By Oliver Griffin
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia was the deadliest country for environmentalists in 2022, with at least 60 environmental and land rights defenders killed there, British advocacy group Global Witness said in a report on Tuesday.
Global Witness found at least 177 environmentalists were killed globally last year. Latin America accounted for 88% of the deadly attacks.
"In Colombia and elsewhere, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, small-scale farmers and environmental activists were viciously targeted," Laura Furones, senior adviser to Global Witness' Land and Environmental Defenders Campaign, said during a virtual press conference.
The findings returned Colombia to the top of the list of deadliest countries for environmentalists after killings declined in 2021 compared to 2019 and 2020. Since coming to power in August last year, the government of leftist President Gustavo Petro has pledged to step up attempts to halt such violence.
"It's really a shameful statistic for the country," Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said in a video message.
The findings will be frustrating for Petro's administration, which passed a law ratifying the Escazu agreement on environmental protection in October last year.
The agreement, adopted in the eponymous Escazu region of Costa Rica in March 2018, includes provisions to protect environmentalists, among others. The law has not yet been approved by Colombia's Constitutional Court.
"The ratification of the Escazu agreement by the Constitutional Court is fundamental," Muhamad said. "It would support us a lot in the necessity of protecting environmental defenders."
A deadline for the Constitutional Court to analyze the law is suspended while it waits to receive evidence, which it requested in August, a spokesperson said.
Brazil and Mexico were the second and third most deadly countries for environmentalists in 2022, the report found, with at least 34 and 31 killings respectively.
The only two countries not from Latin America to be included in the 10 most dangerous for environmentalists were the Philippines and Indonesia, Global Witness said.
(Reporting by Oliver Griffin editing by Grant McCool)