Atuhura, investigates Total’s oil projects. He has been kept in prison for 48
Original press release from Amis de la Terre /
Friends of the Earth France
yet another example of the threats and harassment against human rights
defenders in Uganda, which aim at deterring them from highlighting the negative
impacts of oil projects.
Atuhura, a member of the Ugandan NGO AFIEGO, was arrested
on 25 May. He was accompanying an Italian journalist to meet with members of
communities affected by Total’s oil projects in Buliisa district, Uganda. The
journalist was released shortly afterwards, but Maxwell Atuhura, who has since
been transferred to Hoima (still in the oil region), spent two nights in
detention before being released on bond on the evening of May 27.
charge of “unlawful assembly” filed against him – which has no legal basis – is
yet another example of the restrictions that civil society organizations face
when they wish to meet people affected by Total’s oil projects.
arrest, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and subsequent prosecuting of Maxwell
in fact constitutes intimidation and retaliation for his work as a human rights
and environmental defender. Not only was he intimidated and threatened while in
detention, but the authorities also asked numerous questions about his work,
his connection to the lawsuit against Total in France, AFIEGO’s relationship
with other international organizations, or the reasons why AFIEGO had taken
legal action against the Ugandan government.
that civil society and affected communities are unable to meet and speak freely
about the negative impacts of oil projects is unacceptable. Moreover, this type
of response by the Ugandan authorities sends a chilling message to all those
who may attempt to assert their rights or defend the rights of others, thereby
contributing to the destruction of civic space in Uganda 1. Four
United Nations Special Rapporteurs had already alerted
on this risk a year ago, concerning the harassment suffered by two members of the affected communities following their visit to France where they
spoke publicly about the projects 2.
with Friends of the Earth France and Survie, many local and international
organizations, as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the
for Maxwell’s release 3.
of the Earth France, Survie and their Ugandan partners demand that the trumped
up charges against Maxwell Atuhura be dropped, and that concrete actions be
taken to stop the repeated attacks on human rights defenders and journalists.
1. For more
information on the situation of rights defenders working on oil issues in
Uganda, see our report “A Nightmare Called Total”, pp. 22-25. See also the FIDH report
“New oil, same business? At a crossroads to
avoid catastrophe in Uganda” and Oxfam’s report “Empty promises down the line“.
June 2020, four UN Special Rapporteurs called on the French and Ugandan
governments and Total to address the pressure and intimidation of two
representatives of communities affected by Total’s projects (See the letters
sent by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to
freedom of opinion and expression, the Working Group on the issue of human
rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, the
Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the
enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and the
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to the French Government, the Ugandan Government, Total S.A. and Total E&P on 20 April 2020, which were made public
in June 2020). In December 2020, other Rapporteurs drew attention to the arbitrary detention of 13 rights
defenders who opposed environmental abuses and forced evictions in another part
of the country.
the press releases from Friends of the Earth France and Survie, AFIEGO, and the Urgent appeal of the Observatory for the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders.