The VICE Guide to Right Now

The Philippines Is the Deadliest Country for Environment Activists

For the first time since 2012, an Asian country has unseated Brazil at the top of the list.
July 31, 2019, 9:57am
Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr; licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Defending the environment and the atrocities against it is a dangerous undertaking. In 2018, more than three activists were killed per week over their efforts to oppose the encroachment of industries such as “mining, logging, and agribusiness,” according to a new report called “Enemies of the State?” by Global Witness.

The Philippines, one of the most biodiverse places in the world, has been declared the deadliest country for land and environmental protectors. In 2018 alone, 30 environmental activists were killed across the country. In 2017, this number was 48, the highest of any country in Asia’s history. Half of the 2018 incidents were over agribusiness.


Out of the 30 people killed in the Philippines, nine belonged to the National Federation of Sugar Workers, an organization of sugar farmers that fights for farmers’ rights and land ownership. Reports say the killings were in relation to a longstanding land dispute. As the farmers were taking a rest during their working hours, gunmen brutally shot them down.

The Global Witness report also identify indigenous people in the country as disproportionately targeted by harassment and violence as landowners seek to consolidate and profit from natural resources.

Following the report, environmental and human rights groups across the Philippines have called on the United Nations to probe into the injustices committed against environmental defenders. Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and KARAPATAN have requested UN special rapporteurs to investigate.

Following the Philippines on the list are Colombia, India, and Brazil.

The dangers for activists who protest the acts of groups such as loggers and poachers are clear worldwide. A total of 164 people were murdered over their activism last year. While this is down from 2017, where 201 defenders were killed, this death rate still remains high.

“Overall, there is no sign that the underlying causes of violence are improving. In fact, they seem to be worsening,” Alice Harrison, Global Witness’s Senior Campaigner, told The Guardian.

“Governments in some of the worst-affected countries, from Brazil to Mexico to India, are prioritizing opportunities for extractives and agricultural companies over the protection of the environment and human rights, setting the stage for more conflict over land.”


The largest percentage of deaths this year were over mining-related efforts. Forty-eight people were killed. The steepest rise, however, was related to the protection of water sources, where seventeen people were killed compared to four in 2017.

Brazil has topped the list every year since 2012 when Global Witness began conducting this report. But in 2018, the number of deaths in the country fell by almost two-thirds, from 57 to 20. According to The Guardian, growing international recognition and efforts by the UN to push for the recognition of the right to a healthy environment have contributed to this decline.

Even still, Latin America is the worst offender when it comes to violence towards land and environmental defenders. Over 50 percent of the killings worldwide occur on the continent.

“Vicious attacks against land and environmental defenders are still happening, despite growing momentum behind environmental movements the world over,” said Harrison.

Find Meera on Twitter and Instagram.