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Most of the 177 environmental activists killed last year were in Latin America


Nearly 200 environmental activists around the world were killed last year. That's according to a new report from an international human rights group. Most of the advocates were killed in Latin America. Colombia topped the list with 60 people killed. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The list is long and spans several continents. But for environmental activists in Latin America, 2022 was particularly deadly.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

KAHN: In Brazil, friends and relatives protested the disappearance of activist Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips while on a fact-finding trip in the Amazon. And in Colombia, land rights advocates Teofilo Acuna and Jorge Tafur both put out videos denouncing death threats they'd received.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Last year, all four were found dead. Their names are highlighted on the list of 177 environmentalists killed in 2020, according to Global Witness.

LAURA FURONES: Not enough has been done to stop the killings.

KAHN: The group's Laura Furones says impunity fuels the murder rate and emboldens perpetrators to continue killing.

FURONES: No one is jailed. No one is tried. Nothing happens, so it's clear that killing a defender doesn't really entail too many risks for the murderers.

KAHN: Furones says many are murdered when they stand off with large- and small-scale industries invading their territories, mostly in mining and agriculture. She says the rush to extract critical metals needed for electric vehicles and other transitional energy sources has seen activists clash with illegal miners and land invaders. Many of these are run by organized crime syndicates. Indigenous leaders made up more than a third of those killed last year. Colombia topped the list with at least 60 activist deaths.


SUSANA MUHAMAD: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: It's really a shameful statistic for the country, said Environmental Minister Susana Muhamad in a video message. The government of leftist president Gustavo Petro recently passed a law to step up measures to protect environmentalists, but it's been put on hold by Colombia's constitutional Court.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF STORMZY SONG, "FIRE PLUS WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.