Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Afro-Colombian Women Continue to Face Unspeakable Violence during Armed Conflict

About 30,000 protesters turned out in the predominantly Afro-descendant city of Buenaventura in March to protest the ongoing violence perpetrated by armed groups. Photo Credit: Palenque el Congal via PCN.

CALI, COLOMBIASince 2013, Charo Mina Rojas has helped register 42 cases of sexual violence and internal displacement perpetrated against Afro-Colombian women in two cities alone. As of today, however, Ms. Mina Rojas has not received word from the Colombian authorities as to whether the cases are even being investigated.

With investigations stalled or never undertaken, the perpetrators of sexual violencewho are in many cases members of paramilitary groupsare free to continue persecuting their victims, often threatening to kill them if the go to the authorities. In the predominantly black city of Tumaco, many survivors of sexual violence have refused to talk about their experiences for fear that they will be killed for doing so.

Many of these women are vocal community activists whom paramilitary groups consider guerrillas and therefore their enemies. To protect them, Ms. Mina Rojas and the Global Rights’ partner organization she represents, the Kuagro Ri Changaina Ri PCN, spirit the women out of their homes and into safe houses in other cities. One woman, a community activist from Buenaventura, had to be relocated 80 miles from her home to stay with relatives in Cali. Despite the woman being relocated, paramilitaries hunted her down and shot her in the leg one day while she was walking in the street. The Kuagro, which is a women’s collective that is part of a 100-member Afro-Colombian coalition called Black Communities Processes, had registered the case with the authorities in Buenaventura and Cali, but it never received adequate attention.

Although it is clear Afro-Colombian women have suffered more than any other group since the outbreak of the Colombian conflict in 1964, the Colombian government is not doing enough to address the ongoing and culturally-specific issues these women face, Ms. Mina Rojas said. A major stumbling block is the fact that the Colombian government does not collect racially-specific data when documenting cases of sexual violence and displacement. As a result, the government does not know how and by what degree the armed conflict has affected the Afro-Colombian community. This failure to effectively identify and deal with Afro-specific issues is a violation of the Colombian constitution, which in 1991 recognized Afro-Colombians as a unique collective entitled to special rights.

Ms. Mina Rojas said that outside political pressure must be applied to the Colombian government for any substantial change to take place. To that end, Global Rights, the Kuagro and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) organized a five-day visit by IACHR president, Tracy Robinson, to speak directly with dozens of Afro-Colombian women activists from Buenaventura, Tumaco, Cali and the Caribbean and North Cauca regions. 

The visit, which lasted from Sept. 24 to Oct. 3 and also included meetings with LGBTI activists, provided the IACHR, in particular its Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, a unique opportunity to gather information for its upcoming regional report on the rights of women in the region that has a particular focus on Afro-descendants. It also gave the IACHR and its president a chance to see whether progress had been made in addressing the situation of Afro-Colombian women following official recommendations the IACHR made to Colombia in March 2013 in light of testimonies given to the Commission during a thematic hearing in Washington requested by Global Rights and Kuagro. 
Charo Mina Rojas

“The Rapporteur was greatly alarmed by information received confirming the pernicious effect of the armed conflict on the integrity, lives, and territories of Afro-descendant women,” The IACHR said in an official statement released Oct. 10. “The Rapporteur reminds the State [i.e. Colombia] of its obligation to take into account the multiple forms of discrimination consistently faced by afro-descendant women on the basis of their sex, race and condition of poverty, and to facilitate their participation in the development of legislation and interventions relevant to their human rights.”

The meetings Global Rights and the Kuagro arranged also had a strong impact on the leaders of the Afro-descendant women’s groups, many of whom feel ignored by the Colombian government and the international community.

“It was actually very important for them because they have very little opportunity to mobilize all the way to Washington to present their cases and their situation in front of the president of the Inter-American Commision for Human Rights,” Ms. Mina Rojas said. “For them to have the opportunity to meet with her was crucial…it made them feel like they were being listened to.”

As of 2013, there were 4.7 million internally-displaced persons in Colombia due to the ongoing armed conflict, according to the most recent government figures. Afro-Colombians make up about 26 percent of Colombia’s population and represent at least 30 percent of the total number of internally-displaced persons, according to a report published by Global Rights and AFRODES in 2010. Half of the Afro-Colombians who have been displaced are women.

