For environmental activists conflict is their very life-blood, though with it goes with the assumption that their work rarely goes further than passive-aggressive: how times change. Now it is the blood of the activists themselves that is being spilled.
Global Witness, which records killings of social and environmental activists, says the trend is upward with the death-toll among activists doubling over the past decade to more than two a week. Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and the Philippines are the most dangerous places for activists, says Global Witness, but in parts of Africa many deaths never reach international attention.
With the all-consuming search for resources and talk of ‘resource wars’ ever present, threats to environmental activism are getting increasingly more dangerous as the stakes (money) are getting higher and higher. For the activists whether on a local, regional or international level these ‘environmental confrontations’ proliferate.
Last May Margarito Cabal was returning home from visiting Kibawe, one of 21 villages scheduled to be flooded by the 300-megawatt Pulangi V hydroelectric project on the southern Filipino island of Mindanao, when he was shot at home and died.
No prosecution has followed, but attention has focused on government security forces. According to the World Organization Against Torture, an international network based in Switzerland that has taken up the case, Filipino soldiers had for several weeks been conducting military operations in and around Kibawe and had attacked peasant groups opposing the dam. Cabal is the thirteenth environmentalist killed in the Philippines in the past two years. Seven months earlier, a Catholic missionary was murdered after opposing local mining and hydro projects.
When the Brazilian activist Chico Mendes was murdered by a rancher in 1988 there was a global outcry, in part due to his high-profile developed in the course of fighting to preserve the Amazon rain-forest and the rights of Brazilian peasants. But is was also partly due to the shock of someone dying in the cause of environmentalism, considered low priority compared to the ‘high politics’ of the Cold War.
Personal danger is not what most environmentalists have in mind when they take up the cause of protecting nature and the people who rely on it in their daily lives. But from Laos to the Philippines to Brazil, the list of environmentalists who have paid for their activism with their lives is clearly growing. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre