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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Agilis Partners/Asili Farms resort to torture to disempower and grab land from the poor

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By witnessradio.org Team

 

Kiryandongo – Uganda – Just like any country under lockdown and a curfew, people living in Uganda are obliged to adhere to stipulated guidelines and time limits to be indoor. For Byaruhanga John, little did he know that his home when everyone is in bed would be raided at midnight and get kidnapped by unknown people because he has resisted illegal and violent land eviction orchestrated by Agilis Partners/Asili Farms; a company owned by American investor

 

Byaruhanga is the latest victim of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment after more than a dozen of smallholder land owners including Katusabe William, who was attacked and severely beaten by Agilis Partners/Asili Farms workers, One Odonga Jackson, a security guard deployed by Saracen, a private security firm hired by the company. Katusiime reports that on top of being tortured and degrading treatment, Kiryandongo district police blocked him from receiving treatment as a victim as well as opening criminal cases against the company, its workers and guards.

 

Agilis Partners/Asili Farm violence has caused permanent disability of an 11-year old Ssewankambo Ponsiano who has since dropped out of Kabyanga Memorial School. He was shot while in classroom studying with fellow pupils when police officers working on Agilis Partners opened live bullets and tire gas at residents. The incident incident occurred at Kisalanda village, Kimogola Local Council 1, Kiryandongo Sub county, Kiryandongo district.

 

On April, 22nd, 2020, Byaruhanga heard a knocking noise reverberating from the door to his house. It followed with voices of some unknown people who were demanding him to open the door and that should he refuse, they threatened to break into the house.

 

According to witnessradio.org investigations, Byaruhanga a resident of Nyamuntende and a bonafide land owner was raided by a group of laborers dressed in Asili Farms uniform, a subordinate of Agilis Partners while others were from Saracen, a private security firm. Agilis Partners plantations are guarded by its internal security firm (Asili Farms), Uganda Police Force (UPF) and Saracen, a private security firm.

 

witnessradio.org has learnt that once Byaruhanga succumbed to pressure, opened and stepped out of his house, a group of men grabbed him, beat and kicked him. “ I was severely beaten, which beating lasted about 30 minutes. When I started making noise, they bundled me into the trunk of an awaiting pick-up truck, and drove off to the Agilis Partners’s camp which is about 30 miles from my home” Said Byaruhanga. 

 

Byaruhanga added that when they arrived at the camp, he was locked up in a company store, saying the security personnel, were instructed to shoot him if he dares to get out.

 

In an interview with witnessradio.org, Byaruhanga testifies that the following day, the Kiryandongo District Police Commander (DPC) One Bakaleke Joseph and other police personnel visited him in the illegal detention dressed in plain clothes did nothing.

 

Before to his torture, Byaruhanga lost his banana and maize plantations, paw paw as well as pine trees which were plowed down by Agilis Partners without compensation.

 

Byaruhang has since opened up criminal charges against company workers and private security guards but no arrests have since been made.   

DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Over 600 attacks against defenders have been recorded in the year 2023 globally- BHRRC report.

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By Witness Radio-Uganda.

The attacks and criminalization of land rights defenders, environmental activists, and climate activists have become common tactics employed by the authorities in the world to silence, suppress opposition, and perpetuate impunity against those that protect the climate, environment, and land rights.

The escalating scale of attacks against people defending our rights and climate from business-related harms, according to the report by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in 2023 titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023 shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and illustrates how voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop and remedy harm.

The report documented 630 instances of attacks directly affecting an estimated 20,000 people, raising concerns about business-related harms in the whole World where over three-quarters (78%) of these attacks were against people acting to protect the climate, environmental, and land rights.

According to the report, many attacks involved collusion between state, private sector, and other non-state actors occurring in contexts where there are high levels of impunity, adding that the direct perpetrators of attacks were largely state actors, with police and judicial systems being the most common perpetrators, followed by the military/armed forces. The highest number of attacks were connected with the mining (165), agribusiness (117), and oil, gas & coal (112) sectors.

According to the Resource Centre, Brazil leads the tally in the World with the highest number of attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm in 2023 with (68) cases followed by, India (59), Mexico (55), Honduras (44), the Philippines (36), USA (27), Iran (24), and Colombia (22), among others.

In 2023, 86% of the cases we tracked were non-lethal including arbitrary detention (157), physical violence (81), intimidation and threats (80), strategic lawsuits against public participation (38), and others. The Resource Centre also recorded 87 killings of defenders speaking out about business-related harms in 2023. Additionally, the Centre has revealed most attacks – both lethal and non-lethal against HRDs go uninvestigated and unpunished, promoting a culture of impunity and fueling further attacks.