Afro-Colombians are particularly vulernable to displacement because they live in predominantly black communities situated in resource-rich and militarily-strategic areas that armed groups have forcefully seized during the conflict. Afro-Colombians are also more impacted by violence and displacement because they are typically poorer than the rest of the country and thus cannot easily relocate to safer parts of the country.

In addition to internal displacement, Afro-Colombian women—and Colombian women in general—continue to suffer from gender-based violence due to the ongoing conflict. A March 2014 report on conflict-related sexual violence released by the United Nations Security Council noted the severity of the issue in Colombia. The report also notes that women and girls of Afro-Colombian descent have been “disproportiantely affected.”

“The sexual exploitation of women and girls in areas under the influence of illegal armed groups… remains a grave concern,” the report says. “In this context, incidents indicate that sexual violence is perpetrated as a strategy to assert territorial control, to intimidate women leaders and human rights defenders and to intimidate the civilian population as a method of social control. Some survivors report having been displaced and raped repeatedly. Survivors reporting incidents of sexual violence to the authorities and service providers also reported receiving subsequent threats against them and their families, some of which resulted in forced displacement. The continuing presence of survivors and perpetrators in the same community represents an ongoing security risk, creates acute psychological trauma owing to prolonged intimidation and hinders reporting and access to justice and services.”

Another major issue is the impunity with which perpetrators of sexual violence operate. According to a report released in November 2013, only one in five cases of sexual violence are reported and of the cases reported, only two percent end in sentencing for the perpetrator.

Ms. Mina Rojas, however, is confident that if the IACHR continues to apply political pressure on the Colombian government, the government will be compelled to engage with the Afro-Colombian leaders to adequately address the myriad issues facing Afro-Colombian women. Ms. Mina Rojas is also hopeful that because of how impacted Ms. Robinson was by her visit with Afro-Colombian women activists, the IACHR will grant a thematic hearing in March 2015 to publically discuss the issue in Washington with Colombian officials and civil society.

The visit of the IACHR to Colombia also garnered media attention. It was covered in Colombia’s largest news publication, El Tiempo, and in El Pais, the leading paper in the Pacific Region, where most Afro-Colombians live.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Global Rights to Release New Report on Protecting Resource-rich communities in Nigeria

A 14-year-old girl works in a stone quarry in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. Exposed to dust and the accompanying health risks, she earns less than $5 per day in lieu of attending school.

ABUJA, NIGERIAGlobal Rights will host a briefing next Monday in Abuja, Nigeria, with civil society, government officials and corporations to reveal the findings of several field visits to resource-rich communities across Nigeria made in the past year. During the briefing, Global Rights will make public a new report entitled Protecting Host Community Rights within the Institutional, Legal and Regulatory Framework for Solid Mineral Mining

Four years ago when the lead poisoning health emergency first broke out in Zamfara State, Nigeria, Global Rights conducted a needs assessment on the protection of mining communities in the country. Since that initial assessment, we have gone evaluated other states in Nigeria. Our recently concluded appraisal of these mining host communities sought to identify the human rights and governance issues facing the mining industry in Nigeria.  

We are hopeful that this briefing inform the public and strengthen our campaign for effective resource governance and accountability in the solid mineral sector which respects the rights of host communities.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Recognizing Brave Afghan Women on International Day of the Girl

According to an Afghan population survey in 2010, one in five women ages 20-49 were first married at 15.

In 2009, Global Rights established our first legal aid center in Kabul to provide underserviced populations—particularly women—with free legal counsel for family law-related issues.

Since then, we have added three more centers in the provinces of Nangarhar, Herat, and Balkh, providing legal aid to nearly 7,000 Afghans—more than 70 percent of whom have been women.
Many of the women who seek legal advice come to our centers desperate to escape abusive marriages. Too many of these women were forced into arranged marriages at the age of 15, stripping them of the chance to pursue an education and a career. The 2010 Afghanistan Mortality Survey recorded that almost one out of every five women aged 20-49 were first married at age 15.

Global Rights partners with Afghan organizations that run the legal aid centers. On this International Day of the Girl, we wanted to share a couple stories of brave, Afghan women who since adolescence have been trapped in abusive marriages but summoned the courage to find a way out.

Sonita, 19, Herat

Sonita was just 11 years old when her father married her off against her will to a man in a remote village. After Sonita moved in with her husband, her in-laws mistreated her and her husband didn’t want for excuses to beat her. Her new family prevented her from continuing her education and even from seeing her parents. Speaking about how she felt at the time of her marriage, Sonita, now 19, said: “It was not my wish to get married. I wanted to be an educated girl with a bright future. Nobody paid attention to my wishes. Although I was totally against this marriage, I was just 11 and not old enough to raise my voice.”

