In 2015 and 2016 alone, at least 450 human rights activists suffered a violent attack with a proven complicity of State and business actors, shows a recent report issued by the UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst.
Over half of the attacks took place in Latin America. The top three most dangerous countries for activists are Guatemala, Colombia, and Mexico. Additionally, the study reveals that a quarter of the companies involved in the attacks have headquarters in one of those three countries: Canada, China, or USA.
While defenders face abuse and harassment across all sectors, the land-consuming industries are the most dangerous for human rights defenders. Environmental defenders are often in a vulnerable position due to the disproportion of “legal, logistical, defensive, and financial resources available” when dealing with resource extraction corporations. Furthermore, factors such as corruption and illicit relations between the police forces and companies lead to “a situation in which the police become the asset of private interests and fail to protect local communities.”
With this in mind, the report calls businesses to assume responsibility for the situation faced by grassroots activists. “Although the primary responsibility to investigate attacks against defenders rests upon the State,” concedes the report, “companies also have an important role to play.”
It is necessary that companies employ the human rights situation as an investment criterion, and “exclude countries and companies with extensive track-records of threats and attacks against defenders,” urges the report.
The report goes in line with a study by Global Witness, a human rights watchdog, who reported 200 environmental activists murdered in 2016, with mining and oil extraction identified as the most deadly sectors. Among the victims was a Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres, killed by gunshot in March, 2016. According to Global Witness, foreign institutions, the Dutch Development Bank and the Finnish Development Bank, not only invested in the hydroelectric project Cáceres opposed, but also continued to fund it long after her murder.
Photo by Prachatai.