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30 June 2021

Concern about the increase in attacks against environmental rights defenders

Front Line Defenders expresses its deep concern at the increase in attacks and intimidation against human rights defenders in Chile, in particular those defending the environment, the right of communities to have access to water and denouncing the negative impacts of extractive projects in the country.

On 23 June 2021 at 9:45 p.m., three bullets were recovered from shots fired in front of the home of human rights defender Diego Ovalle Valenzuela in Antuco. Diego Ovalle Valenzuela is the spokesperson for the Socio-environmental Movement Antuko Resiste, where he has denounced the indiscriminate advance of the forest industries into the native forest, as well as the negative impacts of the cattle and dairy industry on the Rucúe river. He is also part of the Red por los Ríos Libres.

This is the latest in a series of attacks against environmental rights defenders in Chile registered in the first half of 2021. Earlier in June, Front Line Defenders raised concerns for death threats against woman human rights defender Verónica del Carmen Vilches. The threat was found written on a water treatment plant in Cabildo, province of Petorca, Valparaíso. The woman human rights defender had faced similar threats in February.

In March, Michael Lieberherr, a journalism student in Choapa received death threats over the phone while he was conducting an investigation into the possible liability of mining companies in environmental disasters affecting different rural localities. Earlier in March, human rights defender Uriel González was approached in the capital Santiago by unknown individuals who, armed with knives, attacked and intimidated him with threats related to his defense of water.

Environmental rights defenders in Chile are constantly attacked and threatened physically and verbally for their work. Front Line Defenders has previously denounced attacks against those defending environmental rights and the indigenous peoples’ rights of Mapuche communities, such as in the case of Lonko Alberto Curamil and members of MODATIMA.

Front Line Defenders condemns the threats and attacks against environmental rights defenders in Chile and expresses further concern at the lack of proper investigation into these aggressions, leading to continuous threats being made against those defending environmental rights in Chile. Front Line Defenders calls on the Chilean authorities to clarify the circumstances of the attacks and threats, bringing those responsible to justice in an expeditious manner and ensure that human rights defenders, particularly environmental rights defenders, are able to work in a safe environment.

Finally, Front Line Defenders reiterates its call to the Chilean authorities to sign, ratify and implement the Escazú Agreement, with the objective of promoting an enabling environment for the defence of environmental rights in the country.