Sonita kept quiet about her lamentable fate so as not to create hostility between her family and her husband’s family. After three years, however, her father learned how much she was suffering and decided to take her home to her family. She had been living with her family for five years when she heard about Global Rights’ legal aid center in Herat from a neighbor who had participated in a legal awareness program. Still married to her abusive husband, Sonita wanted a divorce so she could move forward with her life. A defense lawyer at the legal aid center explained to Sonita about the process involved to separate from her husband. Afterwards, the lawyer presented her case to the courts, and she was granted divorce from her husband. Sonita has begun a new life and has returned to pursue her education.

Monesa, Mazar-e-Sharif

At 13, Monesa became the property of a man when her father lost her in a bet. The man who won the bet married Monesa and proceeded to beat and taunt her, always reminding her that she was simply a commodity that he had won. She and her abusive husband had a child, whom the husband also beat.

Monesa found out about Global Rights’ legal aid center in Balkh province from her neighbor. A defense lawyer there gave her detailed information about the procedure involved in divorcing her husband and prepared her petition for the primary court in the Sholgara district. In addition, the lawyer prepared a defense statement and responded to official letters of the court. The case was eventually resolved in Monesa’s favor, and she was granted a divorce because of the harm her husband was causing her.

Monesa, Mazar-e-Sharif Monesa returned to live with her father, with whom the defense lawyer reviewed the contents of the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law. Her father vowed never to force her daughter to marry someone without her consent.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Meditation a Key Component to Personal Safety for LGBTI Activists in Sierra Leone

A Sierra Leonean LGBTI activist draws a "tree of well-being" to reflect on his personal support network at a personal security training session July 26-27.

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONEWhen the concept of personal safety is discussed among human rights practitioners, few look to meditation or yoga for answers. In Sierra Leone, however, LGBTI activists are willing to adopt any strategy that could ensure their safety in an increasingly hostile environment.

LGBTI activists in Sierra Leone routinely face death threats, verbal and physical attacks, and public condemnation, according to a recent survey that Global Rights conducted. The threat of physical violence—and even death—is a forceful deterrent to LGBTI activists. Furthermore, when LGBTI activists are physically or verbally attacked, they opt not to report it for fear of being publicly exposed as a homosexual. Global Rights understands that if LGBTI activists do not feel safe to advocate for their rights, there will be no advocacy.

That’s why on June 26 and 27, Global Rights hosted a training session on personal safety for 16 LGBTI activists. The training focused on an “integrated” concept of security, which emphasizes psychological stability as well as physical safety. Day 1 began in the morning with yoga exercises; at 2 p.m., there was “energetic breathing.” The LGBTI activists who participated in the training are part of the Coalition for Equality and Gender, a coalition Global Rights helped found in 2012 that comprises seven local rights organizations—three of which work only on LGBTI rights—that banded together to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

During the training session, participants were encouraged to reflect upon their support networks in order to cultivate a sense of self-confidence. They were asked to sketch their own “tree of well-being,” which consists of five parts, starting with the “roots,” or what grounds and stabilizes them, and the “fruits,” or successes of which they are proud. They also explored ways of alleviating stress by outlining strategies to cope with the low self-esteem, grief and self-deprecation that stem from their alienation from society and families. From a more traditional personal security approach, participants were asked to recognize observable patterns in threats and attacks from homophobic groups—in addition to their own patterns, public profiles and frequented locales—to mitigate the risks of facing an attack. The training was co-facilitated by Hope Chigudu, a respected gender activist and consultant from West Africa.

Since 2012, Global Rights has been working with LGBTI- and human rights partners in Sierra Leone, where an anti-sodomy law contributes to an oppressive stigmatization of LGBTI persons. Many LGBTI persons are forced from their homes by their families, resulting in homelessness and poverty. LGBTI persons also avoid seeking medical attention for fear that doctors will link their illness to homosexuality, which will in turn cause their alienation from society and their families. Other components to Global Rights’ project in Sierra Leone include: grassroots advocacy training for LGBTI activists; engagement with youth groups; sensitization of local media to the issues facing the LGBTI community; and training police to properly address violence and threats against LGBTI individuals.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Zamfara State Bands Together to Hold Nigerian Government Accountable

A woman from Zamfara State speaks at the July 17 meeting with Nigerian government officials about how mining has adversely affected women and children

“In the past, we did not know. We made costly mistakes. But now, Global Rights has opened our eyes to knowledge. We know better. We will do better.”
-His Royal Highness Eze Martin Oyibe, traditional ruler of the Ameka Community

ZAMFARA STATE, NIGERIAOn July 17, more than 100 community members from Zamfara State filled a local town hall to engage directly with the Nigerian government to make sure it adequately redresses the devastating effects from a lead poisoning outbreak in 2010 that resulted from unregulated gold mining.

