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Blood in the forest

Identification of ecologically fragile areas prioritized for forest conservation and restoration in Mambasa and Mongbwalu sectors, Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The landscape of the Mambasa and Mongbwalu sectors are facing an undergoing a gradual decline in dense and secondary forests, triggered by (legal, illegal and unregulated) resource exploitation and their unsustainable use, some detrimental forms of agriculture, rapid urban growth in absence of long-term strategic planning, all linked by instability arising from land conflicts that chronically plague the region.

The restoration of degraded ecosystems is an essential activity to achieve environmental and ecological justice. Environmental and ecological justice focus on the intersections between the systemic exploitation of humans and the natural world; this includes inequities in the access and use of natural resources and in the distribution of environmental harms (by race, class, gender, among many). Furthermore, land rights for women in East Africa go beyond property rights and touch on often sensitive issues around different tenure systems (statutory, customary and religious), landbased wealth, power and social relations that give or take away their right to access and control resources.

This study focuses on the process of identifying ecologically fragile areas in which to implement forest conservation and restoration projects from a local, not purely biological and participatory perspective.

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Voices of defenders – Beatrice Rukanyanga

EPISODE 7

Beatrice has in-depth knowledge of the ecological system of the land in which she lives, understanding its most recent threats and sharing her indigenous knowledge. Through her voice we will discover her actions for climate justice, from campaigning in defense of the Bugoma forest to the use of traditional and indigenous techniques of conservation agriculture. 

“I would like to see reduced carbon emission.  Where communities are using alternative sources of energy, they are not destroying the environment and they are also promoting agriculture practices that conserve the environment. ” 

Beatrice is a leader at Kwataniza Women Farmers Group, a Community Based Organizations based in Hoima district. She is a committed climate justice activist energizing women’s dialogue at the community level.

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Among pandemics, elections and human rights abuses. Testimonies and feedback from Women defenders

The overall goal of Environmental Defenders’ program Defend Defenders is to contribute to the enhancement of the respect of human rights in Uganda by strengthening the physical and digital security of Women Environmental and Human Rights Defenders (W-EHRDs). The 2020 is a challenging year; W-EHRDs working in the Albertine Region agree:

“Human rights activism amidst Covid-19 pandemic have been compromised. Our organization activities have been affected given the increasing police brutality and the hostile environment yet human rights defenders are required to work from home to avoid infections. This has exposed many of us to new risks as we have to adapt to the changing world. So, we have to change the way we protect both our information and more especially our life from danger that arrive as a result of our works. We will ensure maximum security protocols will be implemented, especially during this time that election is taking place with more abuses.”

These words come from the women we met in the workshops we organized in the latter half of the year in a few districts. Many of the training participants was involved in environmental monitoring and crime reporting activities related to illegal logging, and have been subjected to several threaths including the threat of arrest, office eviction and illegal forced eviction from residential, sexual assault, defamation and hate speech on social media network from local political leaders against their work to tarnish their names. They have also seen their online communications intercepted or being questioned for what they have stated on social media and what they said on radio. Some of them work with people evicted from their land by oil companies: 

“We onetime organized meetings with Project Affected Person (PAP), where people lands are taken by the oil company without fair compensation. We wanted to meet the PAPs and hear from them their grievances, but we were told to stop the meeting within 15 minutes with allegation that we are inciting violence, so this has given us fear and threat in carrying out our work as Civil Society Organization”

We believe it is urgent to focus on digital and physical security, risk assessments, as well as psychosocial wellbeing to meet W-EHRDs challenges and make organizations more resilient to continue their human rights advocacy. We realized how important it is to take this holistic approach to safety in backing up every action we take.

“I got chances to attend such training and I know how crucial it is. Some
of us now have the password which can take decades to be hacked, so I made sure that this training should be brought up here to help us gain more knowledge. I encourage you may fellow participants especially journalists to be serious and understand a lot of things I know it will help us a lot”

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Voices of defenders – Dinah Afoyorwoth

EPISODE 6

Dinah will take us into her approach on Sexual Reproductive Health and rights of Adolescent Girls and Young Women. She will give us a feedback on her experience in amplifying the voice and enhancing visibility of most-at-risk.

“I campaign for ‘Women voice counts’, that bring up women on board to talk on all the issues that affecting them as far as sexual reproductive health is concerned.” 

Dinah is a Program Assistant at Vijana Corps, and she advocate for Reproductive Health Rights, raising voices of young women and adolescent girls in the communities of Pakwach district (Uganda).

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New partenership in restoring 450 acres of native savannah and dry grassland ecosystems

The Lake Albert region is a unique ecological zone with a rich array of biodiversity, from fungi to mountain gorillas, and over 42 bird species.  Unfortunately, oil and gas exploration, large-scale agribusiness, and illegal logging have destroyed wildlife habitat and reduced indigenous tree cover.

