Photo: Indigenous Chatino water protector Fidel Heras Cruz was murdered while defending territory against two hydroelectric dams.

On April 7, Mongabay reported: “At least 358 human rights defenders were killed in 2021, according to an analysis by Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the international consortium Human Rights Defenders Memorial.”

Key excerpts from the Mongabay article include:

Of the total, nearly 60% were land, environment or Indigenous rights defenders, and more than a quarter were themselves Indigenous.

Researchers who worked to compile the data said the high proportion of activists killed while fighting against threats to community land and natural resources represented a continuation of a years-long trend.

As was the case in 2020, the deadliest country for human rights defenders was Colombia, with 138 verified killings — more than a third of the global total. Mexico recorded 42 deaths, the second-highest number.

(The Front Line Defenders report also found that 22 human rights defenders were killed in Guatemala and Honduras.)


Colombia has topped the list of deadliest countries for human rights defenders for years, partly due to violent conflicts over control of remote smuggling routes and land that was previously controlled by the guerrilla group FARC, which disbanded following a peace deal with the government in 2016.

Since then, paramilitary groups vying to fill the vacuum left by the FARC have targeted Indigenous groups resisting encroachment by warring factions onto their traditional territories.


In Mexico, five Indigenous land and water defenders from Paso de la Reyna in Oaxaca state were killed in the first three months of 2021 alone, including Fidel Heras Cruz, who had worked to expose threats to the Verde River from a hydroelectric dam and illicit rock quarrying.

FLD said in recent years the Mexican government has given the military a greater role in the implementation of development projects, in part to intimidate Indigenous and other communities who object to those projects.

Many of those who were killed spent years facing threats and harassment as a result of their work, suggesting that if their governments had acted more forcefully on their behalf, their deaths could have been avoided.

In the Mexican state of Sonora, for example, José de Jesús Robledo Cruz and María de Jesús Gómez were killed in April 2021 after organizing a campaign against Mexico’s largest gold-mining company. It wasn’t the first time the married couple had been targeted: In 2017, they were kidnapped and tortured by unknown assailants dressed in army fatigues. When their bodies were discovered last year, a note with the names of 13 other activists was attached to one of them.

Nearly three-quarters of the human rights defenders killed in Mexico were protecting land, the environment or Indigenous rights.

The full article can be read at More than half of activists killed in 2021 were land, environment defenders.

For more, please see the Global Analysis and HRD Memorial reports.