Although the solidarity visit by the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRDU) to Arua on May 21, 2017 was aimed at checking on identified Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), it doubled as an opportunity for NCHRDU to further enlighten HRDs on the programs and services the coalition offers to HRDs in dire need across the country.
The coalition team from the secretariat was received by the HRD focal person William Onyolitho together with Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment (RICE-WN), HRD sub regional focal organisation for West Nile sub region.
The NCHRDU team was then guided to various HRD organizations and individuals.
The team encouraged HRDs in West Nile to utilize the coalition’s protection mechanisms by referring fellow HRDs at risk to access immediate medical, counseling, legal support etc.
Some of the organizations the NCHRDU team visited include the coalition’s board members; Legal Aid Project of the Uganda Law Society, the Human Rights Commission offices in Arua town, Action for Human Rights and Education Initiative Uganda (AHEDI- UG) and MAYANK Anti-Corruption Coalition (MACCO).
The coalition team delivered brochures highlighting NCHRDU programs and a toll free number 0800100250 which the team encouraged HRDs to call at any time for protection services from the coalition.
Organizations were happy to pin the number on their notice boards saying it would make it easy to refer cases to the coalition for emergency help.
Jackson Olema, the Manager Operations for RICE-WN said: “it is something we have been waiting for because it will help HRDs at risk to seek emergency help directly from the coalition.”
The coalition team told HRDs in Arua that the NCHRDU is non-discriminatory and provides protection for all HRDs.
“If there is anything we want to leave with you, it is that we are non-discriminatory and we work for the protection of all HRDs regardless of whether they are members of the coalition or not,” NCHRDU said.
This was after some HRDs asked whether they could benefit from NCHRDU programs if they were not registered members.
The team also encouraged the HRDs to work together, saying that unity is key in mitigating threats among individual defenders.
HRDs happy with coalition work
Onyolitho, the northern regional HRD focal person who is also the Executive Director Life Concern Uganda applauded the coalition for championing the cause of HRDs in the country.
“We are happy that some organizations are out to champion our cause. Whenever we had a problem in the past, we would be at the mercy of our perpetrators but we can now run to the coalition for help. We have a national voice,” Onyolitho noted.
Another defender, Fred Arowa Abibo Executive Director of AHEDI- UG was happy to learn about the NCHRDU’s programs, adding that he will utilize the services.
Abibo said that most HRDs in Arua face harassment from government authorities for sensitizing communities about systematic land grabbing.
Abibo is currently operating in a new location, having relocated on two occasions due to constant harassment including office break-ins whereby people broke into his orgainisation’s offices and destroyed information and furniture.
“They just vandalized our furniture and destroyed files, surprisingly they didn’t take anything. I remember I had left Shs113, 000 in my locker but they didn’t tamper with it. Others especially from government always tell us to go slow,” said Abibo.