Environmental Defender Amanzuru is receiving death threatening messages from Ugandan Ministry of Health Employee Kevin Kelike Aza
Adjumani: Environmental Human rights defender William Leslie Amanzuru is receiving death threatening messages from Kevin Kelike Aza , a midwife with Ugandan Ministry of Health in Gulu district.
According to the twitter posting by Amanzuru its believed that the threats against him is getting to another sophisticated level that needs critical follow up.
“To date, Police cannot arrest her because she is more powerful than the law, she is the law itself. Kevin Keliki Aza vowed to kill me at all cost that it takes. She comfortably and peacefully lives in Gulu and Works for Ministry of Health as a Nurse”. Amanzuru twitter post reads.
The destruction of Zoka forest is a major threat to security and safety of Amanzuru and his colleagues at Friends of Zoka forest.
Amanzuru is a prominent environmental activist campaigning against the illegal logging and rampant destruction of Zoka Forest by military personnel and high profile politicians in Adjumani district. He is also the founder of Friends of Zoka, an organization aimed at stopping illegal logging in Zoka Forest.
Zoka forest is located in Adjumani, North Western Uganda in the Albertine region. It’s part of the East Madi Wild Life Conservation Areas. Despite its ecological importance, the forest is facing destruction. It’s over six thousand hectares, and one of few natural rain forests in Uganda which is of ecological significance and is instrumental in the modification of the Albertine region climate. It’s also a natural route for wild animals connecting from Murchison Falls National Park to Nimule National Park in addition to being a source of livelihood for communities that live off the forest.
Since 2016, there have been persistent reports that illegal loggers with armed protection have been conducting illegal logging and lumbering in the Forest.
Army officers are accused of being involved in the illegal logging in Zoka Forest and they are involved in cutting trees for commercial timber production.
The Albertine Watch was informed that the illegal loggers have heavy armed protection which National Forest Authority and the regular police have failed to handle, meaning the forces are simply too powerful.
Amanzuru told the group of journalists way back in 2017 that if the government continues to ignore the plight of the rain forest and the cries of the locals, a point will be reached when the communities will take matters into their own hands although that is not the route anyone wants.
Amanzuru said they are tired of being invited to Kampala to be given lip service by government, adding that theirs is not to come and get per diem but rather to ensure justice for the locals.
Persistent records of threats and intimidation
Amanzuru has been receiving threats since he led an investigation into the report that exposed the illegal activities of criminal cartels profiting from timber business in Zoka Forest. The investigation was aired by Nation TeleVision. Amanzuru claims that his movements are under surveillance and that members of his family have also been threatened in order to silence his criticism of corruption and environmental degradation. He was thus forced to temporarily relocate his family from the area with the help of DefendDefenders. Yet, his motivation remains unyielding.
The overall situation in the Albertine region of Uganda
In Uganda, Environmental Human Rights Defenders operating in an increasingly repressive environment. In recent months the already restrictive working environment in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating and Environmental human rights defenders are under even greater threat of physical assault by either motivated actors, from private organizations, government security operatives and members of the public. The government is intensifying digital surveillance on Environmental human rights defenders. As the oil exploration progresses, the threat on the ecosystem, land grabbing among others in and around the Albertine region is escalating, there are common incidents of human rights violations scattered around the region and the battle to expose these violations and their perpetrators lies with a small group of ill equipped individuals, lacking skills and tools to protect their work and most especially their lives.
Illegal logging is the leading cause of forest degradation worldwide and contributes to global warming. In 2013, for example, it resulted in an estimated 190 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The practice also threatens critically endangered species, as well as local people, with impacts ranging from loss of livelihoods and land to endangerment to their lives.
Global Witness, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing corruption and environmental abuse, with headquarters in London and Washington, D.C., has confirmed the killings of more than 66 environmental defenders in 2018.
Illegal logging is irresistible because of the high prices luxury timbers like rosewood and mahogany fetch on the international market. A cubic meter of rosewood, for instance, can sell for $50,000 in China, and in Thailand a two-meter-long plank goes for $5,000.
Communities who protest illegal logging or seizures of their land are frequent victims. Global Witness found that of the many people killed defending territory in 2018 were from indigenous communities.
The criminals often target community leaders a strategy aimed at spreading fear and silencing people.