Attacks and assassinations against environmental activists over the last decade have doubled, with the majority of attacks occurring in Brazil, Cambodia, and the Philippines, among others. For those who engage in the activity of environmental protection and activism, the risk of violence against their safety is always present (a risk similar to being indigenous and unwilling to sell your land).
There remains a growing list of environmentalists who have paid the ultimate price for their beliefs, from Laos to the Philippines, to Brazil, even Canada, the number of those who have paid for their activism with their lives continues to rise. This is likely fueled by the fact that environmental issues have been increasingly taking center stage as we approach potential biosphere collapse.
One anecdote comes from Rio de Janeiro, on the final day of the Earth Summit, when two leaders of an organization fighting the construction of gas pipelines associated with Petrobras, decided to take off on a fishing trip. Their work against the pipelines was fueled by the claim that the pipelines would cause pollution and the engineering works would negatively impact the wildlife and fisheries in the area were killed mysteriously. On the final day of the Summit, after the men took off on their trip, they were later found dead at sea, strangled and tied to the boat.
Even after alarms were raised from numerous NGOs around the world, and information regarding many environmental activists is still withheld, many families have to settle with having many unanswered questions over the sudden disappearance of their loved ones. Another man, Margarito Cabal, was shot to death over his work and activism regarding a planned hydroelectric dam on the southern Filipino island of Mindanao. Currently, an international network based in Switzerland has taken up the case of Cabal, according to the World Organization Against Torture. State authorities continue to say in various cases that the kidnappings have nothing to do with them. However, people who have viewed CCTV footage of the kidnappings, with state authorities standing by and not intervening, believe that they played some role in the abduction.
Or what about Sombath Somphone? He has built his career in development work, receiving funding from prestigious organizations like Oxfam and the European Union. His work strategies are explicitly Buddhist, and he has several projects involving a myriad of interests from fish farming to recycling household waste.
One day in December his jeep was stopped by police in Vientiane for a seemingly routine traffic stop. As he was speaking with the officers, another individual turned up on a motorcycle, drove away in his vehicle, and moments later Somphone was kidnapped and whisked away in a van having not been seen since. Authorities also (unsurprisingly) deny having any connections to the incident. It’s been over a year and he is still missing. His wife recently told Guardian Australia that there were allegations about him taking a prominent opposition position to the development agenda of the Laos government, which might have been a motive behind his disappearance.
After Somphone disappeared the Laos government told Shui Meng it had established an investigative committee, but could not discover anything about his whereabouts. The same run-around is what many families and individuals experience who lose someone; family or friends having been kidnapped or killed for their activism.
Somphone is just one of many who have disappeared with no explanation given, with many questions remaining unanswered. Jairo Mora Sandoval was murdered while attempting to protect leatherback turtle nests, along with four female volunteer activists who were abducted by a group of masked men. The women eventually escaped and informed the police, Mora was found beaten and bound, left dead on the beach.
Over 1500 Brazilians have been killed in their fight against deforestation over the past 25 years, and the list of violence against activists goes on. People are increasingly beginning to see that their government isn’t doing enough to offer them protection, even turning some to point the finger of involvement toward the states themselves.
Amnesty International recently set out to see just what kind of reactions they would get over an abusive kidnapping, so they staged a kidnapping performance to take place in a Kiev movie theater. During the experiment, in the middle of the film, the lights came on and four men with balaclavas, fatigues, and semi-automatic rifles walked in and targeted two people out of the audience to whisk away. The fellow audience members didn’t do much, some videotaped on their cellphones, while others simply waited for the momentary inconvenience in their film screening to be over with.
Whether or not you personally involve yourself in defending the environment should make no difference in your willingness to step in and defend those who do. If you see a kidnapping, bullying, murder, or a rape: do something if only for the fact that your actions will literally inspire anyone else around to get involved. The same can be true when you get involved in defending or campaigning for anything important to you, so wouldn’t you want others to help you survive an attempted kidnapping or assassination?