léopold Gukiya Ngbekusa, Patrick Kisembo N’singa, Sudi Koko, Antopo Selemani, Lokana Tingiti, Dudunyabo Machongani Célestin, Charles Paluku Syaira, Jonas Paluku Malyani, Pacifique Musubao Fikirini, Christian Mbone Nakulire

#4. Mexico

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 15

In Mexico, 13 out of 15 defenders killed were indigenous—murdered defending their ancestral territories. One of these victims is Isidro Baldenegro, who defended the forests in the Sierra Madre Mountains from strongmen, drug traffickers, and loggers. He was shot and killed by a suspected hitman.

Defenders: Marciano Martínez Cruz, Rafael Hernández Cisneros, Isidro Baldenegro López, Juan Ontiveros Ramos, Benjamín Juárez José, José Carlos Jiménez Crisóstomo, Luis Gustavo Hernández Cohenete, Francisco Jiménez Alejandre, Santiago Luna Crisanto, Miguel Ángel Vázquez Torres, Agustín Vázquez Torres, Rodrigo Guadalupe Huet Gómez, Pablo Andrés Jiménez, Gabriel Ramos Olivera, Felipe Ramírez

#3. Colombia

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 24

Colombia has been in the top three worst countries for defenders since Global Witness began tracking killings in 2002. Of the 24 activists killed in 2017, one was Hernán Bedoya, who protested against palm oil and banana plantations on land stolen from his community.

Defenders: Aldemar Parra García, José Yeimer Cartagena, Edmiro León Alzate Londoño, Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela, Edilberto Cantillo Meza, Falver Cerón Gómez, Eder Cuetia Conda, Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao, Javier Oteca Pilcué, Gerson Acosta Salazar, Nelson Fabra Díaz, Jorge Arbey Chantré Achipiz, Daniel Felipe Castro Basto, Mario Andrés Calle Correa, Ezequiel Rangel Romano, Luis Edilson Arango Gallego, Manuel Ramírez Mosquera, Esquivel Manyoma, Efigenia Vasquez Astudillo, Oscar Ferney Tenorio, Aulio Isarama Forastero, Mario Jacanamijoy, Mario Castaño Bravo, Hernán Bedoya

#2. Philippines

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 48

In 2017, the Philippines saw almost a 71% rise in the killing of defenders from the previous year—the most murders ever recorded in Asia in a single year. Of the 48 activists killed, eight of them were tribe members murdered in the southern Philippines after the military descended on their village and opened fire following a land dispute over a coffee plantation.

Defenders: Datu Venie Diamante, Mario Contaoi, Veronico "Nico” Delamante, Alexander Ceballos, Wencislao Pacquiao, Renato Anglao, Alejandro Laya-Og, Orlando Eslana, Mia Manuelita Mascariñas-Green, Edweno ‘Edwin’ Catog, Willerme Agorde, Gilbert Bancat, Ramon Dagaas Pesadilla, Leonila Tapdasan Pesadilla, Pedro Pandagay, Cora Molave Lina, Arman Almonicar, Arlyn Almonicar, Danilo Ruiz Nadal, Bernardo Calan Ripdos, Jerry Cuyos, Jocel Rosales, Rodolf Tagalog Jr., Federico "Pande” Plaza, Lito Casalla, Ande Latuan, Carolina Arado, Boy Cañete, Roger "Titing" Timboco, Lomer Gerodias, Engracio de los Reyes, Obillo Bay-ao, Ruben Arzaga, Webby Argabio, Perfecto Hoyle, Elisa Badayos, Eleuterio Moises, Lando Moreno, Rodrigo Timoteo, Datu Victor Danyan, Victor Danyan Jr., Artemio Danyan, Pato Celardo, Samuel Angkoy, To Diamante, Bobot Lagase, Mateng Bantel, Marcelito "Tito” Paez

#1. Brazil

Number of land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017: 57

The majority of defenders targeted in Brazil in 2017 were killed defending the Amazon. In one of the largest attacks of 2017, a group of farmers in the Amazon state of Maranhão attacked a community of indigenous people over a land dispute. No deaths were reported, but the attack left 22 people severely injured, some with their hands cut off.

Defenders: Ceará, Roberto Santos Araújo, Elivelton Castelo Nascimento, José Caneta Gavião, Sônia Vicente Cacau Gavião, Orestes Rodrigues de Castro, Renato Souza Benevides, Xukuru-Kariri Damião Lima da Silva (Dão), Waldomiro Costa Pereira, Raimundo Silva (Umbico), Aldo Aparecido Carlini, Edson Alves Antunes, Ezequias Santos de Oliveira, Fábio Rodrigues dos Santos, Francisco Chaves da Silva, Izaul Brito dos Santos, Samuel Antônio da Cunha, Sebastião Ferreira de Souza, Valmir Rangeu do Nascimento, Silvino Nunes Gouveia, Kátia Martins, Etevaldo Soares Costa, Paulo Sérgio Bento Oliveira, Weldson Pereira da Silva, Nelson Souza Milhomem, Weclebson Pereira Milhomem, Ozeir Rodrigues da Silva, Jane Julia de Oliveira, Regivaldo Pereira da Silva, Ronaldo Pereira de Souza, Bruno Henrique Pereira Gomes, Antonio Pereira Milhomem, Hércules Santos de Oliveira, Valdenir Juventino Izidoro (Lobo), Manoel Quintino da Silva Kaxarari, Ademir de Souza Pereira, Rosenilton de Almeida, Raimundo Mota de Souza Junior, Lindomar Fernandes Martins, Manoel Índio Arruda, Maria da Lurdes Fernandes Silva, Adeilton Brito de Souza, Amauri Pereira Silva, Cosme Rosário da Conceição, Gildásio Bispo das Neves, Marcos Pereira Silva, Valdir Pereira Silva, Edilson Pereira dos Santos, Jorge Matias da Silva, Eraldo Moreira Luz, Flávio Gabriel Pacífico dos Santos, João Ferreira dos Santos, Hugo Rabelo Leite, Flávio Lima de Souza, Marinalva Silva de Souza, Jairo Feitosa Pereira, Fernando Pereira

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