The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, and Tanzania are recognized for rich biodiversity, iconic landscapes and natural resources include minerals and energy resources. However, conservation efforts are increasingly under threat due to the adverse effects of climate change, rapid population growth and insufficiently regulated development projects that exacerbate pollution, habitat fragmentation, and conversion and destruction of wetlands. Environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) that speak out on the negative impacts of government-backed projects on natural resource and land management, on behalf of affected marginalized communities, are subjected to intimidation, physical and verbal harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and even death for their activism.
ABA ROLI seeks to address these challenges through its regional Environmental Human Rights Defenders program. In partnership with civil society organizations in the DRC, Uganda and Tanzania, ABA ROLI convened two-day training workshops for EHRDs between September 15 – 16, 2023 in Kampala, Uganda; October 11 – 12, 2023 in Bukavu, DRC; and October 20 – 21, 2023 in Arusha, Tanzania. The sessions were convened to equip EHRDs with knowledge and practical skills on how to undertake safe and effective advocacy to influence policy and practical change in the legal framework to protect EHRDs in their respective countries. In all three countries, the sessions covered several topics, including the concept of environmental law and justice; advocacy logic; advocacy strategies at the regional and international levels; effective policy engagement; stakeholder analysis; mechanisms utilized by EHRD; and communications strategies to leverage the role of the media in advocacy. During the workshops, several advocacy issues were highlighted as areas of concern, most of which were cross cutting in the three countries. These included society’s role in contributing to environmental degradation, lack of access to information and transparency in environment impact assessments for new projects, physical security of EHRDs and intimidation and arbitrary arrests against EHRDs. EHRDs continue to advocate for environmental protection even as they lack adequate legal frameworks to protect them at the domestic and regional levels.
ABA ROLI utilizes its partnerships with domestic and pan-African bar associations to recruit experienced lawyers from across the region to host and participate in these trainings, amplifying support to EHRDs and their beneficiaries Experienced lawyers provide expert levels of coaching on the topics of environmental advocacy and knowledge-sharing to the EHRDs and lawyers in attendance. Guest speakers and facilitators in the aforementioned trainings included Dr. Geoffrey Chambua, a gender specialist and advocacy trainer; Dr. Nshala Rugemeleza, a former Tanganyika Law Society president and renowned human rights advocate; and James Nkuubi, a lawyer and human rights specialist in Uganda. These trainings are critical to building the capacity of EHRDs to become local and national leaders on environmental issues and are a catalyst for the development of local EHRD networks supported by ABA ROLI. ABA ROLI’s method of working directly in countries with EHRDs and connecting them to national and regional experts results in strong sustainable solutions, mutually reinforces awareness across communities, and supports the sustainable growth of grassroots EHRD networks.