Uganda: Alarming crackdown on environment and human rights defenders

07/06/2024
Urgent Appeal
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Badru KATUMBA / AFP

UGA 001 / 0624 / OBS 023
Arbitrary arrest / Judicial harassment / Restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly
Uganda
June 7, 2024

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention on the following situation in Uganda.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed of the alarming crackdown on environment and human rights defenders involved in defending environmental and land rights in the context of oil development projects, in particular the abduction, arbitrary arrest and detention, judicial, physical and moral harassment of eleven human rights defenders, between May 27, 2024 and June 5, 2024.

On June 5, 2024, Mr Adriko Sostein, environment and human rights defender and community member from Kaseeta Parish, Kikuube district in Uganda, was arrested by the officer in charge of the Kaseeta police and a team of Kikuube district police. He was detained at the Central police station in Kikuube and was released on bond on June 6, 2024. Mr Julius Tumwiine and Mr Ezama Chirilo, two other human rights defenders, faced threats and judicial harassment from the police in Kikuube, which was seen surrounding Julius Tumwiine’s house on June 5, 2024, at a time when he was not home. Both were allegedly wanted by the police, and consequently Ezama Chirilo reported voluntarily at the police station in presence of a lawyer, where he was put on police bond.

On May 29, 2024, Adriko Sostein, Julius Tumwiine and Ezama Chirilo, held a peaceful protest and marched to deliver a petition to Daqing oil construction in Kikuube. Daqing is a Chinese company in charge of construction of the feeder pipeline linking Kingfisher oil fields to the main oil infrastructure in Hoima. [1] The petition demanded respect for the human rights of local communities and a halt to oil development.
On June 1st, 2024, the Resident District Commissioner – the representative of the executive branch and head of security at district level who is nominated by the President of Uganda – called the three defenders who went to deliver this petition and summoned them to a meeting at his office the next day. In the meeting on Sunday, June 2nd, 2024, the Resident District Commissioner made intimidating comments about their human rights activities and pressured them into writing an "apology letter" to him stating that they would never engage in such an activity again.

On June 4, 2024, Mr Stephen Kwikiriza was reportedly abducted by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). At the moment of his abduction, Mr Kwikiriza sent a message to his colleague at Environmental Governance Institute (EGI), confirming his abduction by UPDF officers in civilian clothes. At the date of the publication of this Urgent Appeal, no further communication has been received and Mr Kwikiriza’s whereabouts and condition are unknown.

Working as an Observer with EGI in the area of Kingfisher, Mr Kwikiriza is an environment and human rights defender dedicated to promoting the sustainable management of natural resources in the context of developing oil projects in the region. Due to his work as a defender, Mr Kwikiriza had previously received threats from the UPDF deployed at Kingfisher project area.

On May 27, 2024, Messrs Bob Barigye - member of the African Initiative on Food Security and Environment - Uganda (AIFE-Uganda) - Noah Katiiti, Newton Mwesigwa, Julius Byaruhanga - Sector Coordinator for Oil, Gas, Minerals and Professional Services at the Uganda Private Sector Foundation - Desire Ndyamwesigwa, Raymond Binntukwanga, and Jealousy Mugisha Mulimbwa - pastor and community leader - were arrested in Kampala, Uganda, by the Ugandan police during a peaceful demonstration outside the Chinese Embassy. They were held in custody at the Jinja Road Police station in Kampala and charged with unlawful assembly. On May 28, 2024, the seven defenders were released, but at the date of publication of this Urgent Appeal, they are still under investigation and under police bond, thus being required to report to the police whenever they are summoned to. On June 6, 2024, they reported to the police and their bond was extended until June 20, 2024.

The peaceful demonstration was part of simultaneous protests organised in Uganda and Tanzania by civil society groups working with people affected by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project in the two countries.3 The EACOP is jointly owned and operated by French oil major TotalEnergies, Chinese state-owned enterprise CNOOC, and Tanzanian and Ugandan state owned oil companies. The aim of the demonstration was to hand over to officials of the Chinese embassy an open letter highlighting the economic, social and environmental impacts of the oil projects. The letter, signed by a number of Ugandan and Tanzanian civil society organisations and project-affected communities, expressed their concern at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s support for the EACOP project. The demonstrators did not have the opportunity to meet with the Chinese officials.

