In Peru, five men connected to the timber industry were charged with murder in the 2014 deaths of four indigenous environmental activists. The four indigenous activists found dead on Sept. 1, 2014 included the leader, Edwin Chota, along with Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima and Francisco Pinedo. The five charged, who face a prison sentence of up to 35 years, include two timber industry executives accused of ordering the murders, which are alleged to have been carried out by the other three, who are loggers. Peruvian authorities have said that the activists were killed via shotgun fire in the Upper Tamaya-Saweto Ashaninka territory at Peru’s border with Brazil. The case is being deemed unprecedented by environmentalists, as activities such as illegal logging and violence carried out by those groups tend to be addressed in an ineffectual manner by Peruvian authorities. Tom Bewick, Peru country director of the Rainforest Foundation U.S., said, “We hope that the legacy of the victims of this massacre can lead to justice.”
An organization that investigations corruption and abuse of the environment, Global Witness, stated that in 2018 164 environmentalists were killed around the world. The greatest number of activist deaths were in relation to the mining industry, with logging in the top five. About half of that 164 are environmentalists killed in countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Guatemala. The Amazon rainforest region in South America has been marked by a number of attacks targeting environmentalists. A recent report from Global Witness indicates that illegal logging is a major issue in the Peruvian timber industry. Over 60 per cent of timber that is inspected by OSINFOR, the agency tasked with addressing illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, in two timber rich regions, has illegal origins. This means that it was harvested from land belonging to people sanctioned for violating forest laws. OSINFOR had been placed under ministerial control in December 2018 but in April 2019 its independence was restored. In 2018, OSINFOR found that at least 45 companies exported timber that was illegally sourced, from the Peruvian city of Callao.
The issue of illegal logging and the associated violence that accompanies it is a significant challenge in Peru and other parts of the world. From a glance at the statistics, it becomes apparent that environmentalists, including indigenous activists, face significant potential harm. Better regulatory oversight and stronger efforts to bring groups engaging in violence against environmentalists are some of the steps needed to address issues such as deforestation, which threatens indigenous people that live in the Amazon rainforest. The charges against the five men connected to the logging industry, in the murders of four indigenous activists, is an important step towards promoting environmental and indigenous justice.