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Never has it been more important to protect the environment, and never has it been more deadly. Competition for access to natural resources is intensifying against a backdrop of extreme global inequality, while humanity has already crossed several vital planetary environmental boundaries. At the same time, more and more ordinary people are finding themselves on the frontline of the battle to defend their environment from corporate or state abuse, and from unsustainable exploitation.

This report shines a light on the sharp end of this rapidly worsening and poorly understood problem. The issue is notoriously under-reported, but between 2002 and 2013, we have been able to verify that 908 citizens were killed protecting rights to their land and environment. Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week. There were almost certainly more cases, but the nature of the problem makes information hard to find, and even harder to verify. However, even the known level of killings is on a par with the more high-profile incidences of 913 journalists killed while carrying out their work in the same period.3 The death rate also points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which are not documented in this report.

This rapidly worsening crisis appears to be hidden in plain sight. A lack of systematic monitoring or awareness of the growing threat to environmental and land activists is enabling killings and a wide range of other abuses, while national governments and judicial systems are regularly failing to protect their citizens from harm.

Deadly Environment: The dramatic rise in killings of environmental and land defenders, 2014

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