“Human Rights Defenders are not oppositions, they are named so when they speak the truth”: Reflections from the multi-stakeholders dialogue on HRD’s safety and protection –Nebbi 2019

The regional multi-stakeholders dialogue on human rights defenders’ safety and protection 2019 was organized in Nebbi, west Nile, by Ngetha Media Association for Peace and Nebbi district NGO’s Forum, on June 6, 2019. Professor Dr. Kakungulu Mayambala of Makerere University school of law attended the dialogue as a keynote speaker and a representative of the Human Rights and Peace Centre.

The main goal of the dialogue was to bring together at-risk human rights defenders and organizations throughout the Albertine region of Uganda to enhance their capacity for grassroots communities’ activism and also to shape discussions around Free Prior and Informed Consent, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights, the United Nations Declaration of Peasants Rights and other people living in rural areas, aligned negotiation tactics with governments and corporations as well as encouraging network building across community-based organizations and human rights defenders, the police, the judiciary, the media, academia, cultural institutions as well as the government institutions. The dialogue was further aimed at promoting clarity and understanding about active regional mechanisms and policies, sharing best practices on security for human rights defenders, environmental monitoring, and examining the methodologies that support the safety and security of human rights defenders and the People in rural areas throughout the Albertine region of Uganda by setting up a platform to shape discussions on fundraisings strategies for human rights organizations and grassroots initiatives. This was based on experience sharing and learning more about how human rights defenders can better support their communities by visualizing different funding mechanisms available at regional, national, and international levels that can help promote their work of defending human rights.

The dialogue was opened by Oyergiu Joshua of Ngetha Media Association of Peace and Nam Eddy, the executive director of Nebbi district NGO’s Forum. They discussed the importance of the dialogue for bringing together human rights defenders and organizations throughout the Albertine region to create a safer working environment and to develop synergies and secure space for activism in the Albertine region of Uganda.

The keynote speaker Professor Dr. Kakungulu Mayambala said ;

There is an urgent need to reinvigorate the struggle for the indigenous people in Uganda which can best be done through the domestication of international indigenous peoples rights and standards, alongside the regional and national initiatives,

He gave a platform for the participants to ask him any question relating to human rights abuse and the right of human rights defenders, over 10 participants asked him questions which he responded to.

He appreciated Ngetha Media Association for Peace for providing such a platform for human rights defenders to come together to discuss the issues affecting them, he emphasized that;

Human rights defenders should actively engage in the discussion regarding human rights,

He also used the platform to advertise the short course Makerere university is offering to students in the West Nile sub-region and he encouraged human rights defenders to grab the opportunity and participate in the program which will improve their knowledge of legal issues and human rights advocacy.

Mr. Oyergiu Joshua thanked all the participants for turning up in such big numbers. He assured human rights defenders and organizations that Ngetha Media Association for Peace will continue to have engagements with human rights defenders and organizations in the Albertine region so that human rights defenders and organizations are supported in various ways required.

Mercy Kayenyparwoth, the legal director of Ngetha Media Association for Peace said that Ngetha Media Association for Peace will continue to empower grassroots organizations, communities, and human rights defenders throughout the Albertine region by holding radio talk shows on land, environment, and human rights protection, extractive industries, oil and gas sectors, women leadership and advancement, girl child education, digital security, and physical security training for Human rights defenders among others. She also called upon the police and the government leaders to cooperate with Ngetha Media Association for Peace in advancing and protecting the human rights of the local community in the region. She encouraged everyone to stand for the rights of one another especially the vulnerable communities because everyone can be a Human Rights Defender in whichever capacity he/she is.

“As a person, you may think you are unworthy and you may not need an organization to help but use what is available to help defend the rights of the underprivileged”, Mercy noted

Counsel Matilda Natukunda of ActionAid Nebbi while speaking on the Legitimacy of Human Rights Defenders and their Protection in Uganda noted that “there is no law that fully protects human rights defenders, however, there is the constitution of Uganda, Press and journalists act”,  she said.

According to Matilda, the;

Uganda human rights commission is dominantly funded by international donors like USAID, UKAID

Parliamentary legal affairs committee, it oversees the operations of government entities like Uganda human rights commission.

Many people are afraid of the courts of Judicature. Therefore, while you are organizing activities as human rights defenders, have a legal backup who can support and defend you in case you are being arrested.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission established by article 51 of the constitution but it’s not been independent and well-resourced to conduct its duties effectively.

On the Uganda Law reform commission and the law on land and forceful acquisition. Counsel Matilda noted that;

There is the need for advocacy, this tendency that land belongs to government cannot work unless the landowner has accepted and compensation is key. As Civil Society Organisations we need a clear guide on whether the law is good or bad and how and what to do in order to help advocate for our people.

We have advocated for the consent, creation of awareness on issues of land, land acquisition and compensation plans. Our position is that the land belongs to the people. If there is compensation, it should be before taking the land but not after. Prior consent, clear and worthy compensation should be observed. She said

Mr. Nam Eddy, the executive director of Nebbi district NGO’s forum said that;

There are some indigenous communities that were not included in the Tilenga project report like the Bagungu, Batyabwa, Bakibiro and the project covers areas of Panyimur and Pakwach town council. After the disposals, the people downstream will be affected more.

As Human Rights Defenders we need to walk together, if you need training, organizations like Ngetha Media Association for Peace do provide them for an effective result of our works. Where mechanisms fail in Uganda, you can still raise it at an international level.

