Tag Archives: Global Witness

2017 Was the Deadliest Year on Record for Land and Environmental Defenders

2017 Was the Deadliest Year on Record for Land and Environmental Defenders

Global Witness today reveals that at least 207 land and environmental defenders were killed last year – indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists murdered trying to protect their homes and communities from mining, agribusiness and other destructive industries.

  1. Global Witness annual figures show at least 207 land and environmental activists were killed in 2017 across 22 countries, almost 4 a week, making it the worst year on record.
  2. The report shows a huge rise in killings linked to consumer products. Brutal attacks on those defending their land from destructive agriculture – such as land grabs for palm oil, used in household goods like soap, and coffee – are on the rise.
  3. It critically urges government and business to take action to end the attacks and support defenders, with campaigners such as Yuri Herrera, Margaret Atwood, Lily Cole, George Monbiot and Ben Fogle speaking out against the killings.

Severe limits on the data available mean the global total is probably much higher. Murder is the most egregious example of a range of tactics used to silence defenders, including death threats, arrests, intimidation, cyber-attacks, sexual assault and lawsuits.

The report At What Cost? shows that agribusiness has overtaken mining as the industry most associated with these attacks.

These include the murder of Hernán Bedoya in Colombia, shot 14 times by a paramilitary group for protesting against palm oil and banana plantations on land stolen from his community; an army massacre of eight villagers in the Philippines who opposed a coffee plantation on their land; and violent attacks by Brazilian farmers, using machetes and rifles, which left 22 members of the Gamela indigenous people severely injured, some with their hands chopped off.

The report links this violence with the products on our shelves: large-scale agriculture, mining, poaching, logging all produce components and ingredients for supermarket products such as palm oil for shampoo, soy for beef and timber for furniture.


The report also reveals that some governments and businesses are complicit in the killings, with Global Witness calling for urgent action if the trend is to be reversed. As well as being part of the problem, governments and business can be part of the solution. They must tackle the root causes of the attacks, for example ensuring communities are allowed to say ‘no’ to projects, like mining, on their land; support and protect defenders at risk and ensure justice is served for those suffering from the violence.

Ben Leather, Senior Campaigner, Global Witness said:

“Local activists are being murdered as governments and businesses value quick profit over human life. Many of the products emerging from this bloodshed are on the shelves of our supermarkets. Yet as brave communities stand up to corrupt officials, destructive industries and environmental devastation, they are being brutally silenced. Enough is enough.

“Governments, companies and investors have the duty and the power to support and protect defenders at risk, and to guarantee accountability wherever attacks occur. But more importantly, they can prevent these threats from emerging in the first place, by listening to local communities, respecting their rights, and ensuring that business is conducted responsibly.

At least 48 land and environmental defenders were murdered in the Philippines in 2017 – the highest total ever recorded in Asia, and a 71% increase in the country since 2016. | Photo Credit: Thom Pierce, Guardian, Global Witness, UN Environment

“Despite the odds they face, the global community of land and environmental defenders is not going away – it’s only getting stronger. We invite consumers to join us in campaigning alongside defenders, taking their fight to the corridors of power and the boardrooms of corporations. We will make sure their voices are heard. And we will be watching to ensure that defenders, their land, and the environment we all depend on are properly protected.”

Other key findings include:

  1. Brazil recorded the worst year on record anywhere in the world, with 57 murders in 2017.
  2. 48 defenders were killed in the Philippines in 2017—the highest number ever documented in an Asian country.
  3. 60% recorded murders were in Latin America. Mexico and Peru saw marked increases in killings, from 3 to 15 and 2 to 8, respectively. Nicaragua was the worst place per capita with 4 murders.
  4. For the first time, agribusiness was the bloodiest industry, with at least 46 murders linked to the sector. Killings linked to mining increased from 33 to 40, and 23 murders were related to logging.
  5. Taking on poachers became even more dangerous, with a record 23 people murdered for taking a stand against the illegal wildlife trade – mostly park rangers in Africa.
  6. Global Witness linked government security forces to 53 of last year’s murders, and non-state actors, like criminal gangs, to 90.
  7. There was a large decrease in killings of land and environmental defenders in Honduras, though repression of civil society in general worsened.
  8. Recent years has seen some increased recognition and action taken by governments and business, but much more must be done, and urgently, to tackle this issue.

