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Sussex researchers funded to investigate violence against environmental defenders

Over 2,000 of Brazil’s indigenous people protested environmental damage to their land at a recent march. Image courtesy of Dr Felipe Milanez

José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva was murdered, along with his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, in 2011 for fighting against illegal loggers in Brazil. Image courtesy of Dr Felipe Milanez

Researchers from the University of Sussex have received nearly £300,000 from the British Academy to explore how environmental defenders experience violence, and why they continue to fight despite the risks they face.

Environmental defenders are defined by the UN as anyone who defends environmental rights, including their constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment.

A recent report by Global Witness revealed that worldwide almost four environmental defenders are killed per week for taking a stand against environmental destruction on their land.

Dr Mary Menton, a Research Fellow in the School of Life Sciences, will now lead a project to explore how environmental defenders experience violence specifically in relation to projects designed to promote the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Menton said: “The atmosphere of violence that environmental defenders currently face is of urgent policy and humanitarian concern. We plan to work with environmental defenders in six countries to explore their narratives and experiences of violence. We will also look more broadly at governance structures and the socio-economic, political and historical conditions and processes that are at the root of this violence. By understanding the actors involved and the root causes, we hope to be able to work towards mitigating and preventing the threats to which environmental defenders are exposed.”

Dr Felipe Milanez, project co-Investigator from the Federal University of Bahia-Brazil, said: “We are living through a time of great anguish regarding the future, and in environments threatened with destruction. These days, there is so much violence against people who defend the common good, the environment and spaces for collective existence. Through this project, we hope to contribute by increasing the visibility of the struggles of these people who defend the future of humanity.”

The project will focus on defenders in Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea-Bissau), Asia (Bangladesh and Cambodia) and South America (Brazil and Ecuador) and will include case studies as well as a cross-country comparative analysis.

This Sussex Sustainability Research Programme project includes Dr Paul Gilbert and Dr Judith Verweijen of the School of Global Studies as well as colleagues at the Federal University of Bahia (Felipe Milanez), the Catholic University of Graben (Paul Vikanza), the University of Oxford (Laura Rival and Kaysara Khatun), the University of Dhaka (Tanzim Khan), the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar (Melissa Moreano), Not1More (Fran Lambrick), and Our Resources (Justino Sá).

‘Sustainable’ Development and Atmospheres of Violence: Experiences of Environmental Defenders is funded by the British Academy.

Professor Ash Amin, Foreign Secretary, British Academy said: “We are delighted to announce the 2018 Sustainable Development Programme award-holders. Their cutting-edge research will demonstrate the crucial role played by the humanities and social sciences in enhancing our understanding of development.

“Moreover, their collaborations with partners in the Global South will ensure that findings with real-world impact evolve in a truly inclusive, collegiate way.”

The British Academy awarded 27 UK-based academics up to £300,000 each to work to generate evidence on the challenges and opportunities faced in developing countries. The awards are part of the Sustainable Development Programme. Find out more about the funding here.

By: Jessica Gowers
Last updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2018