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Official press release from Office of Former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Boxer Urges Secretary Kerry to Increase U.S. Support and Protections for International Environmental and Lands Rights Activists

May 29, 2015 • Original Press Release
Letter to Secretary of State Kerry Cites 'Serious and Escalating Global Problem' of Harassment, Intimidation and Killing of Activists

Friday, May 29th 2015

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to increase U.S. support and protection for environmental and land activists around the world. The letter cites the growing number of activists killed in Central and South America and Southeast Asia over the past 13 years.‎

Senator Boxer wrote, “Around the world, courageous men and women face threats and violence for defending their right to a healthy environment and a sustainable livelihood. According to investigations conducted by Global Witness, at least 908 activists in 35 countries were killed between 2002 and 2013, and in 2014 alone there were 116 deaths of activists in 17 countries. However, it is difficult to estimate the true scope of this problem as many of these cases go unreported.”

Additionally, the perpetrators of these crimes are rarely held accountable. According to Global Witness‎, only 1 percent of the 908 activist killings between 2002 and 2013 resulted in convictions. ‎

“The United States is a global leader on the protection of human rights and the environment,” Senator Boxer continued. “As such, I urge you to ensure that the protection of environmental and land activists is a key component of U.S. engagement with countries where these individuals are under threat.”

Senator Boxer's letter also asks Secretary Kerry to include specific threats to activists in the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices to help raise awareness and highlight the seriousness of the issue.

The full text of the letter follows:

May 29, 2015

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I write to bring your attention to a serious and escalating global problem—the harassment, intimidation, and killing of environmental and land activists.

Around the world, courageous men and women face threats and violence for defending their right to a healthy environment and a sustainable livelihood. According to investigations conducted by Global Witness, at least 908 activists in 35 countries were killed between 2002 and 2013, and in 2014 alone there were 116 deaths of activists in 17 countries. However, it is difficult to estimate the true scope of this problem as many of these cases go unreported.

Violence against environmental and land activists is especially widespread across Latin America. In fact, approximately 75 percent of the deaths reported by Global Witness in 2014 occurred in Central and South America. In Honduras, 12 activists were killed last year alone—the highest rate per capita in the world. Opposition to hydroelectric dams, illegal logging, and mining projects are the most prominent causes of attacks on Honduran activists. In Colombia, half of those killed last year were indigenous people who were defending their land from encroachment and degradation.

In addition, environmental and land activists in Southeast Asia face similar threats. In the Philippines, a total of 15 activists were killed in 2014 with the majority of those killings connected to opposition to mining and extractive industries. 

Tragically, the perpetrators of these crimes are rarely held accountable. According to Global Witness, only 1 percent of the 908 activist killings between 2002 and 2013 resulted in convictions. In many of these countries, corruption and weak systems of governance have resulted in a culture of impunity where harassment and violence against environmental and land defenders continues unabated.

The United States is a global leader on the protection of human rights and the environment. As such, I urge you to ensure that the protection of environmental and land activists is a key component of U.S. engagement with countries where these individuals are under threat. In particular, as the U.S. seeks to expand energy and environmental cooperation with countries in Latin America, we must also work to address the root causes of this violence—including industrial logging and mining, conflict over land ownership and use, and lack of visibility and accountability. To combat impunity, I hope you will prioritize judicial and security sector reform efforts.

I also ask that you include specific threats to environmental and land activists in the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. By shining a light on this issue, the United States can put pressure on countries to better respect, protect, and promote the rights of these activists.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

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All official press releases from Former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)