When news of the lead poisoning epidemic first surfaced in 2010, the Nigerian government was slow and ineffectual in its response to the immediate health issueswhich have claimed the lives of more than 700 children according to a recent report by Doctors Without Borders. The outbreak also exposed the underlying governance issues that permitted the outbreak to occur in the first place.

At the time, individuals and community groups in Zamfara State were not well-organized or knowledgeable about their rights. Most individuals were not aware of the dangers linked to artisanal gold mining, therefore many of them continued to extract the gold from the lead-laden ore with hand tools, thus exposing themselves and their families to lead poisoning. Civil society groups did not know for what the government was actually responsible regarding the lead poisoning crisis or how they could mobilize and demand that the government fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens.

Hosting the town hall gathering on July 17, we witnessed the tremendous strides civil society in Zamfara State has made in the past few years, thanks in large part to our having worked tirelessly with the community since 2010 to teach local groups about their rights under Nigerian and international law and then how to claim their rights through grassroots and political advocacy.

Since 2010, Global Rights has worked with communities in Zamfara State to facilitate several training sessions on human rights and natural resource management, community-organizing initiatives, and town hall meetings to promote dialogue among communities and government officials. As evidenced by the July 17 town hall gathering and as a result of our partnership, people in Zamfara State have become more vocal, united and knowledgeable about their rights. In addition, there has been a substantial increase in women’s participation in discussions on solid mineral governance. When we first began working in Zamfara, a largely conservative and patriarchal state, women were not present in the daily meetings and advocacy efforts. However, inside the town hall on July 17 women were fully engaged, raising their voices and calling for the protection of their rights and the restoration of justice to their community.

In response to the demands from civil society, the Nigerian government has taken steps to redress the severe consequences wrought upon local communities. The government has earmarked a remediation fund for affected families and transferred the funds to the Ministries of Health, Environment and Mines and Steel Development. Most importantly, the government has signaled a commitment to protect the rights of citizens who live in mining communities so that another Zamfara State disaster does happen again. The government has also allocated funds to clean up the top soil in affected communities that has been contaminated with lead.

In the past couple months, Global Rights has organized town hall meetings in Niger and Ebonyi States to expand our work with mining-affected communities in Nigeria and apply the lessons we learned in Zamfara State to other vulnerable communities. We are working to connect the affected Nigerian communities so that they can share their experiences, knowledge and strategies for defending the rights of their constituents. Our goal is to improve citizenship participation and government oversight in human rights issues linked to mining. We achieve this by empowering civil society to directly engage with the Nigerian government and to hold their government accountable to its citizens. Global Rights will continue working with mining-affected communities in Nigeria to help them identify and demand their rights and to ensure their active participation in decision-making processes that affect their constituents.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Missed Opportunity at U.S.-Africa Summit

Hundreds of Ethiopians protest Ethiopia's human rights record during the U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, with one man holding a sign that reads "Human Rights before Investment."

WASHINGTONAt the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced $33 billion in new private and government investment in sub-Saharan Africa, including new projects within Africa’s energy, aviation and construction sectors.

Such robust U.S. investment in Africa holds immense potential to catalyze major economic development on the continent. Any investment in Africa, however, must be buttressed by effective measures designed to promote the welfare and human rights of everyday Africans. If history is to be our guide, the absence of such measures will have devastating consequences for everyday Africans, including poverty, social instability, corruption, and mass displacement.

