SAO PAULO (AP) — A London-based advocacy group said Monday it documented 185 killings of environmental activists around the world last year, nearly 60 percent more than in 2014 and the highest since it began collecting data dating back to 2002.
In a newly released report, Global Witness said Brazil topped the 16-country list with 50 environmental defenders slain in 2015, followed by the Philippines with 33 and Colombia with 26. The group says 116 were slain worldwide in 2014.
Last year "was the deadliest year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders — people struggling to protect their land, forests and rivers," the report said.
Conflicts involving mining, agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging are behind most of the killings, which average more than three a week, it added.
Those who oppose such projects are "finding themselves in the firing line of private security companies, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers," Global Witness said.
Firefights and killings around land disputes are common. Last week, an indigenous land activist was killed and several others were injured in Brazil's southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul when their camp was attacked by armed farmers, authorities said. The group had set up a camp to demand that claims to ancestral lands be recognized by the government.
The 50 environmental defenders killed in Brazil last year is nearly double the number slain in the country in 2014. Most of the killings occurred in the Amazon states of Maranhao, Para and Rondonia, where "agribusiness companies, loggers and landowners hire hit men to silence local opposition to their projects," the report said.
Brazil's Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace in Brazil, attributed the killings to a lack of government presence in areas where land conflicts and deforestation are taking place.
"I believe that we will continue leading this ranking until the government solves the problems in the region," Astrini said. "Threats against defenders of the environment and those who represent rural workers and indigenous people will continue to grow, and I fear more will be murdered."