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‘Sustainable’ Development and Atmospheres of Violence: Experiences of Environmental Defenders

This project aims to explore how environmental defenders experience violence in relation to projects designed to promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and why they continue to fight despite the risks.

In 2014 the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights defenders identified environmental defenders as those most at risk of violence and death. Global Witness reported that almost four environmental defenders were killed per week in 2017. This project focuses on defenders working around natural resource extraction and agricultural developments in Africa (DRC, Guinea-Bissau), Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia) and Latin America (Brazil, Ecuador). It aims to identify the governance structures and socio-economic, political and historical conditions and processes that are at the root of atmospheres of violence around ’sustainable’ development projects. The project responds to an area of urgent policy and humanitarian concern by examining how and why environmental defenders experience violence in relation to sustainable development. By identifying the factors and processes producing violence, the project seeks to enable policymakers to better assess when and how projects designed to promote sustainable development might place environmental defenders at risk of eroded dignity, physical harm and even death.

Principal Investigator: Dr Mary Menton, University of Sussex 

Project part of

Sustainable Development 2018 Programme

This programme funds researchers in the humanities and social sciences working on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and generating evidence on the challenges and opportunities faced in developing countries.


We foster international collaboration in the humanities and social sciences, and promote the sharing of international perspectives on global challenges.

Other projects in this programme

Recovery with Dignity