Climate activists: protecting the planet at a high cost

If there is one overall agreement regarding global sustainable development is that local communities, minorities, and stakeholders are cornerstones in the achievement of long term environmental policies. Over the past two decades, Mexico has done little to protect the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite, protocols, rhetorics, and political speeches Mexico is still behind schedule when it comes to guaranteeing environmental action on the ground and protecting those who are actively engaged.

Amid national and multilateral agreements signed since 2015, Mexico is at the top of the list of people killed for their environmental activism. According to the Global Witness reports between 2017 and 2019, 41 activists were killed. Amnesty International has meticulously researched the killing of Julian Carrillo, whose actions to protect the natural resources of his community caused the reaction of organized crime, which used paramilitary techniques to kill him in October 2018. As multiple media sources claim, the murder of the activist remained unpunished.

Until today the death of Julian remains obscure. Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, his family had become a symbol for the Rararumuri community that since 1970 has continuously fought against national and international mining companies whose interests in the region represent a multimillionaire deal. The case of Julian Carrillo illustrates how human rights, freedom of speech and sustainable development mingled into Mexico’s unstoppable violence. As in many other cases across Mexico, belonging to an indigenous community is a synonym of vulnerability and persecution.

The 2018 Human Rights Watch briefing on Mexico brings together key data about the constant violation of minorities’ rights, the erosion of freedom of speech and the rise of impunity within the legal system. Given the number with the report, the evidence seems to be unavailable. Since 2000, 110 journalists have been killed. Between 2012 and 2018 nearly 5,000 complaints were received by the National Human Rights Commission, and grievances against environmental activists have propagated to central and southern regions. The GWP ranks Mexico in the top 10 countries where environmental defenders are targeted as enemies of the state and criminal organizations. In the ranking, other countries such as Iran and Colombia are facing similar situations.

A country that cannot protect freedom of speech and does not fulfill basic elements within law enforcement and justice is unlikely to accomplish better environmental practices. Unfortunately, this is the case in Mexico. Based on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, the country ranked 72 out of 180 with an EPI score below 60 points. Mexico’s worst categories among the 12 evaluated are agriculture and land management. These low scores explain to a certain degree the segregations and vulnerability of landowners and local producers, which are in many cases indigenous communities.In 2018, the administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador committed to protecting minorities under an inclusive and democratic environment.

However, there are still unresolved topics such as Mexico’s willingness to adopt the follow-up recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. As a result, environmental leaders within minority groups remain in a perpetual state of risk.

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