Defending Environmental Human rights defenders in Uganda: Reflections from 2019
In 2019 Ngetha Media Association for Peace in partnership with our three on ground Environmentalists and human rights organizations Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA), Nebbi District NGO’s forum and Friends of Zoka Forest (FOZ) undertook a comprehensive training on risk assessment and security management for Environmental Human rights defenders throughout the Albertine region of Uganda. The training was conducted between March and October 2019 in various locations in the Albertine region. A total of 60 Environmental Human rights defenders from 15 organizations in Buliisa, Hoima, Pakwach, Nwoya, Masindi, Nebbi, Zombo, Arua, Adjumani, Gulu, Kikube, Ntoroko, Nakasongola, and Kiryandongo districts participated in the training with great gender considerations.
These training were part of Ngetha Media Association for Peace and our on-ground partner organizations and Environmental human rights defenders in the Albertine region of Uganda, aimed at providing digital and physical security training to improve on the security of EHRD’s and organizations in the Albertine region, and to enable them to assess their security risks and develop adequate interventions and mitigation measures for the long term protection of defenders and their organizations.
Environmental Human rights defenders in the Albertine region lack safety and protection despite the increasing threats and violence they are subjected to from multiple sources as a result of their human rights works and environmental advocacy around the Oil and gas exploration, East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline project as well as the largescale agribusiness in the region which are all contributing to large-scale displacement, forced evictions, land grabbing and violation of people’s rights to adequate living and fair compensation for their properties.
Ngetha Media Association for Peace is deeply concerned with the shrinking civil space and hostile political, legal and socio-economic work environment for Human rights defenders and organizations in the Albertine region of Uganda. This environment is transitioning into various forms of abuse, mob attacks, illegal evictions from residential and business premises, media propaganda and blackmailing, digital and physical surveillance, illegal arrests and detention of human rights defenders, judicial harassment, intimidations, seizure and theft of office equipment and personal electronic devices to mention but a few.
The Albertine region is where Oil and gas have been discovered and in recent months the already restrictive working environment in Uganda has rapidly deteriorated and human rights defenders are under even facing a greater threat of physical assault by either motivated actors, from private organizations, government security operatives and members of the public. The government has also intensified digital surveillance on human rights defenders. Due to Oil and gas exploration activities, the threat on the environments in and around the Albertine region is escalating, human rights violation is spreading throughout the region and Environmental human rights defenders are the target of the consequences intensified by the Oil and gas activities, road constructions and other infrastructural developments which requires vast acres of land, large scale agribusiness and the increasing interest in illegal logging as well as wildlife trafficking in Murchison Falls National Park, Bugungu Wild Life Area among others.
Human rights defenders in Uganda face considerable risks and restrictions in their work. Defenders at heightened risk include those working on corruption and land rights. Rurally-based defenders, including print and radio journalists, also face increased risk due to their more limited access to protections and legal assistance compared with defenders based in large cities such as Kampala. Of all the human rights defenders in Uganda it is indigenous and those in rural areas who suffer the most human rights violations in the defense of their land, of the environment, and their right to water against the government, loggers, road constructors, the oil companies and the extractive industry.
Ngetha Media Association for Peace is playing an important role in promoting the safety and security of Environmental Human Rights Defenders in the Albertine region of Uganda. Being the only community based human rights organization operating in underserved areas of the Albertine region, we see the protection of Human rights defenders an important pillar of our works. Ngetha Media Association for Peace does believe that human rights defenders need to have appropriate skills and safety tools they can rely on to perform their activism works and also capacities to manage security risks with the main aim to continue their work and protect the rights of others. We shall continue working together with our partner organizations, media organizations, police, and individual Environmental human rights defenders as well as development partners and the national Civil Society organizations in Uganda to ensure a safer working environment for Environmental Human rights defenders in the Albertine region of Uganda