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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Trauma and Land Loss: New Study Focuses on Mental Health of Evicted Indigenous People

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Kenyan security forces evict Ogiek people from the Mau Forest Complex in the  Rift Valley Region.

NAIROBI – At the foot of Kenya’s Mount Elgon on the border of Kenya and Uganda, the little-known indigenous community of Ogiek is living scattered in recently-built thatched huts and timber houses that belie not only their poverty but also the impermanence that followed their eviction by the government a year ago from their native lands on the mountain.

From a life in the forest, this community of just over 50,000 people can no longer access their land to hunt small game, gather wild fruits and medicinal herbs or practice beekeeping, as their forefathers did.

They have instead been forced to eke out a living through subsistence farming and keeping livestock – a lifestyle borrowed from agrarian communities. As such, they are unable to afford school fees and sometimes even sufficient food for their children.

The Ogiek community has been fighting a longstanding battle with the Kenyan government which claims that the evictions were necessary to conserve indigenous forests.

However, Daniel Kobei, the executive director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), blames the evictions on the destruction of the forest by multinational companies and uncontrolled encroachment in the Mau Forest Complex. The OPDP is a Kenya-based NGO that promotes the recognition and identity of the Ogiek indigenous community and its culture.

As recently as July 2020, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) personnel, with protection from the country’s security forces, have been driving the eviction process in defiance of a 2017 ruling of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights which recognised the Ogiek peoples’ right to their ancestral land, by evicting the community.

The community now finds itself thrust into an unfamiliar environment with their way of life grievously disrupted, making it difficult for them to cope – financially and emotionally.

Little Attention to Mental Strain of Evictions

Ogiek community members ponder on what to do next following their eviction from the Mau Forest Complex by Kenyan security forces.

While some local Kenyan and international groups have protested the evictions, the stress and mental health effects of the displacement have received little attention.

“When we talk about environmental changes, we often ignore the mental aspect that comes with it,” noted Billy Rwothungeyo of the Minority Rights Group International (MRG) told Health Policy Watch.

MRG is a human rights organisation that works to secure the rights of marginalized and indigenous communities around the world. It works in 150 countries, with its Africa office based in Kampala. It has a presence in Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Congo, Gambia, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Egypt.

New Global Research Initiative Examines Mental Health Stress of Indigenous Communities

The Ogiek people are part of a new research initiative that will look into the mental strain faced by indigenous communities around the world facing evictions.

Indigenous communities in East Africa, Finland, Northern Thailand and India will participate in the global research project that looks at the emotional effects of environmental changes experienced by the world’s indigenous groups.

Dubbed Land Body Ecologies Research Group, the research will involve the Ogiek, the Batwa in Uganda, the Sámi in Finland, and the Pgak’yau in Northern Thailand. Communities living in the buffer zones of the Bannerghatta National Park in India will also take part.

The two-year research project, due to start in October, will involve human rights activists, mental health researchers, scientists and artists in a bid to understand solastalgia, a phenomenon defined as the emotional or existential suffering caused by environmental change. It is also commonly described as “the feeling of homesickness while still at home.”

Funded by the  Wellcome Trust Hub Award, the initiative will be led by Invisible Flock, an award-winning interactive arts studio based in London and MRG. The final project will take the form of an art exhibition in London.

“The space will be used to showcase results from the project, which will be open to the public, academics, media and other stakeholders,” explains Rwothungeyo.

“With around half of the world’s languages having no written form, art can act as a vehicle to bring forward alternative modes of expression not limited to human speech,” according to Victoria Pratt, artist and creative director of Invisible Flock in a press release

Pratt said that their approach is to tell multiple global stories at once, with the hope that through this process, solutions, answers, and meanings would be collectively conjured in the act of listening and retelling.

Indigenous Communities Continue to Lose Land.

A hut belonging to one of the Ogiek community members still smouldering following evictions carried out by the Kenyan security forces.

Indigenous communities all over the world have lost and continue to lose their ancestral lands due to encroachment from other communities and state-sanctioned evictions under the guise of forest conservation. This has brought with it environmental changes, which indigenous communities have had to live with, but whose mental and psychological toll is still not well understood, hence this new research effort.

To make matters worse, the minority groups say the global call to turn 30% of the world’s surface into protected areas by 2030 will displace hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples and traditional landowners.

Through the solastalgia research, the team aims to understand the lived experiences of land trauma on marginalised and indigenous communities.

Added to the food insecurities caused by environmental changes, indigenous communities also suffer increased incidence of diseases such as malaria, malnutrition, stomach disorders and respiratory diseases.

Involve Indigenous Communities More

“This research is supposed to inform such stakeholders as government and civil society to come up with more targeted measures to help marginalized communities, who are often overlooked in public policy,” added Rwothungeyo, maintaining that the study will also shed light on how these communities are being left behind and why governments should involve them more.

The OPDP’s Kobei said that even though the core objective of the research is to understand the mental predicament of indigenous communities brought on by environmental changes, they were hopeful that a learning center for the Ogiek culture will be established, following this study.

“If you talk to a 70-year-old Ogiek about the forest they have lost, he will talk in a very emotional manner,” said Kobei. “He will tell you of the kind of honey we used to harvest in the forest that is no more, the kind of hunting we used to undertake in the forest that is no more, the kind of herbs and clean water we used to get in the forest that are no more.”

Image Credits: Ogiek Peoples Development Program.

Original Source: Healthpolicy-watch.news

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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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