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New CAFOD report exposes deadly pattern of environmental and human rights abuses across Latin America

7 July 2021

7 July 2021

Just weeks after G7 leaders renewed commitments to “safeguard the planet for future generations”, a new report by charity CAFOD has found that they are falling dangerously short, as those on the frontlines of protecting the environment face unprecedented attacks. 

The new report  Protecting our common home: land and environmental human rights defenders (HRDs) in Latin America Protecting our common home: land and environmental human rights defenders (HRDs) in Latin America reveals a shocking pattern of environmental and human rights abuses that drastically impacts already underrepresented groups, including: women, indigenous, people of African descent, and small farming communities.  

Many killings, threats, and attacks against HRDs have been linked to corporate activity, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and growing inequality. Now, the defenders are calling on state and business leaders to step-up to protect people and planet.  

“As a woman, I’ve suffered humiliation and discrimination", explained Victoria, an environmental defender from Peru where, since the start of the pandemic, nine indigenous leaders have been killed for defending the Peruvian Amazon.  

“I have been criminalised for nine years of my life. I have suffered from psychological abuse, low self-esteem, harassment, and unemployment. Alongside personal stress, there’s been the discrediting of my family.”     

Last year was the deadliest ever to be a human rights defender 

Across Latin America, an unprecedented 264 killings were recorded in the region - the highest number worldwide. According to Frontline Defenders, over 40 per cent of these killings were linked to issues around land, indigenous rights, and the environment.  

Despite the increasingly hostile environment, HRDs are finding innovative ways of resisting harmful state and corporate activity, including collective mobilisation and international advocacy, which is helping them to push for change. More support, however, is needed. 

“For me, defending territories means defending life,” said Juana, an environmental human rights defender in Guapinol, Honduras, where eight HRDs have spent more than 22 months in jail for defending national park rivers against mining projects.  

Throughout Latin America, communities rely on the land, water and forests to survive, with many working to safeguard the planet and its natural resources for future generations.    

However, unequal access to and control over land is a key element of the deeply rooted and growing inequality across the region. According to the UN, in 2020, 209 million people – over a third of Latin America’s population – lived in poverty, an increase of 22 million on the previous year.  

This inequality and exclusion, paired with the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is helping to feed the perpetual cycle of environmental attacks against HRDs and their communities.    

“In every corner of the globe, land and environmental HRDs are under attack”

Explained co-author of the report and CAFOD’s Latin America representative, Emily Mulville.

"But these attacks are particularly acute in Latin America. Faced with massive inequality and widespread impunity, they suffer violence, criminalisation, and stigmatisation, often with nowhere to turn for protection. This reality is unacceptable, outrageous and deadly.” 

The charity is calling for urgent preventative action from UK and EU governments as “international governments, bodies, and businesses all have a responsibility to prevent and end abuses in the supply chains of multinational companies operating in Latin America,” Mulville continued.  

“Human rights defenders help to keep governments and businesses in check, ensure that models of development put people ahead of profit, and protect our planet.

"And, only by tackling the drivers of these attacks – including the powerful political and economic forces profiting from their land, water and forests - can we protect these courageous men and women who are risking their lives to save the planet for us all.”   

Notes to Editors

For further information and interviews with spokespeople, please contact: Elouise Hobbs,, Mobile: +44 (0)7954 077426, Or, CAFOD’s 24-hour media hotline on +44 (0)7919 301 429 For further information and interviews with spokespeople, please contact: Elouise Hobbs,, Mobile: +44 (0)7954 077426, Or, CAFOD’s 24-hour media hotline on +44 (0)7919 301 429    

  • The full report can be found here:

  • Countries included in the report were: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru.  

  • Further details of the statistics mentioned in the press release and report can be found at:  

  • This report has been produced by CAFOD as part of the project “Defending Land, Territory and the Environment: Promoting the work of human rights defenders in Latin America,” implemented by CAFOD, CALDH and CINEP, and co-funded by the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of CAFOD and the project and can under no circumstances be taken as reflecting the position of the European Union.    

  • CAFOD is the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and part of Caritas International. We reach out to people living in poverty with practical help, whatever their religion or culture. Help us build a world where no one is beyond reach of the love and care they need.