“I cannot freely walk on my territory or swim in the sacred river and I am separated from my children because of the threats. I cannot live in peace, I am always thinking about being killed or kidnapped. But I refuse to go into exile. I am a human rights fighter and I will not give up this fight.”

Berta Cáceres

In recent years, the silencing, disappearance and assassination of environmental and indigenous defenders has become tragically common. On average, three people are killed every week defending their land, forests and waterways. In countries where human rights abuses are rife, indigenous and local communities face enormous risks when they stand up to the powerful interests behind proposed infrastructure and extractive projects.

Three male Xikrin Kayapo leaders, walking off camera, holding sticks.
Xikrin Kayapo leaders in Altamira | Photo by: Atossa Soltani / Amazon Watch

River protectors have increasingly come under threat. International Rivers has documented over 100 environmental defenders who were murdered due to their involvement in dam-resistance campaigns over the past two decades; many more have likely not been reported. The dam industry has been silent on its devastating record of complicity with these murders. 

These attacks are particularly egregious in Central and South America, but also severely impact people’s rights to organize and speak out in many parts of Asia and Africa. We must remove impunity for the corporations and governments that enable such attacks.

Our Work to Protect River Defenders

We support environmental defenders in their struggles. We document and monitor projects where rights violations are occurring, and identify strategies for how to strengthen national, regional and international human rights protections. We support communities seeking reparations through legal recourse and financiers’ and companies’ complaints and grievance mechanisms. And we support access to resources, networks and security strategies for defenders at risk. 

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Murdered for Their Rivers: A Roster of Fallen Dam Fighters

At International Rivers, we’re aware of over a hundred activists who have paid the ultimate price for defending their rivers… [read more]

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