At least 200 land and environmental activists were killed in 2016, making it the deadliest year on record, a campaign group says.
Nearly four people were murdered each week last year while defending their homes, lands and forests from mining, dams and agricultural projects, London-based Global Witness said in a report on Thursday.
The deaths were reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015, rising from 185 the previous year. Mining, oil, agriculture and logging were the industries most associated with activist murders, the report said.
According to Global Witness, the true number of killings is likely to be much higher, since collecting such data is difficult. Activists also routinely experienced death threats, assaults, arrests and costly legal battles, it said.
The report said a lack of legal prosecution of perpetrators has made it hard to identify those responsible, but the investigation found strong evidence that the police and military were behind at least 43 killings, while private actors such as security guards and hitmen were linked to 52 deaths.
"The fact that the upward curve of killings has continued suggests that governments and businesses continue to prioritize short-term profit over human lives," Associated Press quoted Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte as saying.
The report warned that the use of violent force has not only been growing, but also spreading across the globe.
Almost 40% of those murdered were indigenous peoples defending their land. Honduras, where 14 land defenders were killed last year, remained the deadliest nation per capita.
Forty-nine land activists were slain last year in Brazil and 37 in Colombia, the two highest national tolls. Philippines and India were next with 28 and 16, respectively.
The defenders also included environmental activists, wildlife rangers and indigenous land rights activists who were protecting the land, animals and natural resources against exploitation by oil drilling, mining, logging and agribusiness companies.