University of Oulu

Philippe Le Billon, Päivi Lujala, Environmental and land defenders: Global patterns and determinants of repression, Global Environmental Change, Volume 65, 2020, 102163, ISSN 0959-3780,

Environmental and land defenders : global patterns and determinants of repression

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Author: Le Billon, Philippe1; Lujala, Päivi2
Organizations: 1Department of Geography and School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, Canada
2Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-10-28


Environmental and land defenders play a crucial role in attempts to slow down environmental change and address power inequalities in land-use and resource development. Yet, they frequently face repression, including defamation, criminalization, and assassination. Recent policy and media coverage initiatives have provided much needed attention to the protection and support of defenders, but there has so far been little systematic analysis of patterns and determinants of repression at multiple scales. Here, we use databases providing the best available worldwide record of cases of socio-environmental conflicts and killings of defenders to identify patterns of repression and potential determinants of killings. Globally, about a third of socio-environmental conflicts involve mass mobilization, arrests and direct forms of violence. These ‘high intensity’ conflicts are more frequent in Asia and Latin America. At least 1734 killings of environmental and land defenders took place in a total of 53 countries between 2002 and 2018, most of them occurring in Brazil, the Philippines, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Peru. Our multivariate analysis indicates that major country-level determinants of killings include income level, foreign direct investment, dependency on mineral extraction, regime type, frequency of protest movements, and size of Indigenous populations. We suggest that more systematic reporting and analysis of repression — including through subnational level studies for which we provide testable hypotheses — can help protect and support defenders, notably through conflict-sensitive investment policies and greater accountability for abuses.

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Series: Global environmental change
ISSN: 0959-3780
ISSN-E: 1872-9495
ISSN-L: 0959-3780
Volume: 65
Article number: 102163
DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102163
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 519 Social and economic geography
Funding: This research was funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [grant number 435-2016-0655], the Academy of Finland [grant numbers 314143, 309206].
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 314143
Detailed Information: 314143 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
309206 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2020. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license