5 February 2020 – Days after the funeral of prominent Mexican butterfly conservationist Homero Gómez González, the body of a second environmental defender has been found at a butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán state, Central Mexico.
Activist Raúl Hernández disappeared on 27 January and was last seen leaving his work as a tour guide at the El Campanario monarch butterfly sanctuary. His body reportedly showed visible signs of torture. Hernández is now the second fatality in the local community of conservationists after fellow environment defender, Homero Gómez González, was found in a well in central Mexico. He had been reported missing on 13 January.
Gómez González managed a butterfly sanctuary El Rosario de la Mariposa Monarca in the town of Ocampo in Michoacán state, Mexico. The sanctuary was opened in November as part of a strategy to stop illegal logging in the area, which is a key habitat for monarch butterflies.
Their deaths are part of a growing trend in the assassination, violence and intimidation of people defending the environment, in Mexico and globally. Relatives told local media that Gómez González had received threats from an organised crime gang warning him to stop his campaign against illegal logging. Prior to his disappearance, rights groups had raised concerns that Gómez González might have been targeted by criminal gangs involved in illegal logging in the area.
The murders are yet more evidence that the Mexican government must prioritise the protection of human rights and environmental defenders, and guarantee the swift and successful prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of Homero and Raúl.
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Rachel Cox, Campaigner at Global Witness, said:
“Defenders like Homero and Hernández are on the frontline of the fight to protect our precious natural environment. They put their lives on the line going up against vested interests of big business and organised crime.“Cases such as these are all too common. In Mexico, 14 land and environmental activists were killed in 2018, and our early data suggests that 2019 was even more deadly for rights defenders.“Fatal attacks on activists are the sharp end of abuse. In Mexico and elsewhere, tactics like surveillance or criminalisation are tying up activists in lengthy legal cases to try to prevent them from speaking out.“The fact that Homero had previously denounced threats against him and yet nothing effective was done to protect him, is a tell-tale sign that the Mexican government – like many others – is failing to protect defenders and tackle vested interests.”
Global Witness releases an annual report documenting the killings of land and environment defenders. The most recent investigation found that more than three land and environmental defenders were killed on average each week in 2018, a total of 164 deaths worldwide. More than half took place in Latin America, which has consistently ranked as the worst-affected region.
Victims include environmental lawyers, local activists or indigenous communities, who are working to protect their land and the environment, often from powerful vested interests. The true number of defenders who are murdered is likely to be much higher, because many cases aren’t recorded and are very rarely investigated.