Ouganda : Un défenseur de l’environnement retrouvé « mal en point » après cinq jours de disparition

Uganda: Environmental defender found “in bad shape” after five days of disappearance

He was allegedly “beaten” by Ugandan soldiers because of his commitment against the TotalEnergies oil megaproject in the country.

An environmental defender campaigning against a TotalEnergies oil megaproject in Ugandamissing since Tuesday June 4, was found “ ailing ” his association told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, claiming that he was arrested and beaten by soldiers.

Sunday evening, Stephen Kwikiriza “was thrown along a road in Kyenjojo”about 250 kilometers west of the capital Kampala, said the director of the Environment Governance Institute (EGI), Samuel Okulony, in a message to AFP.

According to the first elements provided by Stephen Kwikiriza, it was ” beaten “ by soldiers and “is clearly in bad shape”he detailed, adding that the activist is currently being followed at Nsambya hospital.

According to a senior soldier in the Ugandan army, who requested anonymity, Stephen Kwikiriza “was taken into custody for questioning about his illegal activities, including the mobilization of other activists against the pipeline”. This soldier claimed not to “not having been informed that he had been beaten during his interrogation”.

“This is a matter that can be investigated and verified”he concluded. “They kept moving him from one place to another, and in each new place he was beaten up.”for his part affirmed Mr. Okulony.

A pipeline of nearly 1,500 kilometers

Several NGOs, including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), were concerned about the disappearance since Tuesday of Stephen Kwikiriza. FIDH denounced “a particularly worrying escalation of repression” against opponents of the TotalEnergies megaproject, claiming that it targeted eleven environmental defenders between May 27 and June 5.

In a press release sent to AFP on Saturday, TotalEnergies claimed to follow “the situation very closely”and assured “tolerate no threats or attacks against those who peacefully defend and promote human rights”.

TotalEnergies announced in 2022 an investment agreement of 10 billion dollars with Uganda, Tanzania and the Chinese company CNOOC, including in particular the construction of an oil pipeline (Eacop) of 1,443 kilometers connecting the deposits of Lake Albert, in western Uganda, on the Tanzanian coast on the Indian Ocean. The project is denounced by environmental protection organizations who believe that it threatens the fragile ecosystem of the region and the populations who live there.

Twenty-six Ugandans and five French and Ugandan associations launched civil action in June 2023 to demand ” repair “ before the Paris court for various damages (unfair expropriations, insufficient compensation, harassment, etc.).

The associations Darwin Climax Coalitions, Sea Shepherd France, Wild Legal and Stop EACOP-Stop Total in Uganda also filed a criminal complaint in France in September, which, according to them, is “ unpublished » because it assigns TotalEnergies “before the criminal judge for facts resembling climaticide”.

Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1986, has repeatedly described the project as a major economic source in the landlocked country.

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