Increasingly, companies are entering territories traditionally managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities to meet the rising demand for land-based resources. This is leading to increased violence and intimidation against these local communities. Many environmental defenders within these communities are among the planet’s greatest stewards, caring for lands and natural resources that sustain up to 2.5 billion people. Growing violence against and criminalization of these defenders indicates bad governance and poses huge environmental risks to the lands they are protecting.

WRI works with governments, civil society organizations, Indigenous peoples and local communities to help protect these environmental defenders. Too often, these defenders and their lands are at the mercy of large organizations. WRI is committed to empowering them and protecting their interests by identifying and advancing preventative measures that reduce the risk of attacks, violence and stigmatization against land defenders.

We enact this work by:

Examining conditions that create dangerous environments.

From weak enforcement of laws that safeguard defenders’ environmental rights to insecure Indigenous and community land tenure, many conditions can create a dangerous environment for those protecting their land, wildlife and natural resources. Understanding the political, economic and social root causes of violence against environmental defenders will help decision-makers develop policies that keep them safe.

Advancing national and regional reforms to safeguard defenders.

We help governments and civil society develop laws that strengthen transparency, public participation and accountability in environmental decision-making — reforms that reduce risk factors that incite violence, as well as legal frameworks that protect defenders. For example, WRI campaigned for and supported a six-year negotiation process among Latin American and Caribbean states, culminating in the landmark Escazú Agreement. This accord not only protects environmental defenders, but makes it easier for nearly 500 million people to access information, participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives and hold powerful interests to account.

Convening coalitions to scale approaches that prevent and reduce risks to defenders.

As a founding member of the Defending Land and Environmental Defenders Coalition, we work with a broad network of partners to better understand the scope of threats and violence against defenders by aggregating and analyzing data from around the world. Using this information, we develop strategies to address attacks, slow the closing of civic space and protect defenders. We also run targeted advocacy campaigns to persuade governments to address the root causes of violence. Finally, we share resources for defenders and governments, including emergency response measures, psychosocial interventions and personal support systems.

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