The Environmental Defenders provide support to women human rights defenders at the local and regional levels in the Albertine region.

The Environmental Defenders has accumulated extensive expertise in supporting human rights defenders in the Albertine Rift region of Africa. It has become a prominent eco-feminism organization at the local and regional level, focusing on the protection of women human rights defenders. The organization has been at the forefront of efforts in digital security, referral systems, and providing physical and psychosocial support.

Recently, the Environmental Defenders has prioritized the protection of women human rights defenders in this region. This decision is based on our growing understanding and experience in the field. They anticipate that the security situation for human rights defenders will continue to be difficult and complicated in the coming years. The organisation has seen and recorded a significant amount of targeted violence, surveillance, imprisonment, and legal prosecution experienced by human rights advocates in the Albertine region. The most common violations used by regimes in the DR Congo and Uganda to thwart activist efforts are arrest and detention.

Women human rights defenders and civil society organizations working on women’s rights in several African countries face ongoing challenges in their operating environment and working conditions. In the Albertine Rift region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, women human rights defenders are especially vulnerable. They have experienced a rise in threats, intimidation, and even killings in recent years. Women who defend human rights are among the most susceptible populations to experience gender-based abuse, harassment, and threats against their children.

Frontline Defenders conducted a Global Analysis on the security risks faced by women human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The analysis revealed that defenders in the DRC operate in a highly hostile, unstable, and unsafe environment, making them vulnerable to attacks, intimidation, and physical violence. Additionally, they face obstacles in accessing certain areas to observe and document human rights abuses. Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) face a high level of danger in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), namely in North-Kivu and Ituri. Ineffective “states of siege” and disputes between the parties make the situation worse by increasing the HRDs’ vulnerability and risk exposure. Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are often targeted and silenced by using their positions as care-givers and mothers. Ever since the state of siege was implemented in North-Kivu, the military has consistently singled out the grassroots women’s organization Dynamique des Femmes Leaders d’IRUMU (DYFELE). On May 4, 2022, military personnel conducted a raid on DYFELE’s office in order to locate the Women Human Rights Defender (WHRD), Miriam Furaha. During the raid, two laptops were seized. A group of three military personnel and two police officers conducted a raid on Miriam’s home the day before. During her absence, her whole family was caught and held in custody for many hours without a warrant. During this period, her family members were subjected to interrogation and mistreatment. Prior to this incident, the Women Human Rights Defender had experienced three prior instances of violent assaults between 2021 and 2022. She suffered severe assault and torture in April 2022 from individuals wearing military uniforms. As a result, she fled into exile.

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which has the backing of China’s CNOOC and France’s TotalEnergies, has faced persistent opposition in Uganda from activists and community organizations. The project has received harsh criticism from the international community for a number of violations, such as forcibly displacing thousands of people from their land without providing them with fair compensation, including indigenous pastoral and fisherfolk communities. Additionally, human rights defenders have faced judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest, and detention. Women human rights defenders and their organizations in Uganda who challenge patriarchal norms encounter numerous threats in both private and public spheres as a result of their advocacy for justice and accountability, protection of social, economic, and cultural rights, and condemnation of gender-based violence. Women human rights advocates and their organizations in Uganda are also victims of torture, threats against their family members, and ongoing harassment in public areas.

The Environmental Defenders report that the demand for protection and security support from their organisation is now beyond the organization’s capability. This is possible due to the challenging circumstances and the growing need for assistance and safeguarding human rights defenders.

Women who advocate for human rights face special risks and assaults that are based on their gender. They have a higher probability of encountering incidents of sexual assault, harassment, and sexualized intimidation. Their prominent role in advocating for human rights is sometimes unacknowledged or deliberately disregarded because of the threat it poses to patriarchal gender norms and systems. Women in their communities are often not given equal status or access to protective services compared to their male counterparts, while facing equivalent or even larger hazards. This is particularly evident in instances of intimate partner abuse and other types of familial and societal coercion used as a means to retaliate against women activists for their activist status – a phenomenon that often remains undisclosed and unacknowledged as a valid kind of danger. Female human rights defenders encounter prejudice and threats, even from activists, inside places dedicated to promoting human rights. Women belonging to marginalized groups who are engaged in advocating for indigenous peoples’ rights, land preservation, and environmental conservation face dual forms of targeting. They are targeted both due to their activism and their identification with certain political, ethnic, socioeconomic, or gender identities. In addition, women activists and human rights advocates sometimes face additional psychological and economic strain due to their frequent responsibilities as main caregivers.

Furthermore, there has been a rise in digital threats specifically aimed at women human rights defenders. This growth may be attributed to the widespread availability of digital devices among defenders and the crucial role that technology plays in their work. Digital assaults include a wide variety of activities, including monitoring, targeted infection, hacking, trolling, and the seizure of equipment for the purpose of theft. The Ugandan Government, along with companies, has progressively enhanced their utilization of technology to surveil activists, journalists, and political adversaries. Additionally, they are endeavoring to portray this monitoring as a compromise for the sake of creating more secure societies.

In order to tackle these difficulties, the Environmental Defenders have consistently offered comprehensive protection to women human rights defenders who are in danger. As a result, Environmental Defenders has broadened their efforts to enhance the skills and capabilities of these women via workshops, courses, guidance, and assistance. A group of security experts with expertise in physical security, protection planning, and digital security are providing this assistance. They also possess extra specialized knowledge as needed. The Environmental Defenders enhance the ability of women human rights defenders to cope with the dangers they encounter by providing customized assistance to those who are vulnerable to assault.

In recent years, the Environmental Defenders has enhanced their organizational capacity by offering protection workshops that address the various protection needs of women human rights defenders. These workshops include Risk Assessment and Protection Planning, Digital Protection, and well-being for women activists and defenders facing risks. The duration of their seminars normally ranges from 4 to 6 days, and they accommodate a group of 15 to 20 people. Their risk assessment training encompasses several subjects like risk assessment, threat analysis, stress mitigation, development of security strategies for particular threats, and the completion of personal, organizational, or network security plans, among other topics. The scope of digital security consultations encompasses several aspects, including conducting a risk assessment of digital security, safeguarding computers against viruses and hackers, implementing measures to secure sensitive data stored on computers, enhancing email privacy, fortifying the security of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and ensuring mobile phone security.

States, as the primary entities responsible, have a responsibility to uphold, safeguard, and fulfill rights. States must be held responsible for fulfilling their commitments to ensure that activists are able to carry out their work in a supportive and conducive atmosphere. States are the primary perpetrators of the persecution of activists and women human rights campaigners.

On this occasion of International Women’s Day, the Environmental Defenders, urge the governments of DR Congo and Uganda to safeguard the rights of women human rights defenders. It is crucial for these governments to collaborate with women human rights defenders and other activists as partners in development, and states should play a crucial role in supporting activists who face risks.



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