Joint FIDH-Oxfam reaction to latest arrests of environmental defenders in Uganda

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Badru Katumba / AFP

Following a worrying escalation in violence and harassment targeting activists protesting the EACOP project in Uganda, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Oxfam have issued an urgent appeal to developers to address the serious threats facing human rights defenders and frontline communities in the country’s oil frontier.

10 June 2024. In response to arrests in May and June 2024 of activists voicing concern over oil development and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), Andrew Bogrand, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor for Natural Resource Justice, said the following.

"For the past five years, Oxfam and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) have continually raised the major climate, environmental, and human rights risks of oil projects in East Africa. Most immediately, we are concerned about the reported threats facing human rights defenders working with communities impacted by oil development and the construction of EACOP. In a recent human rights mission organized in April 2024 with the leadership of our local partners, Oxfam and FIDH documented multiple cases of alleged intimidation and harassment of community leaders, journalists, students, and activists.

While the full findings and recommendations from this mission will not be shared until the fall of 2024, this is an appeal for companies, investors, and governments to take urgent action.

Oxfam and FIDH have routinely urged France’s TotalEnergies, the lead company for these projects in Uganda, to develop stronger and more prominent civic space policies, especially for at-risk defenders. In November 2022, TotalEnergies in Uganda issued a statement in support of defenders and has written to the government of Uganda to ‘express its concerns’ over the latest round of detentions. Still, the risks are very clear: existing commitments to protect defenders must immediately be turned into more effective policy and practice. Investors that remain exposed to these projects must also push for stronger accountability measures and human rights protections."

Note to Editors:
 On 7 June, FIDH published an urgent appeal through its Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, calling for the release of Stephen Kwikiriza - who was abducted by the Ugandan army - and for an end to all acts of harassment against defenders active in Uganda’s oil frontier.
 In September 2020, FIDH published New Oil, Same Business? At a Crossroads to Avert Catastrophe in Uganda. At the same time, Oxfam released Empty Promises Down the Line? A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Both community-based human rights impact assessments flagged current and future risks linked to these oil projects and offered companies and governments recommendations for avoiding human rights violations and environmental degradation.

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