Report: Brazil is deadliest country for environmental activists; 57 killed in 2017

British NGO's survey shows agribusiness is the most dangerous industry for environmental defenders

Belém |
British NGO Global Witness reports that 80 percent of deaths in Brazil were in the Amazon
British NGO Global Witness reports that 80 percent of deaths in Brazil were in the Amazon - Repórter Brasil

Brazil is the deadliest country in the world for leaders of indigenous, peasant, and traditional communities, with 57 reported killings in 2017. The Amazon is where most of the conflicts and killings of land and environmental defenders and activists were reported, summing up to 80 percent of deaths. This is what British NGO Global Witness shows in its third annual report on 22 countries.

The report At What Cost?, released last week, points out that agribusiness is the most dangerous industry for people who defend “their forests, rivers, and homes against destructive industries,” surpassing the mining industry for the first time ever.

The Philippines is the second deadliest country, with 48 killings, followed by Colombia, with 24 murders. Danicley Aguiar, an Amazon expert for Greenpeace Brazil, says that these surveys comparing countries show that land conflicts are a central issue in Brazil and the world.

“There is a fight for land. It’s an asymmetrical fight, because unfortunately the State, whether in Brazil or other countries, ultimately sides with the people who try to impose a hegemonic project over the territories,” he argues.

Culture of impunity

Global Witness points out that impunity is one of the factors that leads to increased violence and threats against activists and defenders. This is a struggle Claudelice Santos, 36, has put up to have the killers of her brother José Cláudio Ribeiro and sister-in-law Maria do Espírito Santo tried and convicted by a court of law. The couple was killed in 2011 in Nova Ipixuna, Pará, in the north of Brazil. Since then, violence has only escalated.

“José Cláudio and Maria’s case provoked a backlash in the country and abroad, as well as the cases of Sister Dorothy [Stang] and [environmentalist] Chico Mendes. On the other hand, other activists are killed every day all around [and their cases don’t make the news]. They [the crimes] are related to land, water, or forest conflicts, and don’t become statistics,” Santos says.

The Global Witness report also points out that the coupist Michel Temer administration has been contributing to the increased violence by actively weakening the laws and institutions designed to protect people. The Greenpeace Amazon specialist says that, if Brazil keeps partnering with agribusiness, “we tend to see even more leaders being killed.”

According to the report, the data on killings may be underestimated, especially in rural areas, where access to transport infrastructure is poor and limited, and areas are extremely vast.


The NGO offers a series of recommendations to the countries. To Brazil, it suggests tackling root causes, strengthening the budget allocation of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) and the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI).

It also recommended prioritizing the implementation of the Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders and the “federalization of emblematic killings of human rights defenders, whose investigations are not progressing adequately at the local level.”

The Brazilian government released a statement arguing that the Global Witness report “presents mistaken, exaggerated, weak data and a dubious methodology.” Regarding agribusiness, the government argues that the “occasional crimes are localized, and accusations cannot be generalized to all Brazilian farmers, baselessly.”

Regarding public security, the statement reads that the government has been supporting states where there is a crisis in this industry, and that this year “the Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders had the highest budget allocation since it was created – around R$6.8 million [US$1.8 million].”

Edited by: Juca Guimarães | Translated by Aline Scátola