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The Politics of Death

By Paola Totaro and Matthew Ponsford

LONDON, June 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) –

Each week, at least four men and women vanish without trace or are found dead, cut down in a hail of gunfire.

In Cambodia, a single mother is separated from her two children, arrested and locked up in prison.

On the dry savannahs of Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul, farmers shoot dead a 26-year-old indigenous man in broad daylight.

In Bangladesh, a university professor receives death threats from an al Qaeda-inspired militant group.

Mysterious disappearances, political murders, the killing of women, gangland hits: thousands of cases, seemingly unrelated, are reported every year from all corners of the globe.

The number of dead is soaring.

And political scholars and activists believe they are connected. They say people are dying protecting their land and homes from global industry’s relentless push to develop the natural resources beneath their feet.

This bloodshed is both interlinked and global, they say, and a direct product of a phenomenon dubbed ‘necropolitics’ or the ‘politics of death’

According to global watchdogs, resource-rich Honduras and Nicaragua are the world’s deadliest countries for land deaths per capita, while Brazil tops the list in sheer numbers.

And women – often at the frontline of conflict defending home and children – accounted for more than half of the dead.

Subhabrata ‘Bobby’ Banerjee, professor of management at the University of London’s Cass Business School, has studied global development projects and the people who resist them for more than 15 years.

He says academic colleagues have built the Environmental Justice Atlas, a global database of conflicts over natural resources and development, which shows numbers growing ever higher.

“Right now there are more than 2,000 reported hot spots around the world,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The reality is that there are probably three times that number which are not reported because they are not sexy and don’t make TV news.”

During an interview in his office among the glass towers of London’s financial heart, Banerjee said much of this violence unfolds in the former colonies of sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Asia, where the law has ceased to function.

Criminal gangs, mercenaries and extremist groups step in to this vacuum of law and order, he says, creating a kind of “death world” by deciding who will live and who will die – and entire communities can be forcibly removed.

Banerjee says in many parts of the world, the dual roles of the state – to encourage economic development and protect citizens can become “schizophrenic”.

“If a state is in a joint venture with a mine which involves dispossession or forcible displacement, what are the conflicting interests?” he said.

“At one level you have to create jobs, collect taxes, while at another you have to kill your citizens to make that happen.”

Watchdog groups including Front Line Defenders (FLD), Global Witness, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say last year was easily the deadliest on record for activists trying to defend their homes and environment.

This year is on track to be much worse.

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