Mounting global concerns about climate change and biodiversity loss are bringing even closer attention to a related human rights issue—the growing threats and violence directed at environmental defenders. These are people who seek to protect populations, territories, livelihoods, cultures, and biodiversity from the harmful environmental effects of ill-advised or illegal resource use. Beyond the risks to individuals, human rights violations against environmental defenders create a chilling effect on community leaders and advocacy organizations seeking to voice and address their concerns.

This issue brief describes some of the main actors and dynamics surrounding the issue of environmental defenders and examines the case of the Colombian Amazon as an example of the ways in which the grievances of environmental defenders are enmeshed in broader governance challenges—including many areas of continuing focus for USAID programming. The brief outlines possible actions for Missions and other Operating Units to consider in responding to threats to environmental defenders in the Colombian Amazon. (See also the Issue Brief on Environmental Defenders, which provides an introduction to the range of issues facing environmental defenders worldwide.)