The campaign has gained support from a number of high profile environmental campaigners including Yuri Herrera, Margaret Atwood, Lily Cole, George Monbiot, Ben Fogle, Paloma Faith and Martin Freeman. Quotes available on request.

Notes to editors

The report can be found here.  High-quality imagery and video testimony can be found here.

Whilst Global Witness maintains a real time data base with the Guardian this reports represents a consolidated data set of all killings from 2017 that have been through an additional verification process that has been complemented by an in-depth analysis, case studies and recommendations.

Severe limits on available information mean the global total is likely far higher. Murder is the sharp end of a range of tactics used to silence defenders, including death threats, arrests, sexual assault, abductions and aggressive legal attacks.

The Islamic State and Taliban are Fighting Over Afghan Talc Riches

The Islamic State and Taliban are Fighting Over Afghan Talc Riches

London, UK The Islamic State in Afghanistan (ISKP) controls major mining sites in eastern Afghanistan and has a strategic interest in the country’s rich mineral resources, new Global Witness research shows – a powerful example of the wider threat posed by armed groups and corrupt actors in Afghan mining.

The Islamic State in Afghanistan (ISKP) controls large talc, marble and chromite mines in the Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Achin district in the Nangarhar province of eastern Afghanistan – the same area where in April 2017 the US military dropped the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ against ISKP-held caves. Nangarhar was the deadliest Afghan province for US troops in 2017.

The evidence on how much ISKP have been able to mine and profit from the minerals is mixed, but there has been at least some activity – and the group has fought major battles with the Taliban over neighboring districts containing even richer deposits. A Taliban commander explicitly linked the ferocity of the conflict to competition over resources, saying: “The fight is over the mines.”

A talc processing factory near Nangahar, mid 2017 | Photo: Courtesy of Global Witness

Nick Donovan, Campaign Director at Global Witness, said: “The Islamic State appears to have a significant strategic interest in Afghanistan’s minerals and controls some major mining areas. Given its track-record of exploiting natural resources in Iraq and Syria, this should be a wake-up call for both the Afghan government and the Trump administration. They must strengthen control over the trade in places like Nangarhar, but just as importantly put in place desperately needed transparency and oversight reforms so that legitimate mining has a chance to provide a viable alternative.”

Global Witness’ report At any price we will take the mines’: the Islamic State, the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s white talc mountains uses satellite imagery and extensive interviews to highlight this threat in unprecedented detail. But it also shows how ISKP are just a high-profile example of a much wider problem of the involvement of armed groups and corrupt actors in Afghan mining.

This is evident just 50 kilometers from the ISKP controlled sites, where dozens of mines under Taliban influence are producing talc and marble in large quantities. Global Witness research uncovered evidence that the Taliban are making millions a year from talc alone – part of the $200-$300 million a year they are estimated to make from minerals across Afghanistan.

A significant part of this talc ends up being sold in the United States. Almost all of Afghanistan’s output is exported to Pakistan, which in turn exports more of it to the US than to any other country. Pakistan provides more than a third of US imports of talc, which is used in products ranging from paint and cosmetics to paper and baby powder. EU countries are also major buyers.

A man walks among piles of talc at a processing plant near Jalalabad, mid-2017 | Photo: Courtesy of Global Witness

“Unwitting American and European consumers are inadvertently helping fund extremist groups in Afghanistan,” said Donovan. “The US and other importing countries must put in place strong requirements for companies to exercise full due diligence of their supply chains – as a matter both of moral duty, and of their strategic national security interest in a stable Afghanistan.”

He added: “the ultimate aim is not to stop the trade but to reform it in a way that preserves and strengthens the livelihoods of ordinary Afghans without funding the Islamic State, other illegal armed groups, or abusive strongmen.”

