By Insight Post Uganda
Following the recent release of the StopEACOP activists in Uganda, the Coalition has declared a continuous battle against the controversial East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). The activists including nine Ugandan students and youth activists were arrested and imprisoned for over a year.
These individuals had been advocating exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest. According to the activists, the release sheds light on the power of peaceful resistance but underscores a troubling trend of increasing clampdown on environmental defenders in Uganda.
However, the StopEACOP coalition, the dropped charges are being viewed as an attempt to silence critics of the pipeline, and the coalition calls on all stakeholders, particularly banks and insurance companies, to withdraw support due to the significant risks involved and the harm the project poses to people, nature, and the environment.
The catalyst for the activists’ legal woes was a nonviolent demonstration in October 2022, expressing support for the EU Parliament’s resolution that raised concerns about human rights abuses and environmental destruction associated with the EACOP.
Despite facing criminalisation, the students’ unwavering commitment to their cause exemplifies the potency of nonviolent resistance.
However, the activists’ release occurs against the backdrop of a broader crackdown on environmental defenders in Uganda, as documented in a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.
The report outlines arbitrary arrests and an oppressive atmosphere of dissent perpetuated by the Ugandan government, aligning with concerns expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur regarding human rights violations associated with the EACOP project.
Violation of Democratic Freedoms
This alarming trend is seen as a violation of basic democratic freedoms. Ugandans, under their constitution, have the right to express their opinions on the type of development they desire for their country.
Advocating for an alternative to the EACOP pipeline should not be treated as a criminal act, and the international community is urged to take note of these violations.
However, the activists’ resilience in the face of intimidation highlights the hope and determination of a generation committed to a sustainable Uganda that prioritises its people over fossil fuel pipelines contributing to the climate crisis. Their release is not just a legal victory but a testament to the power of solidarity in overcoming repression.
Ntambazi Imuran Java, one of the arrested students, expressed gratitude to those who worked for justice and called for the dropping of charges against four other student activists arrested in September 2023.
According to Zaki Mamdoo, the StopEACOP Campaign Coordinator, the world is paying attention, and our voices will not be silenced. “The coalition urges continued international attention and action to safeguard the rights of activists and ensure a just and sustainable future for Uganda,” he said.
Zaki further decried the arbitrary and unjust nature of the arrests and stressed the importance of recognising activists, especially young people, as legitimate stakeholders in environmental and social governance.
Brighton Aryampa, Chief Executive Officer of Youth for Green Communities (YGC), highlighted the ruling’s precedent, affirming Ugandans’ right to express their views on the development they desire for their country.
The Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) is a Ugandan organisation dedicated to empowering communities to resist environmentally detrimental projects associated with the exploitation of oil and gas.
Diana Nabiruma, Senior Communications Officer at AFIEGO applauded the liberation of these students and extended praise to both the Ugandan and global communities for their unwavering endeavours.
This triumph highlights the crucial role of solidarity, both on a national and international scale, in safeguarding the rights of human rights defenders functioning within constrained civic environments.
According to the Community Transformation Foundation Network – COTFONE, the assault on activists in Uganda manifests itself in various forms, meticulously orchestrated by the government and its agencies with the explicit intention of undermining and frustrating their campaigns.
Yisito Kayinga Muddu, the National Coordinator-COTFONE explained that the state’s apprehension towards activists stems from a complex interplay of factors. Firstly, these activists often serve as vocal critics of government policies, particularly those related to contentious projects like the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
Kayinga said that their advocacy sheds light on issues such as human rights violations and environmental concerns, challenging the status quo. Additionally, the state may perceive these activists as catalysts for social and political change, unsettling the existing power dynamics.
“The government’s efforts to suppress activism also reflect an attempt to maintain control over the narrative surrounding projects like the EACOP, shielding them from public scrutiny and potential opposition,” he stressed.