Mr. Jerry Kasamba an advocate of human rights at the Nile Dove while speaking about evidence gathering  in human rights advocacy noted that ;

We have to ensure that we are in a position to keep evidence of violations of human rights to be used in delivering justice for the victims and this is critical. While we are talking about local lands, as human rights defenders we should get interested in what is happening in the region.

We have come up with the guidelines translated in local languages to help companies protect human rights defenders in local communities. We work along cultural leaders to develop “Life Plan” which is a traditional guideline for protecting land, forests, lakes and other cultural sites for the sustainability of younger and coming generations in our local communities.

According to Innocent a freelance journalist from Masindi, “there is short of will among Ugandans to do the right things. The parliament is the only institution that gets money without any question but the implementation of the right activities becomes the biggest problem and this affects the whole country”, he says.

The centralization of everything in one particular area also seems to be a big hindrance to the work of Human Right Defenders  especially those in local areas. For example, most of the services are centralized in Kampala.

The country has modeled youth into lazy people therefore the blame game should be entertained. This generation is an entitled generation, don’t blame it because leaders have decided so. Politics is everywhere for everything; you just need to nurture the youth.

In the case of demonstrations, human rights defenders should inform and not seek. He said 

Anyolitho William, the executive director of Life Concern noted that;

Almost everything in Uganda has become militarized and this greatly affects all organs of government including Parliament.

Uganda Human Rights Commission is underfunded. They lack funding to effectively and adequately execute their duties. The most budget is for the military. Many people have been awarded damages but have not been paid. However, the Uganda Human Rights Commission should be appreciated for the little they have done amidst ill-funding from the government.

Civic education is not being prioritized in the country. It’s the work of the government to do provide civic education. This should be a continuous work at sensitizing the public but it’s not being prioritized in the country.

Human rights defenders should seek legal aid in case they face problems as a result of their activism. Don’t be silent if you face serious challenges in work, the cases will be spread all over. The protection fund is available for such cases as relocation, legal aid, health care, and other work-related cases.

During the plenary session Hon. Aol Jacline, the Woman Member of parliament of Nebbi district said that ;

The Uganda Human rights commission is doing their work even though their budget is not funded enough to execute their duties effectively as required.

She said there is a need for an evidence-based approach to delivering information. On several occasions, she noted that ;

Reporters of human rights violations do not have evidence for the occurrence of violations of rights.

“Many youth involved in advocacy and activism campaigns are being denied government jobs. They are considered as enemies of the state”, she said

Prisca asked whether human rights defenders are opposions and what help can be given to human rights defenders in that context.

In reply to the question above, the MP said that;

Human Rights Defenders are people supposed to live with one another and Human Rights Defenders are a broad context. In Human Rights,  we take a case by case. No HRD is taken to be opposition, it’s just when you speak the truth that you are named so, She said

Aol Jackline promised to mobilize the people of Nebbi, HRDs, and the communities to stage a powerful peaceful demonstration in Nebbi in protest against violations of the rights of Human Rights Defenders and those of local communities in the region.

According to Christine,

Indigenous communities are the victims of nepotism in the region. For example, at the “Uganda technical institute-Bunyoro, sometimes they say they are training indigenous people to learn technical skills that will make them compete for jobs in the extractive and  oil idustry ,but none of them is considered for admission”,  Christine said

According to Jennifer Baitwamasa of  NAVODA, there is a need for effective lobbying and advocacy for marginalized groups and also to help them seek justice in the formal courts.

The courts are far from the locals for instance the high court is in Masindi, and the facilities and human resource are few. Access to justice for most of the local communities is as difficult as equaling to denial. The poor staffing, equipping and support to the judicial system is greatly affecting and hindering prevalence of justice for people whose rights are being violated.

She suggested that ;

Locals should focus more on mediation rather than the mainstream judicial systems which is already corrupt and very bureaucratic

Innocent Turyahikayo a freelance journalist from the Masindi district noted that ;

The security of journalists is wanting particularly during elections and threats from Oil and gas companies.

“Power is shifting to the corporate companies meaning that they are in a position to control the budget of the country”

They do financing of impact assessment reports and forward them to National Environmental Management Authority for endorsement at the expense of the locals.

Acholi has 70 percent of oil but most developments in the Oil sector are going to Hoima and Bullisa areas.

They are also promoting land grabbing through the influence of the government. They are promoting private land ownership (land marketing) over the region’s customary land ownership hence rendering the local communities to vulnerability.

The dialogue attracted 120 human rights defenders, journalists, security personnel, academia, members of civil society organizations, cultural leaders, representatives of religious institutions, corporations, students organizations, youth groups, and women organizations from small and medium community-based NGOs as well as individual activists working in and around Albertine region on issues of human rights, environmental conservation, land protection media freedom among others.

Ngetha Media Association for Peace works directly with community-based human rights defenders who are at high risk in remote villages throughout the Albertine region of Uganda. Our interventions include but are not limited to capacity-building training on security, Protection of organizations and individual human rights defenders in the region and empowering them and building up their skills in human rights advocacy around land rights, environmental protection, Free, Prior and Informed ConsentUN guiding principle on Business and Human rights, The UN declaration of Peasant Rights and other people living in rural areas.

Ngetha Media Association for Peace also does advocacy work at the local level: through the support of grassroots and national organizations, national level: through the Uganda Human Rights Commissions by doing multi-stakeholder dialogues for the protection and security of human rights defenders, knowledge sharing, and at international level: through the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human rights defenders alternative report, popularizing the United Nations Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and Issues of Impunity and the UNESCO journalists safety indicators



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