That’s why a group of 52 African civil society organizations penned an open letter July 25 to President Obama and the more than 50 African heads of state who were invited to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. In the letter, the organizations asked to participate and have their business-related, human rights concerns included within the agenda at Tuesday's Business Forum. Although the African civil society organizations—and their priorities—were ultimately excluded from the Forum, their collective appeal garnered the attention of media outlets and influential leaders in the business and human rights field, including John Ruggie, Harvard professor and former U.N. Special Representative for Business and Human Rights who spearheaded the drafting of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The 52 African groups are part of the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability, which Global Rights helped found in November 2013 and which now comprises 73 organizations from 27 African countries that work daily to mitigate the harmful impacts of business activities. The impetus for the coalition came from the member organizations' firm belief that African civil society has the potential—and the right—to participate in decision-making processes that determine how government and corporations carry out investment projects in their communities. ACCA was praised by Mr. Ruggie, who said that it has “the potential both to amplify the voice of the vulnerable and to become a partner in defining solutions to business and human rights challenges.”

As part of our work with ACCA, Global Rights will host a regional meeting for 40 ACCA members from September 18-20 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which will focus on transitioning the fledgling coalition into a self-sufficient, fully operational African coalition—the first of its kind on the continent. The meeting will follow the three-day African Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights, which will be hosted by the African Union and a number of U.N. development agencies.

We look forward to keeping you informed about ACCA, and we invite you to support this critical work.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rights Groups in Africa Urge US to Include Civil Society in US-Africa Summit

WASHINGTON—In the run-up to the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, 52 African civil society organizations have sent an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and the 50 invited African heads of state asking to participate and have local business and human rights priorities included in a forum that focuses on U.S. trade and foreign investment in Africa.

Far from improving the lives of everyday Africans, foreign investment on the continent for decades has resulted in human rights violations that have led to chronic poverty, corruption, the proliferation of extremist groups, and social instability. Therefore, it is imperative that the priorities of African civil society organizations and their constituencies be included in any dialogue or decision-making process about foreign investment that will significantly impact local communities.

“We express deep concern that the organizers of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit have missed a tremendous opportunity to engage with African civil society organizations who work daily to mitigate the adverse impacts of business activity across Africa,” said Teklemariam Berhane, a researcher and activist with Human Rights Council-Ethiopia. “We believe that dialogue among all stakeholders, including government, civil society and business representatives, is vital to ensuring that foreign investment promotes the welfare and human rights of vulnerable communities.”

In the letter, civil society leaders from across the continent under the umbrella of the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA) have asked to participate and have their business and human rights concerns addressed in the Summit, especially in its Business Forum. These concerns include: the protection of collective and individual rights (particularly the right to free, prior and informed consent), the protection of labor rights, strengthening access to remedy, and ensuring states fulfill their duty to protect their citizens’ human rights. The ACCA members also call on their leaders to develop and implement national action plans on protecting human rights in and related to business activity.

African Coalition for Corporate Accountability
ACCA members include 71 civil society organizations from 27 African countries.

As of today, African civil society organizations have not been invited to participate in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit—to which U.S. President Barack Obama invited 50 African leaders—or the U.S.-Africa Business Forum. While the U.S. Department of State has organized a meeting specifically for African civil society groups, groups working on issues of corporate accountability were largely left out. The meeting also does not offer participating civil society groups the much-needed opportunity to engage directly with African leaders or U.S. business executives.

The African Coalition on Corporate Accountability is a coalition of 71 organizations from 27 African countries supporting communities and individuals whose human rights are adversely impacted daily by the activities of corporations, both multi-national and domestic. It was launched in 2013 with the support of Global Rights. ACCA has been roundly lauded for its ability to unite African civil society and create a strong and informed voice for corporate accountability in the region. John D. Ruggie, Harvard professor and formerly the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, said that ACCA "has the potential to both amplify the voice of the vulnerable and to become a partner in defining solutions to business and human rights challenges."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Women's Rights on the Radio

This May, Global Rights began a unique radio program in Afghanistan that focuses exclusively on legal issues related to the family and women’s rights.

The program, called Zan wa Huqooq Khanewada (Women and Family Law), will feature 12 broadcasts, each focusing on different topics such as divorce, child custody and domestic violence. The radio show will be broadcast on one of Afghanistan’s most popular stations, Radio Azadi, which reaches more than 90 percent of the country. The host of the show is Ruhullah Habib, a former judge and lawyer who works in Global Rights’ legal aid bureau in Kabul. Mr. Habib is also an alumnus of our Young Lawyers in Training Program.

Right: Lawyer and alumnus of Global Rights' human rights university courses speaks to callers about legal issues related to women's rights and the family. Left: the host of Radio Azadi.