Environmental Defenders has a track record of successful restoration to reverse habitat and species loss. Over the last three years, it has sustainably restored 75 acres, and supplied community partners with seedlings to plant an additional 100 acres of dry forest. The new restoration projects will focus on helping to regreen 450 acre additional acres by 2023.

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that Terraformation will partner with Environmental Defenders in restoring 450 acres of native savannah and dry grassland ecosystems. Terraformation will provide Environmental Defenders with an off-grid solar-powered seed bank and nursery, as well as botanical training to help scale up the organization’s restoration work and support a regional native seed hub. 

This is part of the Environmental Defenders strategy on food sovereignty and expanding agroforestry. ED uses the nurseries to supply nearby farms with tropical fruit trees, like avocado, grapefruit, guava, and jackfruit, to support agroforestry businesses. But the existing nursery capacity can’t keep up with growing seedling demand.  Though the region has no electrical grid, it receives 8 to 11 hours of sunlight most days, making it an ideal spot for Terraformation’s unique solar-powered seed bank and nursery equipment. The new seed bank and nursery will help ED meet even more seedling requests, and fulfill the goals of dry forest restoration.  We intend to also provide seed banking services and serve as a hub for the community’s agricultural and reforestation efforts.

Communities throughout the Lake Albert region hold specialized medical knowledge based on native herbs and employ regionally adapted building techniques utilizing indigenous grasses. But recent large-scale commercial agriculture has reduced native species cover, making it difficult for communities to use their traditional knowledge. In addition to tree seedlings, ED will also propagate understory herbs and grasses critical to these local practices, helping to preserve cultural knowledge. 

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“Voices of defenders”. The serial launching the “Ikolojia” podcast

To celebrate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we at Environmental Defenders share with you the experiences of the long round of Women Environmental and Human Rights defenders (WEHRDs) in the Albertine region. To do so, we published their stories within our new podcast, Ikolojia, in a series entitled Voices of Defenders.

Voices of Defenders raise voices from women and WEHRDs in the Albertine region about ecological justice, through a narration made starting from everyday life experiences.Together we will explore many topics, including conservation and reforestation, traditional and indigenous nature-based solutions, gender inequalities in land rights, sexual reproductive health, women’s participation in decision-making, climate refugees, physical and digital security. What has been collected is a unique legacy of collective knowledge, that is valuable to the region and to the world outside that can access it for the first time.

About Ikolojia.

Presenting the relationships between women and nature, between indigenous people and land, which are often not known or recognized, we introduce traditional and new approach to sustainability, from the use of resources to community life. Connected with the demand for ecological justice, the Environmental Defenders podcast IKOLOJIA (Ecology) presents a narration made starting from everyday life experiences of women and Indigenous people in the Albertine Region (Uganda).

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Voices of defenders – Edna Piyic

EPISODE 5

Edna has long investigated the processes of limitation of women’s rights in property and land ownership. From her voice we will discover how Afrikan traditional society produces serious gender inequalities (specifically her report is on Alur people) and the difficulty for women to access the judicial system, unfair and expensive.

“I would like to live in a world where women are given freedom to inherit the land from their husbands, and even in their families, this will promote coexistence especially with their children”

Edna is a journalist at The New Vision and reporter for Arua One FM. She has practiced journalism for the last seven years and her stories clearly reflect her interest in justice for women and children.  She love elections reporting too, “because a society without good leadership is a doomed one”.

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Voices of defenders – Jolly Bategeka

EPISODE 4

Jolly is a committed activist, gifted to practice actions with great impact. Her words bring us to the essence of ecofeminism, conceived in the traditional cultural relations with Earth and in the healing power of nature. We will move from the #saveBugoma campaign, her efforts for reforestation, to the actions to promote and implement the use of clean energy for cooking that have a limited impact on the use of biomass, to the challenges of fact-finding in the processes of monitoring and reporting of illegal actions in forest reserves.

“Protect forests, means protect attached cultural values.”

Since 2005 Jolly has been taking environmental protection actions as a volunteer and bringing competences acquired with her degree in Forest Science and Environmental Management.

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Security concerns in land tenure data collection, monitoring and reporting environmental crimes and human rights abuses in land disputes

The porous borders between South Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo pass through the northern section of the Albertine Graben. It is a rural area enclosed between the DR Congo’ tropical rainforests and the South Sudanese grasslands, crossed by the White Nile flowing out from Lake Albert. Located far away from the edge of the key centers of their respective Countries, it is a territory transited for migration and trade reasons, from North to South and from West to East. The region, which is well known for its biodiversity and large presence of natural resources, presents in land one of its main assets. Local communities depend on land for subsistence farming and for grazing animals.