There are no easy solutions to achieve this, but there are obvious reforms that could help, and which have yet to but put in place. The Afghan government and its international partners should urgently:

  1. Tighten control over the minerals trade in Nangarhar and across Afghanistan, especially the movements of minerals through the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan;
  2. Give local communities an interest in legal mining through a direct share of revenues and, where appropriate, community ownership of mines;
  3. Work with trade partners and consumer countries to put in place strong controls over supply chains from conflict affected areas; including a requirement for due diligence by importing companies;
  4. Carry out transparency and oversight reforms – like a single transparent sub-account for mining revenues – in order to make abusive mining more difficult and create a space for legal extraction that benefits the country and local communities.
  5. Prioritise security around the mines as part of a broader strategy to protect resource-rich areas.

For the US in particular, abuses in the Afghan mining sector should be a major security concern, but so far the Trump administration’s main priority has been to push for US companies to get more contracts for Afghan resources. The US should do three things:

  1. Make the security and reform of the sector a high level priority for its engagement with the Afghan government;
  2. Only push for new contracts in areas with adequate security, and after basic governance reforms have been made;
  3. Require US companies to carry out due diligence and rid their Afghan and Pakistani supply chains of conflict minerals.

The Afghan government has made clear and welcome commitments to most of these reforms, but they have yet to be implemented – upcoming amendments to the Afghan Mining Law will be a key test. A ban on the talc trade was imposed in early 2015, but was lifted later that year under pressure from traders.

“The Afghan government and its partners need to start treating this problem with a sense of urgency that matches the scale of the threat,” Donovan said. “They are counting on Afghanistan’s resources to fuel development and fund the government, but as our research shows all too clearly, without immediate action, they are far more likely to fuel more corruption and conflict.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. The full text of the report ‘At any price we will take the mines’: the Islamic State, the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s white talc mountains is available here. Supporting photo and video B-roll are available upon request.
  2. The report uses satellite imagery and interviews with a range of sources to show the extent of ISKP and Taliban control of mines. Major talc mines, as well as chromite and marble, are located within the main ISKP-controlled area around the Momand valley in Nangarhar’s Achin district. The available satellite imagery does not appear to show vehicles or machinery in the area, and several sources denied mining had taken place since ISKP seized it in mid-2015. At the same time, multiple other credible sources reported that ISKP have indeed benefitted at least to some extent from extraction, with some indicating they have done so with a tighter grip and greater investment than the Taliban. Some of these sources provided supporting evidence. ISKP were also widely agreed to have levied a modest tax on talc removed from stockpiles near the Momand valley in early 2017, a movement visible in the satellite data. As early as 2015, an ISKP commander Global Witness interviewed described control of resources in Badakhshan as a key priority, saying: “at any price we will take the mines.”
     
  3. The global talc industry is predicted to grow to around US $3.29 billion by 2021. An estimated 380,000 tons of talc was imported into the United States in 2017. On average around 35% of US imports are from Pakistan, according to the US Geological Survey. From our research we also estimated that around 80% of Pakistan’s 2016 exports of talc actually originated in Afghanistan. Of those exports, 42% went to the US, and another 36% went to EU countries, especially the Netherlands and Italy. See report for more details and sources.
  4. Chromite is the only economic ore of chromium, which is widely used as an essential element in the production of stainless steel and other steel alloys. Marble produced in Afghanistan is also renowned for its quality, with uses ranging from flooring and tiles to decorative objects.
  5. Global Witness’ previous 2016 report “War in the treasury of the people: Afghanistan, lapis lazuli and the battle for mineral wealth” exposed the importance of mining, especially of lapis lazuli, for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The report found that armed groups including the Taliban were earning tens of millions of dollars per year from Afghanistan’s lapis mines, the world’s main source of the brilliant blue lapis lazuli stone, which is used in jewellery around the world. The full report can be found here.
  6. For a graphic visualisation of talc flows out of Pakistan to the rest of the world see Chatham House’s graphic here.

Global Witness is an international organization that investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses

Narco-a-Lago: Donald Trump Made Millions from Panama Development Used to Launder Drug Money

Narco-a-Lago: Donald Trump Made Millions from Panama Development Used to Launder Drug Money

President Donald Trump has made millions from selling his name to a Panama development used to launder money from Latin American drug cartels, a Global Witness investigation reveals today.

