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”