In Africa, Uganda has recorded the highest number of cases, with 18 incidents reported. The East Africa Crude Oil pipeline stands out as a focal point for most of these attacks, with individuals opposing this major infrastructure project being targeted by the state.

The report revealed one of the incidents where the Police officers refused to let the students enter parliament. Most were chased away, but four students, including Kajubi Maktom, were caught by police and allegedly kicked, punched, and beaten with wood, and brutally arrested. They spent the weekend in Luzira prison, where Maktom contracted tuberculosis, before being charged with public nuisance and released on bail. Since then Maktom has continued to receive threats from unknown persons.

Several reports including those of Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, and Witness Radio among others have published reports describing patterns of arbitrary arrests, threats, office raids, and intimidation against individuals who have raised concerns about EACOP and other oil developments in Uganda.

The 630 instances of attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms recorded in 2023 only are part of a consistent, ongoing pattern of attacks against HRDs protecting our rights and planet globally, with more than 5,300 attacks recorded since January 2015 by the Resource Centre.

The report calls upon States to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of HRDs and for business actors to respect the rights of HRDs by taking immediate action on these recommendations.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Eight (8) environmental activists have been arrested by police over protesting against the EACOP project.

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By Witness Radio team.

As the criminalization of critics of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project escalates in Uganda, Witness Radio-Uganda has learned that a group of eight environmental activists have been brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala.

According to eyewitnesses, the eight included Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Imaniraguha Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Binntukwanga Raymond, and Mulimbwa were arrested outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda while delivering a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

The eight activists, who chose to sit outside the embassy and shout messages such as “Stop EACOP,” had taken a principled stand not to leave until embassy officials came out to receive their letter of grievances and demands. However, this did not happen. Instead, the police swung into action and brutally rounded them up before being thrown into a police vehicle and taken away. The arrest occurred before no embassy officials had engaged with the protesters.

According to activists, the EACOP project has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis.

The EACOP is a project spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

According to the state house website, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Thursday, April 4th, 2024 received a letter from the President of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, expressing his unwavering support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP).

Your Excellency, I received your letter, and I am very happy to let you know that I am in full support of EACOP. I believe that it will enhance socio-economic development for the region. I am confident that with the strong cooperation between our nations, this project will be a success,” message President Museveni on his X platform read in part.

The government of China has now joined the list of entities, including Total Energies, in funding the controversial and potentially disastrous project.

Several organizations advocating for energy just transition, climate, environmental, and land justice, including Witness Radio – Uganda, are calling for the immediate release of the climate activists.

The Eight are currently detained at Jinja Road police station as no charge is preferred against them yet.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Nearly 175 arrested as climate protesters target France’s TotalEnergies and key investor

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Demonstrators gathered outside Paris meetings of energy giant and Amundi, with some forcing their way into fund manager’s tower block.

The head of TotalEnergies has told shareholders that new oilfields have to be developed to meet global demand, as the annual meetings of the French energy giant and one of its biggest shareholders were picketed by climate activists.

Police said they detained 173 people among hundreds who gathered outside the Paris headquarters of Amundi, one of the world’s biggest investment managers and a major TotalEnergies shareholder.

Climate activists also gathered hours before the TotalEnergies annual general meeting opened. Greenpeace members unfurled a huge “Wanted” banner calling its chief executive, Patrick Pouyanné, “the leader of France’s most polluting company”.

The banner was quickly taken down by police.

Several hundred activists belonging to Extinction Rebellion gathered outside Amundi for its general meeting.

A few dozen protesters forced their way into Amundi’s tower block, daubing graffiti on the walls and smashing some windows, police said. Amundi said eight of its security staff were injured.

The activists say TotalEnergies is contributing to global warming and the destruction of biodiversity through its gas and oil activities.

Police detain protesters outside Amundi’s offices
Police detain protesters outside Amundi’s offices. Photograph: Antonin Utz/AFP/Getty Images

Pouyanne told shareholders that higher oil prices prompted by insufficient fossil fuel output “would quickly become unbearable for the populations in emerging countries, but also in our developed countries”.

Demand for oil was growing in line with the global population, he said.

But Pouyanne said TotalEnergies would pursue its “balanced strategy” of developing both fossil fuel and low-carbon energy production.

TotalEnergies had proved it was possible “to be a profitable, or even the most profitable, company while pursuing a transformation” toward cleaner energy, he said.

At Friday’s meeting, nearly 80% of shareholders approved the company’s climate strategy, with more than 75% also voting to renew Pouyanne as CEO for three years.

Pouyanné, who last month floated the idea of a New York listing for the company, told shareholders there was “no question” of TotalEnergies leaving France.

He said in April that there was “a case” to move from the Paris CAC 40 index to New York in search of higher valuations and larger markets.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, asked by Bloomberg if he would be “happy” with such a move, responded: “Not at all and I would be very surprised.”

Source: The Guardian

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