Uganda: Arbitrary detention and subsequent release of nine environmental human rights defenders

18/09/2020
Urgent Appeal

UGA 001 / 0920 / OBS 103
Arbitrary detention /
Release /
Judicial harassment
Uganda
September 18, 2020

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

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary detention and subsequent release of nine environmental human rights defenders who had travelled to Hoima to participate in peaceful demonstrations and call for the end of the destruction of the Bugoma forest, a protected tropical forest in the west of Uganda.

According to the information received, on September 15, 2020, Messrs. Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, two journalists and respectively team leader and Head of Programmes of Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET) Uganda[1], were arrested in Hoima (west of Uganda), on their way to attend a radio talk show at Spice FM. They were then taken to Hoima district police station.

During the show, the two defenders were supposed to discuss the risks and dangers of sugar cane growing projects in the Bugoma forest and allowing oil activities in critical biodiversity areas including rivers, lakes, national parks, forests, wetlands and others. They were expected to call the population to participate in peaceful protests that were planned for September 16 and 17 with the aim to call for the end of the destruction of the Bugoma forest.

On September 16, 2020, Messrs. Samuel Kayiwa, environmental journalist, Head of Communication of WEMNET-Uganda and a member of the Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ)[2], Vincent Sekitto, Ismail Kashokwa, John Kibego, three members of the Save Bugoma Forest Campaign, Joseph Mujuni, Moses Mukiibi, two members of the Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA)[3], and Ms. Sandra Atusinguza, member of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)[4], went to the police station in order to negotiate the release of the two journalists but they were in turn arrested and detained by the police. The police department spoke publicly of a “preventive arrest”, saying: "we want to make sure they don’t have that demonstration today", "we have them, and at a later stage we shall be releasing them".

Police officers also claimed [5] that the organisers did not have the relevant authorisations to hold demonstrations, although police forces have no legal or constitutional basis to authorize or outlaw peaceful protests and local civil society organisations had previously notified the police station of the demonstration in accordance with Ugandan law.

Messrs. Sam Kayiwa, Vincent Sekitto, Ismail Kashokwa, John Kibego, Joseph Mujuni, Moses Mukiibi and Ms. Sandra Atusinguzawere released on the same day, after six hours spent in custody, without any charges, but were threatened by the police, who told the defenders never to step in Hoima again.

Messrs. Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, for their part, were released on police bond on September 17, 2020, after spending two nights in custody, meaning that they remain temporarily free while the police is still investigating their case.

The Observatory welcomes the release of Messrs. Venex Watebawa, Joshua Mutale, Sam Kayiwa, Vincent Sekitto, Ismail Kashokwa, John Kibego, Joseph Mujuni, Moses Mukiibi and Ms. Sandra Atusinguza, but expresses its deepest concern about their arbitrary detention, which seemed to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory urges the authorities of Uganda to put an end to any form of harassment against them and all human right defenders in the country.

The Observatory is further concerned about the repeating pattern of abusive arrests against human rights defenders working on the impacts of investment projects in Uganda, and underlines that individuals are usually released without charges, in what seems to be a series of operations of intimidation against those defenders. Moreover, many defenders that have been arrested and subsequently released continue to live on bond for years, with no subsequent prosecution.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Uganda asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Messrs. Venex Watebawa, Joshua Mutale, Sam Kayiwa, Vincent Sekitto, Ismail Kashokwa, John Kibego, Joseph Mujuni, Moses Mukiibi and Ms. Sandra Atusinguza, as well as all human rights defenders in Uganda;

ii. Put an end to any form of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Venex Watebawa, Joshua Mutale, Sam Kayiwa, Vincent Sekitto, Ismail Kashokwa, John Kibego, Joseph Mujuni, Moses Mukiibi and Ms. Sandra Atusinguza, and all human rights defenders in Uganda, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1, 5 and 12.2;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Uganda.

Addresses:

• Mr. Kaguta Yoweri Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, E-mail: museveni@starcom.co.ug / aak@statehouse.go.ug
•Mr. William Byaruhanga, Attorney General, and Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, E-Mail: mojca@africaonline.co.ug
• Ms. Jane Frances Abodo, Director of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, Email: admin@dpp.go.ug
• Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti, Acting Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission, Email: uhrc@uhrc.ug
• H.E. Christopher Onyanga Aparr, Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: mission.uganda@ties.itu.int
• H.E. Mirjam Blaak Sow, Embassy of Uganda to the EU in Brussels, Belgium. Email: ugembrus@brutele.be, info@ugandamission-benelux.org
• H.E. Attilio Pacifici, Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Uganda, Email: delegation-uganda-ppi@eeas.europa.eu
• Mr. Cathal Gilbert, HRD Focal Point, Delegation of the European Union in Uganda, Email: cathal.gilbert@eeas.europa.eu.

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

***
Paris-Geneva, September 18, 2020

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: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29


[1]WEMNET-Uganda is a network of journalists and media practitioners seeking to create secure uncensored platforms for journalists and writers to promote environmental awareness through writing and informing, educating the citizens who also use the platform to highlight the various environmental abuses and demand for accountability and good governance.
[2]Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.
[3]Oil Refinery Residents Association is a community-based organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable environmental use and land rights of vulnerable communities in the Albertine region of Uganda.
[4]Africa Institute for Energy Governance is a public policy research and advocacy NGO dedicated to influencing energy policies to benefit the poor and vulnerable.
[5]See https://www.ntv.co.ug/news/akawungeezi/Poliisi-ekutte-bannamawulire-babiri-/4542248-5624168-4uacv9/index.html

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