In recent years sensitivity on land ownership and tenureship has grown a lot through: ethnic conflicts that emerged over contentious boundary definitions (such as the “Apaa Land Conflict” in Adjumani district, Uganda); the deployment of wildlife conservation and economic development rhetoric from Governments, investors and international agencies to justify large-scale land grabs against rural and indigenous communities; large-scale international projects that involve oil extraction and processing and other raw materials mining, excluding communities from the participatory mechanisms and especially by using compensation frameworks that do not directly benefit these communities (such as the Tilenga project in Buliisa and Hoima districts, Uganda); social emergencies and humanitarian crises (such as the construction of refugee camps in Arua, Yumbe, and Adjumani, Hoima districts, Uganda). This has led to an increase in land rights abuses resulting in mass evictions, along with human rights abuses (physical attacks including killings, imprisonment, beatings, professional limitation, and so on) and environmental crimes including deforestation in protected areas and trafficking in wild animals.

Among the Ugandan districts most affected by these trials, critical situations are reported in Adjumani, Pakwach, Nebbi districts in the West Nile subregion and in Buliisa, Hoima, Kiryandongo districts in Western subregion.

According to Art. 2 of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 17 December 2018), “States shall respect, protect and fulfil the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. They shall promptly take legislative, administrative and other appropriate steps to achieve progressively the full realization of the rights set forth in the present Declaration that cannot be immediately guaranteed”. Therefore, all NGOs, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), communities, indigenous groups and individuals working in the region in defence of land rights as farmers, fisherwomen/fishermen, land owners, and who depend on land for subsistence farming and for grazing animals, exercising their rights in accordance with national and international laws, act as Environmental and Human Rights Defender (EHRD). Only a few groups of EHRDs in the Albertine region specifically deal with the multi-stakeholder dialogue in land rights disputes, promoting environmental accountability, creating civic awareness among local communities, and providing protection and legal support. The work of these people is thwarted by murder attempts, arrests, beatings, threats and harassment, seizure of personal goods, telephone surveillance, eviction from offices, intrusion into residentials, digital surveillance, IT systems hacking, document theft, and so on. Not everyone has received support to manage safely their projects or is equipped with a physical and digital security plan. Moreover, the situation worsened after the Covid-19 pandemic, which obliged members of these organizations to work from private locations.

Next January 2021, in Uganda there will take place the Presidential elections raising several concerns, from the heavy deployment of armed army officers in election related activities, to the shutdown of Internet, mobile money services and social media services, fund blocking, violent clampdown of meetings, blackmail by perpetrators. It is expected that during the election period EHRDs will be involved in these incidents.

This demonstrates that the confrontation involving EHRDs organizations is played in the digital domain in a steady interweaving with the physical one.

 

Data collection, monitoring and reporting land rights abuses in Albertine Region

A key activity of the EHRDs groups is the maintenance of the monitoring cycle on lands, which is tied with the reporting of violations against land rights, environmental crimes and human rights abuses. Traditionally this is accomplished through the systematic collection of information across territory (as periodic or incident reports) using physical or digital archives guarded in the organization’ offices, shared through emails, or messaging services. These activities mostly require to be carried out in the open field, exposing members involved in reporting to threats.

 

Requests from EHRDs in Albertine Region on security challenges

As EHRDs organizations, CSOs, communities, collectives, indigenous groups in Albertine region:

  1. we require a physical and digital security plan, comply with the main security frameworks for organizations, benefit from specific training for the maintenance and use of digital assets, develop tailor-made security protocols for our field of action and local context.
  2. we ask local, national and international donors, up to the multilaterals that fund our projects and actions, to make accountable the security of members, communities and any stakeholders involved.
  3. we need a regional security strategy for EHRDs organizations in the Albertine Region developing a documentation system, and allowing for disintermediation in emergency situations affecting local communities (linking the documentation system with a local and flexible response mechanism for incidents).
  4. we demand for data governance within a secure and transparent institutional framework.
  5. we require scientific standards in collection methods and analysis to generate data that meet minimum quality requirements for the purpose of documentation, reporting and collection of forensic evidence in legal proceedings, for land rights litigation, environmental crimes and human rights abuses.
  6. we point out the importance of using safe digital tools to collect periodic and incident reporting, with rigorous storage, management and governance measures for the use and analysis of data collected.

 

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Voices of defenders – Susan Atulinda

EPISODE 3

Susan gives us her recipe for ecological justice. Participation of women in decision making process on sustainable use of natural resources, organizational change, definition of the responsabilities of the communites, public and Government bodies in relation to ecological system. And about how this is only possible by taking an holistic approach.

“Let’s invest in nature-based solution to serve God and maintain ecosystem wich is vital for food and water supplies, protects against nature disaster, and provide goods and services, key to human wellbeing and economic development “

Susan she currently member at Mid-western Region Anti-Corruption Coalition (MIRAC) in Hoima.