The second show, which aired May 12, focused on the legal age of marriage, which in Afghanistan is 16 for girls and 18 for boys—although 57 percent of women are married off before they turn 16, according to a 2008 report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which is now UN Women. In addition, between 60 and 80 percent of women who marry are forced into marriage, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, which was enacted by a presidential decree in Afghanistan in 2009, made forced child marriages illegal. The decree however, is not often enforced.

Men and women call into the radio show before it airs to record their questions about the current topic. During the May 12 broadcast, one listener asked whether a man who forces an underage girl to marry will be sentenced to jail. Mr. Ruhullah said that, indeed, the EVAW decree explicitly states that it’s illegal for anyone to force a girl younger than 16 to marry. Another listener asked whether a person from the Sunni branch of Islam can marry someone who is Shia. Mr. Ruhullah confirmed that yes, a Shia and Sunni can marry one another.

Global Rights operates four legal aid bureaus in the populous Afghan provinces of Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar and Herat. Since we began the legal aid program in 2009, we’ve reached about 5,000 Afghans—many of whom are women who have been severely abused by their husbands and are desperate to leave their spouses. The new radio show allows us to reach many more women—and men—who want to know what Afghan civil law and Islamic law say about women’s rights in family-related issues. Unfortunately, not every woman can make it to our legal aid bureaus, so the radio show gives them a unique opportunity to get answers to their questions and find ways to bring positive change to their lives by using the law.

The last radio broadcast will take place on July 21. Over the next many broadcasts, we are hopeful that the head of the family court in Kabul, Judge Rahima Rezai, who is a widow and mother of four, will join Mr. Ruhullah to add a different perspective and voice to the conversation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bringing Back Our Girls: How Nigeria is Failing its People


ABUJA, NIGERIA—Amid the clamor for the immediate return of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, the Nigerian government has responded like an unconcerned bystander pointing fingers and insinuating political mischief by opponents instead of swinging into action to secure the release of the girls.

Such behavior underscores the lackadaisical attitude of our government towards its citizens, the misplaced priority of politics over people, and the ineptitude of government in protecting its citizens.

During the past three years in northern Nigeria, the terrorist activities of Boko Haram have heralded an era of systematic and widespread killings, bombings and sporadic attacks. Despite the fact that security spending has taken up the largest chunk of our national budget over the past three years, Boko Haram continues unchallenged to terrorize scores of innocent civilians, particularly those living in the northern half of the country.

The April 14 kidnapping of the more than 200 schoolgirls in the Chibok community in Borno State was a cruel reminder of the status quo. In fact, families whom we've been meeting at demonstrations in recent weeks told us that Boko Haram has been abducting girls in Chibok and neighboring communities for the past few years. As if to compensate the families for stealing their little girls, Boko Haram members typically toss the families the equivalent of $7 to finalize the transaction.

Local citizens feel—rightly so—that their government is failing to protect them. Therefore, families in Borno State have taken matters into their own hands by pooling together money to incentivize members of the government-run Joint Task Force (JTF) to fulfill their mandate of stamping out terrorism in the country. Some citizens have even set up their own makeshift security forces. Despite their families’ efforts, the girls were defenseless when Boko Haram decided to take them. The extra money thrown at the JTF didn't help, as the government security force was nowhere to be found during the four-hour-long abduction on April 14.

A Nigerian mother of one of the more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, crying among more than 1,000 supporters who participated in a demonstration on April 30.

In addition to failing to ensure the safety of its citizens, the Nigerian government also failed to provide any information for almost three weeks about the girls’ whereabouts and what it was doing to secure their release. To that point, the government waited 19 days until it set up an official fact-finding mission. Feeling abandoned by the government, parents decided to trek into the forest themselves to confront Boko Haram and rescue their girls. Ultimately, they had to terminate their mission when it became apparent that their mission would end it near certain death.

The failure of government to adequately protect its citizens and the reality of citizens taking up responsibility for ensuring their own safety is a telltale sign that the existence of a Nigerian government that provides security for its people is fast becoming a mirage. Furthermore, it is quite disheartening that for over three weeks after the abduction, the government didn't give exact information regarding the missing girls. In some circles, the figure was put at 276; others say the total number of missing is 234. Overall, citizens don’t believe that the government has been forthright with the exact state of affairs in the Chibok abduction. If the government officials were honoring their duty to us Nigerians, they would provide us accurate and substantial information about rescue efforts.

On a final note, the intervention of the United States and other countries is not an opportunity for our government to abdicate its primary role in the return and rescue of our girls. We are confident that America has the resources and means to assist our government in the rescue of our girls, but this by no means absolves the Nigerian government of its primary responsibility— which is making sure that our girls are brought back to us alive.

