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Global Witness

By Jessica Corbett

Last year was the deadliest in history to be an environmental activist, according to a new report that found, on average, nearly four people were killed per week.

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Photo credit: Ralf Falbe

By Maeve McClenaghan

The murder of an environmental lawyer in the Philippines has provoked outrage in a country where environmental activists are increasingly targeted.

Mia Manuelita Cumba Masacariñas-Green was shot dead on Feb. 15 after her car was ambushed by two men on motorbikes in the Filipino capital Bohol. Masacariñas-Green, 49, was driving her three young children home when she was shot in the head and body. Her children, who witnessed the killing, were unhurt.

Activists Targeted

Nearly 100 environmental activists defenders have been killed in the Philippines since 2010. A third of those happened in 2015 alone. Violence is increasingly common in the Philippines where President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called "war on drugs" has led to state sanctioned murders of more that 7,000 people in the last seven months, according to Amnesty International.

Investigators have not yet determined a motive nor found the gunmen responsible for Masacariñas-Green's murder. But activists on the ground fear the lawyer was targeted because of her work.

Late last year, campaigners working to stop illegal fishing reported receiving death threats.

Global Witness has described the Philippines as "one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an environmental or land defender."

Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, condemned the killing:

"Those who cause environmental destruction are resorting to savage measures and deplorable acts to stop communities and people who are standing up to protect our imperiled environment and the very ecosystems that support the lives and livelihoods of our people.

"Let our grief and our outrage at such horrifying acts be heard. Let our actions and people's movements spur our society towards a green and peaceful future."

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Workers rip the earth apart in search of gold at the Sufferance mine in the Ituri region. Much of Congo's gold, more than $600 million worth a year, is smuggled across borders. Photo credit: Marcus Bleasdale / National Geographic

By Lee Fang

The leaked draft of a presidential memorandum Donald Trump is expected to sign within days suspends a 2010 rule that discouraged American companies from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through their purchase of "conflict minerals."

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Today's decision by the Republican-led U.S. Senate to overturn a rule designed to stop oil companies striking corrupt deals with foreign governments is a grave threat to U.S. national security and an astonishing gift to big oil. The news comes just two days after Rex Tillerson, a longstanding opponent of the law while CEO of ExxonMobil, was confirmed as Secretary of State and the day after the U.S. eased sanctions on Russia.

The oil industry is the most corrupt on the planet. Alongside a broader anti-regulatory push and President Trump's failure to address his conflicts of interest, this vote to roll back efforts to bring oil deals into the open is another sign of the rapid erosion of U.S. democracy in favor of big business.

The law, known as the Cardin-Lugar transparency provision, requires U.S.-listed extractive companies like Exxon, Chevron and several Chinese oil majors to publish details of the hundreds of billions of dollars they pay to governments across the world in return for rights to natural resources. Bringing shady oil deals to light should help ensure these vast public revenues benefit all instead of lining the pockets of corrupt elites. However, this week, Congress voted to rescind the implementing regulation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, with the House of Representatives voting on Wednesday and the Senate voting earlier today.

"As Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson did everything in his power to gut this law, because it doesn't suit big oil's corrupt business model," said Corinna Gilfillan, head of the U.S. office for Global Witness. "Now he's Secretary of State Congress has immediately sanctioned corruption by green lighting secret deals between oil companies and despots. These deals deprive some of the world's poorest people of oil wealth that is rightfully theirs. Given the President's massive conflicts of interest and his administration's broad attacks on regulation, it appears our institutions are increasingly being abused to further the business interests of a powerful few. This is how corrupt dictatorships start."

This move sets the U.S. in opposition to a broader global trend toward greater transparency and accountability in how oil, gas and mining revenues are managed. Thirty other major economies around the world, including the UK, Canada, Norway and all 27 members of the European Union—have laws requiring their oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their payments to governments. Dozens of major European and Russian oil companies have already published their payments to governments. Claims made by the oil lobby that greater transparency will harm U.S. oil companies' competitiveness has proven untrue.

Global Witness notes with concern the complete fabrication of facts by the Republican leadership in their presentations about the Cardin-Lugar transparency provision. They have relied on the American Petroleum Institute's "facts," which have been discredited over the past six years in multiple fora, while being totally unwilling to hear an alternative view. This is evidenced by their absence during the actual debate, not to mention the fact that many in the leadership who have pushed this resolution receive vast sums from the oil and gas industry. In the absence of a better explanation, it is difficult not to conclude that big oil has just had its lackeys liberate them to be corrupt.

"The U.S. has thrown away its global leadership on tackling corruption. Oil, gas and mining companies from other countries have already disclosed over $150 billion in payments under similar rules, meaning citizens can begin to hold their governments to account. If they can do it, you have to ask—what have the U.S. companies got to hide?" said Gilfillan.

The law was finally implemented in 2016 after being passed in 2010 as part of the Dodd Frank reform act. It was implemented following a broad campaign from civil society groups, investors and community leaders all over the world.

Prior to the vote, Bishop Cantu, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "Transparency in extractive industry payments to governments is important to us as leaders of the Catholic community of faith and institutions that are investors and consumers. We believe these principles, policies and rules can help protect the lives, dignity and rights of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth. The rules have moral and human consequences as well as economic and political impact."

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