PELARD–N & Collective Protection of Land Rights Defenders in Northern Uganda
The first series of PELARD-N newsletter in the previous quarter of the project briefly highlighted the challenges faced by Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land Rights Defenders (LRDs) in Northern Uganda. To date some of these challenges still remains unresolved especially in land conflict hot spots areas in Acholi sub-region. This has made a number of LRDs in Acholi sub-region frightened of their physical security and safety including that of their family members. Most importantly, LRDs do their work as part of their voluntary contribution towards the protection and promotion of justice especially for vulnerable individuals and groups, and at times at the risk of their own safety and for their family members.
Consultations with a number of LRDs in the districts of Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya, and Lamwo indicates that a number of LRDs have experienced verbal and physical threats with a number of the threats executed through phone calls for the right work they undertake in the promotion and protection of individuals and indigenous right to land and property, and prevention against human rights violations and abuses especially in the rural areas. It has also been noted that others are said to have been tortured, criminalized, suffered from arbitrary arrest or detention and at times branded as enemies such as in volatile contested areas of Apaa, a disputed place between Amuru and Adjumani district where there is no freedom of movement and currently regulated through roadblocks, thus making the environment in which LRDs operate hostile. Therefore, PELARD-N consortium members believes that as LRDs and HRDs do their work, it is imperative that they are collectively protected and this should be the responsibility of each and every stakeholder.
Drawing from current experiences in post conflict northern Uganda, HRDs/LRDs more especially in rural areas and villages work in isolation, making it more challenging and difficult for them to protect, promote, document, monitor and report human rights violations with the exceptions of few who are higher levels defenders and have the means to communicate and move across places this includes members of the CSOs and in some cases it has been Members of Parliaments with specific example to northern Uganda. This concern was raised during the PELARD-N inception meetings that took place in the month of July, 2020. However, it was recommended that in order to bridge this gap there is need to collectively confront these challenges by making good use of the networks and resources available in enhancing the protection of human rights for LRDs.
CSO and Collective Protection of HRDs/LRDs in Northern Uganda
Though a number of institutions have been at the forefront of securing and protecting land rights in northern Uganda, this has for long been done in isolation. Current initiative by a Consortium of GWED-G, HURIFO and Soleterre is one of the first in its kind to employ a collective and collaborative approach and intervention in the protection of HRDs/LRDs. This role is being carried out under a project titled: Protection and Empowerment of Land Rights Defenders in Northern Uganda. This assistance targets over 70 LRDs and 7,000 beneficiaries in the four action districts of Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Lamwo through the establishment and building of a network that supports LRDs.
This collective approach is being executed through; capacity building of LRDs in risk assessments, aggression management and digital safety (RAAMDS), training in basic laws, human rights monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights abuses using digital systems (HRMDR), training on Local, National, Regional and Global Protection and Advocacy Mechanism. This capacity building will focus on strengthening the readiness of LRDs on how to prevent security risks and work safely; Promotion of adoption of a technology for digital monitoring, documentation and reporting of land related human rights abuses and violations; conducting research and provision of support on the psychosocial needs of HRDs and LRDs working on land in Acholi sub-region and; the creation of spaces for networking among individual HRDs/LRDs and organizations at national and international levels to enhance protection and advocacy mechanism.
From this reporting period, a number of milestones have already been registered by PELARD-N consortium members in enhancing the collective protection approaches. This includes working with some coalition members and structures already in existence such as the District Local Governments, District Human Rights and Protection Working Group, Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Northern Uganda Land Platform, the GIZ Civil Peace Program working on land rights in Acholi sub-region and defined interests groups such as Women’s Land Rights defenders, the media, Defenders Protection Initiatives and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders. As such, PELARD-N consortium members Collective Protection attempts looks at a shift in responses to human rights abuses and violations from the traditional after effect responses to a more comprehensive, preventive and sustainable intervention approaches. This will enhance HRDs/LRDs to be able to freely and effectively defend themselves, their peers and families from various human rights abuses associated with their involvement in securing and protection of land rights, and be able to establish records of situation where there are potential violations.
As such, the collective approach to the protection of HRDs/LRDs will prove to become imperative more especially in Northern Uganda if individuals, CSOs and the state can:
- Bridge the gap of working in isolation to working as a team in securing the protection and safety of land rights defenders and individual and group land rights.
- Collectively advance a cause for action for communities or societies to peacefully resolve land disputes and prevent new land disputes from happening.
- Together stimulates a response by government or actors to address violations.
- Collectively respond and design strategies for collective risk prevention and management by understanding the pattern of threats, structural and physical violence against HRDs/LRDs in order to be able to mitigate such risks.
Hence, in effort of ensuring that there is a collective protection intervention for HRDs/LRDs PELARD-N consortium members have jointly started working on protection strategies with the ultimate goal to ensure that there is a conducive working environment for individuals or groups to be able to defend their rights safely from village, parish and sub-county levels. This collective protection strategy aims at; improving the capacity of individuals and groups to respond to risk and address threats as well as increasing the resilience of HRDs/LRDs and ensuring that individuals and groups can defend their rights without fear of threats or attacks through an increased collective work spaces such as building networks at the local, national and international levels.
Written by: Denis Barnabas Otim