After licensing his name to the Trump Ocean Club in 2006, Trump appears to have turned a blind eye to the source of the buyers’ funds and the background of some of the individual brokers (1). The investigation, Narco-a-Lago: Money Laundering at the Trump Ocean Club, Panama provides powerful evidence that profits from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club. Trump was one of the beneficiaries, since he received a cut of all sales. Trump’s Presidential disclosures show he was still making money from a management contract for the Trump Ocean Club when he took office in 2017.

“This must be investigated. Donald Trump has made millions from a project used by Latin American drug cartels to launder money. The warning signs were there for a responsible businessperson, but it seems Trump didn’t want to know,” said Eryn Schornick, Senior Policy Advisor at Global Witness.

The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was one of Trump’s most lucrative licensing deals: initial projections indicate that he was set to make $75.4 million by 2010. Sources close to the development described it as “Ivanka’s baby”, and confirmed that Trump’s daughter was in overall charge of the licensing venture for the Trump Organization.

The Trump Ocean Club, Panama

The report highlights several warning signs for money laundering in the project, which should have raised the alarm for a responsible businessperson looking to avoid being associated with dirty money. Panama was a major hub for money laundering when Trump signed the licensing and management deal with the Trump Ocean Club in 2006. Global Witness’ sources indicate that many units were bought in bulk, some sales were made with bearer shares, and secretly owned companies were often used, hiding the identities of the buyers.

The investigation also shines a light on several dubious characters that bought units or brokered transactions at the Trump Ocean Club. Those involved include:

  1. David Murcia Guzmán, released from U.S. federal prison after serving a sentence of nine years for laundering millions of dollars’ worth of illicit funds, including narcotics proceeds, through secret companies and real estate.

  2. Murcia Guzmán’s business associate Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who claims to have brokered nearly a third of all 666 pre-construction unit sales at the Trump Ocean Club. Ventura Nogueira, who has faced accusations of criminal activity including fraud, was critical to ensuring the project’s lift-off and hence Trump’s ability to earn tens of millions of dollars.
  3. Ventura Nogueira assembled a team of agents and brokers to market Trump Ocean Club units, often targeting buyers of Russian and Eastern European origin. Some of these agents have faced serious accusations of criminal activity. 

Although the extent of Trump’s knowledge of these brokers and buyers is unknown, it is highly likely that the Trump Organization had the right to receive sales reports and demand information on the buyers. Buying high-end real estate through secretly-owned companies is a well-known way for criminals to stash the cash they make through crime and launder it to spend without scrutiny. It’s a tried and trusted method used by organized crime, drug cartels and human traffickers.

 

“Now that Donald Trump is president, his business is the nation’s business. He claims to be tough on crime and drugs, yet he’s earned millions from selling his name to a Panama development used to launder drug money,” said Schornick. “These fresh revelations of unscrupulous business dealings show his public rhetoric is both misleading and hypocritical.”

Global Witness calls upon appropriate law enforcement authorities, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller (see here), and congressional committees (see here andhere) to investigate the allegations raised in this report and, if appropriate, hold President Trump accountable for his actions.

Global Witness’ other recommendations are:

  1. Every country should require all companies and trusts to disclose who ultimately owns and controls them and make this information public.
  2. Every country should require the real estate sector to know who their clients are and the source of their funds to ensure that dirty money is not being laundered into the property market.
  3. Every country should require lawyers who carry out transactions for their clients, including the buying and selling of real estate and the creation of companies, to know who their clients are and the source of their funds.

Global Witness has repeatedly shown how secret companies have been used as vehicles to cover up illicit activities such as corruption, terrorism and money laundering. For more, see here. For the full facts and relevant responses from our investigation, read or download the entire report via Global Witness’ website here.

