For Those Who Died Trying
Around the world people have lost their lives for protecting a wide range of environmental values ranging from the exposing of waste-dumping, illegal deforestation, land grabs, to opposing the construction of polluting coal plants, mines, and other extractive industries. As well as environmental issues some have fought for their basic human rights and those of others.
Rurally-based and collectively organised environmental and human rights activists – or “community-based Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)” – are often totally un-supported and unrecognised in their struggles for their rights. Thus, they have no other choice than to fight the interests of wealthy and powerful people. As a result these activists suffer the most-dire consequences.
Global Witness has documented 991 killings and enforced disappearances of land and environment defenders globally between 2002 and 2014. It is likely that the death toll is even higher. There is a lack of reporting from remote areas at the frontiers of resource exploitation, and suppression of civil society and the media may also be limiting information in some countries.
In Thailand, research by Protection International has already documented the cases of over 50 Human Rights Defenders having been murdered in the last 20 years, including several cases of enforced disappearances. This makes Thailand one of the worst offenders in terms of violence against HRDs, including a system of impunity putting community-based HRDs at high risk of violence and injustice. Yet, Thai community-based activists and their networks have become increasingly more sophisticated and organised in defending their livelihoods and protecting their environment. This has led to a decrease in profit-oriented opportunities for the rich and influential, which in turn may have led to an increase in violence against those who oppose the rich and influential.
Across the country people that have become obstacles have simply been removed. Many perpetrators go unpunished as the influence of the rich and influential can easily override justice. Guns for hire commit the crime on behalf of the payer, and both work with almost total impunity. The effects of such an assassination on a small and un-recognised community struggle can be devastating.
The project which was sponsored and supported by Protection International who works to protect Human Rights Defenders, looks to remember those who died trying by placing a portrait of the HRD, where possible, at the exact place she or he was murdered or abducted. It is vital, for the victims and their families, that their fight and their death should not be forgotten and left un-recognised. Ultimately, those that abuse their power with impunity must not go unpunished; the HRD’s recognition and administration of justice are steps on the path to end these killings.