According to a new report, a staggering 24 environmental defenders were killed in Colombia in 2017, making it one of the deadliest countries on earth for activists.
The findings come from a recently released report, At What Cost?, by the U.K.-based non-profit environmental and human rights organization Global Witness, which shines the light on the struggle faced by activists across the world, including Ramón Bedoya of Colombia.
Photo: Ramón gives a tour of the land that his family owns, showing the diversity of flora that has been taken over by palm oil plantations. (Photo credit: Thom Pierce | Guardian | Global Witness | UN Environment)
His family has been devastated by while fighting to recover property, a common plight for many of the more than seven million who were displaced during a half-century of conflict. “Paramilitary groups came in, the guerrillas, and the army,” says Bedoya of the Riosucio area of Colombia, in a Global Witness video. “Many leaders of the land reclamation movement have been killed, including my father.”
Despite the potentially grave consequences, Bedoya, who was 18 when his father, Hernán, was reportedly shot to death with 15 bullets in 2017, has pledged to continue the fight.
“It is up to me now to follow in my father’s footsteps,” added Bedoya, “so that they will give us back our land again…I want to finish what he started. We campesinos can win. There are many of us and we are ready to fight for our rights. It’s our land and we are not going to give it up.”
The report elaborates on the conditions that have contributed to so much violence and death for those who have spoken up in recent years in Colombia. “Land conflicts are intensifying in the wake of the Colombian peace process, as returning communities clash with those attempting to grab land for commodities such as palm oil, in a country where impunity rules,” stated the report.
The 24 killings in Colombia in 2017 made the Andean nation the third deadliest country across the world, according to Global Witness. Only Brazil, where 57 people were killed, and the Philippines, with 48 deaths, were deadlier last year for activists trying to protect the land or environment.
In addition to Brazil and Colombia, the NGO found that Mexico (15 deaths), Peru (8), Honduras (5), and Guatemala (3) were also all among the worst 10 nations globally.
Combined, this makes Latin America — which leads the world in overall homicide rate — by far the most dangerous place for environmental activists, which were killed at a higher number in 2017 than any other year tracked by Global Witness.
“Of the 207 defenders murdered last year, a vast majority of them hailed from Latin America, which remains the most dangerous region for defenders, accounting for 60% of those killed in 2017,” states the report. “Brazil saw 57 murders alone — the worst year on record anywhere in the world.”
The following is the full list of those killed in Colombia last year, according to Global Witness:
- 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 Correaz
- 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
The report categorizes all of the victims in Colombia and elsewhere as “land and environmental defenders, who we define as people taking peaceful action to protect land or environmental rights, whether in their own personal capacity or professionally.”