These arbitrary arrests and detentions, judicial, physical and moral harassment, and legal proceedings are part of a persistent and intense repressive trend against environmental and human rights defenders and affected communities in the context of oil development projects in Uganda. The Observatory recalls that Mr Jelousy Mugisha Mulimbwa had already been arbitrarily arrested on December 14, 2019, following his testimony in a trial against the oil company Total (now TotalEnergies) in France in December 2019. Bob Barigye was also arbitrarily arrested on January 27, 2023 and released on bail on January 24, 2023, while organising a debate on the impact of the EACOP on the environment, human rights and the economy. In addition to the violations mentioned above, the Observatory reported since 2020 numerous cases of legal and judicial harassment and intimidation against individuals and organisations defending human and environmental rights in the context of oil project development affecting local populations’ well-being and biodiversity. The Observatory also reported in September 2020 the arbitrary detention in Uganda of nine environmental human rights defenders mobilised to denounce the impact on ecosystems of investment projects by the sugar industry, as well as the social and environmental consequences of oil projects in the region, including those by TotalEnergies and CNOOC (Kingfisher, Tilenga and EACOP).

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and detention and the judicial harassment of Adriko Sostein, Julius Tumwiine, Ezama Chirilo, Stephen Kwirkiriza, Bob Barigye, Noah Katiiti, Newton Mwesigwa, Julius Byaruhanga, Desire Ndyamwesigwa, Raymond Binntukwanga, and Jealousy Mugisha Mulimbwa, which only appear to be aimed at restricting their freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and at hindering their legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory urges the Ugandan authorities to immediately release Stephen Kwikiriza and calls on them to put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, and any act of intimidation against the eleven above-mentioned human rights defenders, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country.

The Observatory also calls on the Ugandan authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of expression as enshrined in international human rights law, and in particular Article 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Uganda is a party.

Action required:

The Observatory kindly requests that you write to the Ugandan authorities asking them to:

1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Adriko Sostein, Julius Tumwiine, Ezama Chirilo, Stephen Kwikiriza, Bob Barigye, Noah Katiiti, Newton Mwesigwa, Julius Byaruhanga, Desire Ndyamwesigwa, Raymond Binntukwanga, and Jealousy Mugisha Mulimbwa, and all human rights defenders in Uganda;

2. Immediately and unconditionally release Stephen Kwirkiriza, as his detention seems to be only aimed at restricting his freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and at hindering his legitimate human rights activities;

3. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including judicial harassment - against the eleven above-mentioned human rights defenders and all other human rights defenders in Uganda; as they seem to be only aimed at intimidating them and further restricting their legitimate human rights work;

4. Ensure strict respect for fundamental freedoms, and in particular guarantee in all circumstances respect of the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression as guaranteed by international human rights law, in particular by Article 19 and 21 of the ICCPR, to which Uganda is party;

5. Ensure that human rights defenders - including environmental and land human rights defenders - are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities in all circumstances, without hindrance or fear of reprisal.

Addresses:

• Mr Kaguta Yoweri Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, E-mail: museveni@starcom.co.ug / aak@statehouse.go.ug, Twitter: @KagutaMuseveni
• Ms Robinah Nabbanja, Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda, Email: ps@opm.go.ug, Twitter: @RobinahNabbanja
• Mr Jeje Odongo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uganda, Twitter: @UgandaMFA
• Hon. Norbert Mao, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, Email: info@jlos.go.ug / info@justice.go.ug
• Hon. Kiryowa Kiwanuka, Attorney General of Uganda, Email: info@jlos.go.ug / info@justice.go.ug
• Ms. Jane Frances Abodo, Director of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, Email: admin@dpp.go.ug
• Ms. Mariam Fauzat Wangadya, Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission, Email: uhrc@uhrc.ug
• H.E. Mr. Marcel Robert Tibaleka, Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: chancery@ugandamission.ch
• H.E. Mirjam Blaak Sow, Embassy of Uganda to the EU in Brussels, Belgium. Email: ugembrus@brutele.be, info@ugandamission-benelux.org

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Uganda in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, June 7, 2024

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: alert@observatoryfordefenders.org
• Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
• Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39

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