Beyond bringing our girls back, the Nigerian government should take steps to receive and reintegrate the girls into society in a way that guarantees their survival and personal development. To this end, the government should set up trauma counseling services for the girls upon their return. As an immediate measure, there should be ongoing trauma counseling for parents and relatives of the missing girls, as well as for some of the girls who are reported to have escaped. In addition, while the rescue mission is in progress, the government should provide to the public every bit of information on the specific steps and actions that the government is taking. The need for an informed and active civil society cannot be overemphasized.

This tragedy is no more about the return and rescue of our missing girls than it is about finally dealing with the security issues in our country and the broader problem of government failure. While we urgently need our girls back alive, we demand an immediate and long-lasting solution that will resolve our security issues and issues of poor governance. This is a defining moment for us as a country. We must end this war on terror and we must end it now.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jailed for Being Gay in Cameroon


Today, the international human rights community reminds the world of the discrimination, violence and bigotry that a particular group is forced to endure because others don’t approve of the way its members dress, how they behave, or whom they love.

Today marks the 10th annual International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, and as the Director of Global Rights’ lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) programs, I want to share with you a few updates from my recent trip to Cameroon about the challenges the LGBT community there continues to face.

Me and the head of one of our partner organizations
in Cameroon
It’s no secret that many parts of Africa are dangerous for self-identifying—or perceived—gay individuals. In fact, 38 of the 54 African countries have laws against homosexuality, and in four of the 38 countries, homosexuality is an offense punishable by death. (The new draconian, anti-gay legislation recently passed in Nigeria and Uganda only serves to reinforce how dire the situation in Africa is for gay individuals.)

In Cameroon, one of the 38 countries with an anti-gay law, the persecution of LGBT persons takes place mainly through incarceration. More people are prosecuted for same-sex conduct in Cameroon than anywhere else in the world, with dozens having been imprisoned since 2006. As part of the legal proceedings, many men are forced to undergo painful anal examinations that prosecutors believe provide legally sufficient evidence of homosexual activity. Other prisoners are raped and tortured. Those who are not tortured still spend months in detention before they even see a judge, and once they do see a judge, they are usually convicted based on extremely specious and circumstantial evidence. 

I returned from Cameroon a couple weeks ago, and I had the opportunity to meet with leaders of our local partner organizations with whom we are working on a two-year project to strengthen legal protection for LGBT persons. As part of the project, we train LGBT and mainstream rights organizations to better document human rights abuses perpetrated against LGBT persons and to more effectively advocate for LGBT equality at the national level of government. We and our partners also provide free legal aid to Cameroonians accused of violating the anti-homosexuality law. We work with the few local lawyers who have the courage to defend the rights of this heavily stigmatized community—and who put their lives and careers at risk in the process.

During my visit, one such lawyer named Michel gave me encouraging news about our involvement in the case of two young women who were arrested in November 2013 for allegedly engaging in homosexual sex. The judge assigned to the case happened to be on vacation at the time of the arrest, so the women were forced to sit in detention until March 21. That’s 111 days these women spent in jail before they first appeared before a judge.

So where’s the encouraging news? According to Cameroonian law, “whoever has sexual relations with a person of the same sex shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years.” These women were released the day I left Cameroon, having been convicted and sentenced to the six months they had already served in pre-trial detention. It’s still a grave miscarriage of justice that these two women were held in detention for 111 days before their trial and that they were eventually convicted without sufficient evidence—not to mention the fact this discriminatory law even exists. Had our partner lawyers not intervened, however, these women wouldn't have had legal representation and thus would have been at greater risk of being sentenced to the full five years that the law allows.

Securing equality for LGBT persons in Africa will be a long and challenging process. (Lest we forget, sodomy was illegal in 14 U.S. states until 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that laws against sodomy violate the right to privacy protected under the Fourth Amendment.) Despite the challenges, we must continue to fight for LGBT rights in Africa—and everywhere in the world—so that LGBT persons enjoy respect and equal protection under the law.

For more information about Global Rights’ LGBT rights program, which also includes projects in Sierra Leone and countries in the Americas such as Brazil and Colombia, please visit our Web site.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Working to Level the Playing Field for Mining-affected Communities

For governments and mining companies interested in respecting the human rights of resource-rich communities, there are piles of research, handbooks, guides, and toolkits from industry associations, the International Finance Corporation and an army of consultants. Yet for local communities, who are already at a serious disadvantage, such guidance is scant—much less the human and financial resources needed to understand and act on the information before rights violations occur.

