Watchdog: At least 200 environmental activists slain in 2016

FILE - In this April 15, 2014 photo, India's environmental activist Ramesh Agrawal walks outside his shop during an interview in Raigarh in Chhattisgarh state, India. Agrawal was shot in the leg in 2012, three months after he won a court case that blocked a major Indian company, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd., from opening a second coal mine near the village of Gare in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh. At least 200 land and environmental activists were slain in 2016 protecting forests, rivers and land from mining, logging and agricultural companies, the highest annual number on record, the London-based Global Witness said in a report Thursday, July 13, 2017. India had a threefold increase in such killings but Latin America remained the deadliest region with some 60 percent of the world's deaths of activists protecting local resources. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)
FILE - This June 15, 2016, file photo shows a framed image of environmentalist Berta Caceres on a makeshift altar made in her honor during a demonstration outside Honduras' embassy, in Mexico City. At least 200 land and environmental defenders were slain protecting forests, rivers and lands from mining, logging and agricultural companies in 2016 in the world’s deadliest recorded year for such activists, a watchdog group said Thursday, July 13, 2017. That included the high-profile murder of Caceres, who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to a hydroelectric project on her Lenca people’s lands in Honduras. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2007 file photo, an excavator works at Sukinda Valley, estimated to contain 97 percent of India's chromite ore deposits and one of the world's largest open cast chromite ore mines, in Orissa state's Jajpur district, India. At least 200 land and environmental activists were slain in 2016 protecting forests, rivers and land from mining, logging and agricultural companies, the highest annual number on record, the London-based Global Witness said in a report said Thursday, July 13, 2017. India had a threefold increase in such killings but Latin America remained the deadliest region with some 60 percent of the world's deaths of activists protecting local resources. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout, File)
FILE - In this Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012 file photo, Indian girls from the Dongaria Kondh, an 8,000-strong tribe of indigenous people who consider the mineral-rich Niyamgiri hills sacred, watch sacrificial rituals during the annual festival of Niyam Raja in Lanjigarh at the sacred Hill, about 400 kilometers (249 miles) from the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar. In August 2010 India refused permission to London-based Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite for its alumina refinery in the Niyamgiri Hills citing violations of environmental and human rights laws. At least 200 land and environmental activists were slain in 2016 protecting forests, rivers and land from mining, logging and agricultural companies, the highest annual number on record, the London-based Global Witness said in a report said Thursday, July 13, 2017. India had a threefold increase in such killings but Latin America remained the deadliest region with some 60 percent of the world's deaths of activists protecting local resources. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout, File)

NEW DELHI — At least 200 land and environmental activists were slain in 2016 protecting forests, rivers and land from mining, logging and agricultural companies, the highest annual number on record, a watchdog group said Thursday.

India had a threefold increase in such killings but Latin America remained the deadliest region with some 60 percent of the world's deaths of activists protecting local resources, London-based Global Witness said in a report. The deaths, which rose from 185 the previous year, were reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015.

"The fact that the upward curve of killings has continued ... suggests that governments and business continue to prioritize short-term profit over human lives," Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte told The Associated Press.

Mining, oil, agriculture and logging were the industries most associated with activist murders. Kyte said such interests are encroaching more on previously untouched areas and coming into conflict in particular with indigenous peoples, who accounted for 40 percent of the victims documented in the report.

The group said the true number of killings is likely to be much higher, since collecting such data is difficult. And while murder is an extreme tactic of oppression, activists also routinely experienced death threats, assaults, arrests and costly legal battles, it said.

Honduras, where 14 land defenders were killed last year, remained the deadliest nation per capita. The victims there included Berta Caceres, who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to a hydroelectric dam project on her Lenca people's lands. She was slain in March 2016 by gunmen who forced their way into her home. Two other members of her indigenous organization Copinh were also killed last year.

Last week, two European development banks announced they were pulling financing from the dam project that Caceres had opposed.

Forty-nine land activists were slain last year in Brazil and 37 in Colombia, the two highest national tolls, the report said. The Philippines and India were next with 28 and 16, respectively. The report noted police brutality against largely peaceful protests soared in India in 2016.

Across Africa the people most at risk were rangers at national parks whose jobs pitted them against poachers.

The report said activists fighting to protect the natural resources of their communities around the world, including in the United States, increasingly found themselves portrayed as criminals, facing both false charges and aggressive civil cases brought by governments and companies.

The group's research suggests that 2017 will be deadlier, Kyte said.

"I think these attacks are getting more brazen," said Kyte, lamenting what he called "collusion between states and corporate interests in silencing dissent over these destructive industries."

___

Orsi reported from Mexico City.

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