Diana Rios Rengifo, daughter of an indigenous Ashéninka leader murdered in the Peruvian Amazon in early September, speaks during a ceremony in New York on November 17, 2014
Lima (AFP) - At least 57 environmental activists have been murdered in Peru since 2002, a rights group said Monday, criticizing the killings as the country prepares to host major UN climate talks.
In a report released two weeks before Peru welcomes the annual UN climate meeting, Global Witness condemned the country's record on the environment and human rights, calling it one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an environmental activist.
The London-based group said at least 57 environmentalists had been killed in Peru since 2002, more than 60 percent of them in the last four years.
It said its report "calls into question the commitments of Peru to protect its carbon-rich forests and the people who live in them, in light of unfettered illegal logging, disregard for indigenous land claims and new laws that favor industrial exploitation over environmental protection."
The threats facing Peruvian activists came into sharp focus in September with the killing of four leaders from the indigenous Ashaninka people who had been fighting deforestation in the Amazon.
At least one of the leaders, well-known environmentalist Edwin Chota Valera, had received death threats from illegal loggers over his activism.
"The murders of Edwin Chota and his colleagues are tragic reminders of a paradox at work in the climate negotiations," said Patrick Alley, co-founder of Global Witness, in a press release.
"While Peru's government chairs negotiations on how to solve our climate crisis, it is failing to protect the people on the frontline of environmental protection."
The four slain leaders were posthumously given an award for environmental activism Monday by the Alexander Soros Foundation, in an event held in parallel with the release of the Global Witness report.
Diana Rios Rengifo, the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios, accepted the award on behalf of the victims at a ceremony in New York.
Her face painted red with traditional designs, she called on Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to "treat our forests with the importance they deserve," and gave an Ashaninka necklace to Soros, the son of billionaire investor George Soros.
- Deforestation doubled -
Peru hosts the Conference of Parties (COP), the annual meeting of the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, from December 1 to 12.
The talks aim to reach a global deal on cutting Earth-warming carbon emissions, to be ratified in 2015.
The Peruvian rainforest is home to more than 300,000 indigenous people, but 72 percent of them have no formal title to the land they inhabit.
The government has yet to respond to indigenous claims to more than 20 million hectares (50 million acres) of land.
Much of the violence affecting environmentalists stems from conflicts over indigenous land, driven especially by the expansion of illegal mining and logging, Global Witness said in its report.
Peru is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists, behind Brazil, Honduras and the Philippines, according to the group, which said two environmental activists are killed each week worldwide, condemning governments for failing to protect them.
Global Witness urged Peru to respect its international commitments to protect its forests, including a recent $300-million deal with Norway to eliminate deforestation by 2021.
Peru holds about 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest, but is losing forest land fast: the annual deforestation rate doubled in 2012 to 246,000 hectares.