Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Environmental battle: British NGO singles out India as one of 16 countries where activists died globally

By Our Representative
India is one of the 16 countries which a British non-profit organization, Global Witness, has identified where environmental activists were killed in the year 2015. In its latest report, titled “On Dangerous Ground”, the top advocacy group has said, of the 117 non-indigenous people who died fighting for environmental rights worldwide, six were Indian.
Giving the five examples of deaths globally it has revealed, the report singles out that of Sandeep Kothari, an Indian journalist, who, it says, “was found burned and beaten to death in Maharashtra state on June 20, 2015,” because he “had written critically on sand mining by local mafia groups in Balaghat district, which the state has allowed to grow unchecked.”
The report says, “Prior to his murder, he had faced considerable threats, including intimidation by the police and spurious legal charges in alleged retribution for his journalism.” Other countries from where examples of similar nature have been chosen are Guatemala, Myanmar, Peru, and Brazil.
“The environment is emerging as a new battleground for human rights”, the report says, adding, “As demand for products like timber, minerals and palm oil continues, governments, companies and criminal gangs are exploiting land with little regard for the people who live on it.”
“Increasingly”, it points out, “Communities that take a stand are finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers. The numbers are shocking. We documented 185 killings across 16 countries, a 59% increase on 2014 and the highest annual toll on record.”
“The worst hit countries were Brazil (50 killings), the Philippines (33) and Colombia (26). Mining was the industry most linked to killings of land and environmental defenders with 42 deaths in 2015. Agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging were also key drivers of violence”, the report says.
Singling out India as one of the countries where illegal loggers were responsible for 15 killings along with the Philippines, India, Guatemala and Cambodia, the report says, across the globe, “logging trade operates in remote areas with weak law enforcement and often works hand in hand with corrupt local officials”, adding, “Loggers are encroaching into previously untouched areas in the search for high-value timber and coming into conflict with local communities.”
Regretting that the data it has collected, especially from Asia, may be inadequate, the report says, “In 2015, almost 40% of victims were indigenous.” None of those who have been reported killed in 2015 from India belong to the “indigenous” category – tribals.
“There was little evidence that the authorities either fully investigated the crimes, or took actions to bring the perpetrators to account”, the report regrets, adding, “Our findings highlight another alarming trend: while impunity for perpetrators prevails, the criminalization of activists is becoming more commonplace.”
It says, “Governments and powerful business interests use their influence to marginalise defenders and turn public opinion against them, branding their actions as ‘anti-development’... There is growing international awareness of this growing crisis, with many NGOs and human rights experts calling for urgent action.”

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