Paradise Papers: Global Witness Statement on Wilbur Ross’ Offshore Secrecy

Paradise Papers: Global Witness Statement on Wilbur Ross’ Offshore Secrecy

Washington, DC — Leaked documents published today by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists expose how offshore tax havens, white-collar professionals, and anonymous company owners hide their finances behind a veil of secrecy.  The documents from Bermuda-based law firm Appleby include evidence of dubious deals and holdings involving the Queen of England, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraiser, and Trump appointed U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

According to the documents, Wilbur Ross used a constellation of companies, some with their ownership undisclosed. The companies were set up by Appleby to retain shares in Navigator Holdings, a shipping firm with business ties to a Russian oligarch subject to American sanctions.

Ross’ stake has received more than $68 million in revenue since 2014 from Sibur, a Russian energy company co-owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The documents also report that Appleby has administered some 50 companies and partnerships set up in the Caymans and other tax havens that are connected to Ross, whose net worth is estimated to be more than $2 billion dollars.

“This is yet another instance of conflicts of interest within the Trump administration. Wilbur Ross influences US trade and sanctions, yet he is still making millions from a Russian company that could be targeted by these decisions. This is highly problematic for an administration at the center of investigations into collusion with the Russian state,” said Mark Hays, Anti Money Laundering Campaign Leader at Global Witness.

The deals outlined in the Paradise Papers underscore the importance of transparency measures, such as Beneficial Ownership Transparency legislation [S. 1454, S. 1717, and H.R. 3089] , which would help prevent public officials and companies involved in potentially criminal or corrupt activities from using the offshore system to hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy.

“This new leak demonstrates once again how it’s all too easy to use anonymous companies to game the system,” said Hays.



Note to Editors

Experts from Global Witness, an internationally recognized organization for bold, tenacious campaigns to expose and break links between natural resources, conflict and corruption, are available for comment or interview by emailing Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net and can provide insight in the following areas:

Offshore Corruption
Anonymous Corporate Vehicles
Beneficial Ownership Transparency Legislation
Corruption Involving Property & Real Estate
Corruption in Extractive Industries
Money Laundering
Conflict Resources

Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy will Fail if it Does not Take on Corruption

Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy will Fail if it Does not Take on Corruption

Tonight at 9pm EST President Trump announced his new Afghanistan strategy, Global Witness’ Stephen Carter highlights what is needed for a real change in direction:

“The United States is Afghanistan’s key partner and has real potential to help break the cycle of violence there. But its continued presence will change nothing unless the US and the Afghan government also tackle the root causes of instability. That means fighting the corruption that allows insurgents and strongmen to reap the benefits of the country’s resources, and maintain their grip on power. ‘Nation-building’ in that sense is vital to what President Trump called ‘principled realism’ – not separate from it.

“Corruption is at the heart of insecurity in Afghanistan. It deeply undermines the effectiveness of Afghan forces and the legitimacy of the Afghan government, and is a huge obstacle to any realistic path to stability. Despite successive American military and political leaders acknowledging this challenge, in practice they have rarely treated it as a priority: it is ironic that it is now seen as impossible. If President Trump wants to turn Afghanistan around, there needs to be a real change in the way the US and the Afghan government’s approach governance issues, putting them on a par with military concerns and using levers of support and influence much more effectively.

“The Afghan mining sector is one obvious place to start. It is the second largest source of funding for the Taliban and a major driver of corruption and conflict. Global Witness’ own research, for example, shows how competition over illegal mining in Badakhshan has undermined the stability of an entire province and made it a hotbed of the insurgency. Despite this, basic transparency measures have yet to be put into effect, the Mining Law is missing key safeguards against corruption and conflict, and the Afghan government has struggled to produce basic information on contracts and production. The US has done relatively little to press for stronger action, even though the sector is central to hopes of building up Afghanistan’s economy – and for its ability to fund their own security forces and secure their territory without endless expenditure of American lives and money.

“Under President Ghani and CEO Abdullah the Afghan government has shown itself willing to contemplate serious reforms and to agree anti-corruption benchmarks, even if implementation has so far been slow. America has a partner in Afghanistan, but they need to seize the chance to work with them, and push hard for serious action. The call for ‘real reforms’ is welcome, but it has been made before, and is lacking specifics. President Trump’s Afghan strategy will stand or fall on how well he turns those words into action.” said Carter.