Yesterday the 9th/Feb/2019 Ngetha Media Association for Peace conducted a Focus group session for 10 Environmental Human Rights Defenders in #Hoima on-device security. The activity is part of the Ngetha Media Association for Peace mission of providing digital and holistic security training to a network of EHRD’s in the Albertine region where EHRD’s lack safety and protection despite the frequent threats and risks they work under.
This year Ngetha Media Association for Peace is working with numbers of EHRD’s in the Albertine region of Uganda on issues related to the digital and physical security of individual activists and human rights defenders. In the meantime, Ngetha Media Association for Peace shall provide digital and holistic security training to a network of Environmental defenders organizations across the Albertine region and build their capacity, equip them with the right knowledge and tools needed to carry out their work in a safe and secure space. This activity covers both safeties from digital and physical threats.
After a complete risk assessment of the individual EHRD’s and organization’s key assets to identify what their vulnerabilities are, and the specific threats they face are discovered. This will help Ngetha Media Association for Peace to determine how best it can provide resources needed for the EHRD in the Albertine region to fill those identified vulnerabilities.
The Albertine region of Uganda is where Oil and gas has been discovered, it’s an important biodiversity hotspot known for being a habitat for 39% of Africa’s mammal species, 35% of Africa’s insect species, 51% of Africa’s bird species, 19% of Africa’s amphibian species, 14% of Africa’s plant and reptile species plus 79 threatened terrestrial vertebrates according to the IUCN Red Data book and lists. The Rift also harbors approximately 70% of Uganda’s major protected areas including seven out of ten National parks, eight out of 15 forests, 12 wildlife reserves, 13 wildlife sanctuaries, and five wildlife community areas according to the 2010 Uganda Environmental Sensitivity Atlas, 2nd Edition. Unfortunately, the same ecosystems are being threatened and degraded by among others, the emerging oil exploration and exploitation activities including refinery and pipeline developments in addition to plantation activities such as sugarcane growing which require massive clearance of forests to secure land.
Furthermore, in the Albertine region oil, gas, minerals, forests, wildlife, and other natural resources are found in abundance. However, indigenous communities who depend on these ecological environments are often being disregarded by Multi-National Oil corporations and governments who are exploiting these resources. Out of this situation, a network of Environmental Defenders and land rights activists emerges. Nonetheless, the EHRDs work is being plagued by threats, assaults, arbitrary-arrests, detention, kidnappings, and murder. Their rise on online activism and grassroots organizing are promoting major Oil companies like Total E&P, CNOOC Uganda LIMITED as well as the government to develop surveillance technologies in monitoring communications, censoring digital information and cracking down on EHRDs. Given these challenges, EHRDs are asked to enhance their Digital and Physical Security.
Cases of kidnappings, intimidation, harassment, assaults, aggression, and violence against environmental defenders in the Albertine region is increasing rapidly at an alarming rate, especially during this period when Uganda is preparing to start the production of oil and gas.
Most of these cases remain unresolved due to the lack of credible investigation and prosecution processes an engrained culture of state impunity. The failure to prevent the killing of environmental defenders and attacks on them means that state authorities in Uganda are depriving their citizens of a fundamental human right, the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas without frontier, which is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Civil and Political Rights (Article 19) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Article 9). The violations also affect the protection and realization of other fundamental rights and the democratization process. However, there is limited public awareness in the Albertine region about the scale of the problem and its impact on the protection of fundamental human rights and the consolidation of democracy and good governance. Currently, there are no specific formal or informal protection mechanisms for environmental activists. Most environmental defenders operate in competition with each other, thereby losing opportunities to build professional solidarity as the first line of defense. A safety and protection training needs assessment for target environmental defenders in the Albertine region must be undertaken.
Without these dedicated individuals, the protection of the incredible Albertine environment and of the rights to protect it would be impossible in Uganda.