Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in the Albertine region and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) corridor have launched a network to heighten advocacy and be able to overcome their common challenges.
The challenges highlighted at their two-day conference climaxed with the network launch include alleged intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests by some security agents and representatives of multi-national conglomerates implementing oil induced projects.
“Our network does not only target oil project. We are looking at any form of human rights violation. This network of grass root defenders will also help to get quick solutions to our common challenges and problems,” says Mr Christopher Opio, the Team Leader for Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA), the organiser of the network launch event.
Ms Jenifer Baitwamasa, an HRD working with Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA), says the next move is to document all HDRs in the region to ensure that every human rights violation is tracked and followed up for redress.
“For instance when one of our colleagues is arrested, we must rely on Kampala people for legal and financial support. I hope that once we are organised at our grass root level, we can quickly reach out to different organisations at national level and beyond for support with ease and get empowered to continue working,” she says.
The launched network is called ‘Solidarity Network of Grass Root Environment and Human Rights Defenders’ (SNEHRD).
During a session on risk assessment by Mr Anthony Masake, the Acting Executive Director for Chapter Four Uganda, the HRDs were tipped on compliance with the existing laws of Uganda and interesting themselves in mastering the international human rights protection mechanisms.
“You should always use the government human rights protection offices like the police and Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) because they are by law mandated to protect human rights. Even if they are involved in any violation, you still have to report to them. When they fail to register your complaint, you proceed to other levels,” said Mr Masake.
The HRDs also had an online presentation from Ms Maria Garcia Torrente, the Human Rights Officer Sustainable Human Development Special Procedures at the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights based in Geneva.
Her presentation dwelt around correct utilisation of the United Nations human rights offices like Working Groups in response to and prevention of human rights violations.
Mr Andrés Zaragoza, the Business and Human Rights Programme Manager at the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) in Switzerland, also sensitised the HRDs on the relationship that exists between business and human rights especially when major developments are taking place in a given area.
He appreciated the importance of grass root HRDs.