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CAFOD report exposes deadly environmental and human rights abuses across Latin America


Indigenous women in La Guajira, Colombia, play a vital role in defending their land, livelihoods and water sources from large-scale mining.

Indigenous women in La Guajira, Colombia, play a vital role in defending their land, livelihoods and water sources from large-scale mining.

Source: CAFOD

Just weeks after G7 leaders renewed commitments to "safeguard the planet for future generations", a new report by CAFOD has found that they are falling dangerously short, as those on the frontlines of protecting the environment face unprecedented attacks.

The new report Protecting our common home: land and environmental human rights defenders (HRDs) in Latin America reveals a shocking pattern of environmental and human rights abuses that drastically impacts already underrepresented groups, including: women, indigenous, people of African descent, and small farming communities.

Many killings, threats, and attacks against HRDs have been linked to corporate activity, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and growing inequality. Now, the defenders are calling on state and business leaders to step-up to protect people and planet.

"As a woman, I've suffered humiliation and discrimination", explained Victoria, an environmental defender from Peru where, since the start of the pandemic, nine indigenous leaders have been killed for defending the Peruvian Amazon.

"I have been criminalised for nine years of my life. I have suffered from psychological abuse, low self-esteem, harassment, and unemployment. Alongside personal stress, there's been the discrediting of my family."

Across Latin America, an unprecedented 264 killings were recorded in the region - the highest number worldwide. According to Frontline Defenders, over 40 per cent of these killings were linked to issues around land, indigenous rights, and the environment.

Despite the increasingly hostile environment, HRDs are finding innovative ways of resisting harmful state and corporate activity, including collective mobilisation and international advocacy, which is helping them to push for change. More support, however, is needed.

"For me, defending territories means defending life," said Juana, an environmental human rights defender in Guapinol, Honduras, where eight HRDs have spent more than 22 months in jail for defending national park rivers against mining projects.

Throughout Latin America, communities rely on the land, water and forests to survive, with many working to safeguard the planet and its natural resources for future generations.

However, unequal access to and control over land is a key element of the deeply rooted and growing inequality across the region. According to the UN, in 2020, 209 million people - over a third of Latin America's population - lived in poverty, an increase of 22 million on the previous year.

This inequality and exclusion, paired with the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is helping to feed the perpetual cycle of environmental attacks against HRDs and their communities.

"In every corner of the globe, land and environmental HRDs are under attack" explained co-author of the report and CAFOD's Latin America representative, Emily Mulville. "But these attacks are particularly acute in Latin America. Faced with massive inequality and widespread impunity, they suffer violence, criminalisation, and stigmatisation, often with nowhere to turn for protection. This reality is unacceptable, outrageous and deadly."

The charity is calling for urgent preventative action from UK and EU governments as "international governments, bodies, and businesses all have a responsibility to prevent and end abuses in the supply chains of multinational companies operating in Latin America," Mulville continued.

"Human rights defenders help to keep governments and businesses in check, ensure that models of development put people ahead of profit, and protect our planet.

"And, only by tackling the drivers of these attacks - including the powerful political and economic forces profiting from their land, water and forests - can we protect these courageous men and women who are risking their lives to save the planet for us all."

Read more about the report: https://cafod.org.uk/About-us/Policy-and-research/Private-sector/Human-rights-Latin-America

Download the report here: https://cafod.org.uk/content/download/56617/776987/version/1/file/Protecting%20our%20common%20home%20HRD%20in%20Latin%20America.pdf

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