13 April 2015
Hoima, 2 April 2015 – Since August 2014, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) has actively supported communities threatened by industrial activities in the Hoima district of western Uganda by empowering communities and making them aware of their rights. The ASF team in Hoima recently hosted the Belgian Ambassador, an encouraging sign for the affected communities and the NGO.
Since the discovery of oil in its territory in 2006, Uganda has been preparing to host mining activities in an attempt to strengthen economic growth. The construction of a refinery in an area of about 30 km² is planned for the Hoima district, affecting the inhabitants of the region. During the first implementation steps, ASF observed a lack of commitment from the government vis-à-vis these communities as well as threats to human rights coming from the refinery and current and future industrial activities. Indeed, the Ugandan Constitution requires the State to take steps to involve people in the formulation and implementation of programs that affect them. However, the Ugandan authorities do not provide the people of Hoima with the necessary information to understand industrial practices and their impact in terms of human rights.
Powerless, communities in Hoima face significant rights violations. For example, more than 7,000 people were forced to leave their property, sometimes without replacement housing or compensation. Residents have said: “We live on land that no longer belongs to us because the government needs it for the refinery. We have nowhere to go because the government does not give us compensation to acquire a property elsewhere.” Frequent displacement also results in violations of an individual’s right to education, to employment, to food and to healthy water.
“Such a situation, if it is not treated today, is likely to worsen with the arrival of new investors and new activities,” says Jean-Philippe Kot, ASF expert in international justice. In partnership with the NGO Global Rights Alert, ASF began a pilot project in August 2014 to support the active participation of citizens in the management of their territory, to promote access to justice, and to promote the empowerment of communities affected by industrial projects. ASF implements outreach projects so that each individual is aware of his or her rights. Additionally, ASF seeks to enhance access to justice for victims: a legal clinic welcomes the public and offers free legal advice and assistance. ASF will also represent victims who do not have the means to pay for the support of a lawyer.
In mid-March, some beneficiaries of the project had the opportunity to meet with His Excellency Alain Hanssen, Belgian Ambassador to Uganda. Ambassador Hanssen, sensitive to the difficulties that communities face daily, supported them and encouraged them to continue their efforts with ASF. Ambassador Hanssen also warmly thanked the NGOs for their work in Hoima.
This project aims to promote the participation of citizens in social empowerment and development processes in the oil sector in Uganda, in partnership with Global Rights Alert. Lasting two years, the project is funded by the Democratic Governance Facility.