That’s why Lien De Brouckere, director of the Global Rights' Natural Resources and Human Rights program, and two partner organizations launched an initiative to develop an intercultural and comprehensive toolkit written for and by mining-affected communities. This toolkit will help level the playing field by giving mining-affected communities across the world access to information and tools to better understand and protect their rights, participate in the decision-making processes that will affect their futures, and share in the benefits of the project.  Lien and her colleagues at Futuro Sostenible (Lima, Peru) and Sustainable Development Strategies Group (Denver, Colorado) have laid the groundwork for this initiative over the past two years by collecting existing guides and toolkits written for resource-rich communities around the world. This library is now available online.

Lien traveled to Afghanistan in November 2013 to train leaders from local resource-rich communities on the social and human rights impacts of large-scale mining.

To further this initiative, a few weeks ago Lien participated in the fifth annual Global Exploration, Mining and Minerals (GEMM) Dialogue, which was hosted by the Responsible Minerals Sector Initiative at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.  There, Lien and her partners from Peru and Colorado hosted a working session about how to fund community capacity-building and empowerment with participants who included representatives from government, intergovernmental organizations, mining companies, non-governmental organizations and academia. About 100 people from Canada, the Americas, and Africa attended the GEMM Dialogue; roughly a quarter of the participants joined Lien and her partners for the discussion, which focused on key priorities and challenges linked to community capacity-building, including participants’ experiences with how to fund that work, whether through the support of governments, companies, other organizations, or mixed funds.

Two important points emerged from the working session. First, representatives from mining companies expressed how beneficial it can be for them to have an informed and unified community with which they can engage. The mining company representatives found that with a community governance structure in place, the company is more certain of who the appropriate community representatives are to engage with, which reduces opportunities for conflict when the company engages with groups who may not legitimately represent the community.  They also observed that when community members understand their rights and have an established community decision-making process, the company’s engagement with local communities is more efficient and productive. An organized and informed community makes it easier for the company and communities to reach equitable agreements, especially around local employment.  In all, they found that the stronger and more capable the community, the more durable the community’s relationship was with the company.

The second point was the need to begin educating and empowering communities before the mining project starts, and the role that government (especially local or regional) needs to play in this education process.  Communities greatly benefit from knowing their rights, strengthening and articulating their decision-making processes and governance, and learning about the mining process before mining companies and federal government officials arrive on their lands.  This way, they are better prepared and empowered to make decisions and work out agreements that will ensure that their rights are protected, their decisions respected, and that if the project proceeds, they share in the benefits—whether in the form of jobs, business opportunities, financial compensation, or improved access to clean water and electricity.

Lien and her partners look forward to continuing to grow the library of community toolkits.  With more funding, Lien and her partners will start facilitating community-to-community exchanges among communities in Peru, Canada and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will help foster learning and guided analysis of what community strategies have worked well in what context, and what challenges have been most difficult to overcome.  This work will benefit the participating communities, and ultimately result in a toolkit developed by and for mining-affected communities, supporting their knowledge and decision-making regarding mining activity that affects their lands, livelihoods, and self-determination.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ghana Takes Vital Step to Ensure Protection of Human Rights in Extractive Industries


For the past 18 months, we and our partner organizations in Ghana have been relentlessly advocating the Ghanaian government to adopt a set of international guidelines designed to foster respect for human rights in the security arrangements of oil, mining and gas companies.

Last Wednesday, our hard work bore fruit.

At the annual conference of the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights, which took place in Switzerland from March 26-27, Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Ms. Barbara Serwaa Asamoah, stated Ghana’s intention to sign the internationally-recognized principles. The meeting was attended by more than 130 representatives from various governments, extractive companies and civil society organizations. After the Ghanaian parliament approves the move, Ghana will become the first African country to sign the Voluntary Principles. 

A workshop Global Rights organized in August to address security and human rights issues in the extractive sector. Attendees included representatives from Ghanaian civil society, multinational companies, and the Ghanaian government.

The importance of Ghana's adopting the Voluntary Principles cannot be overstated. Like many countries in Africa, Ghana depends heavily on its natural resources to fortify its economy. Twenty-eight percent of Ghana’s export revenue comes from gold, 19 percent from crude oil. Ghana, however, does not have the means to extract its own resources, so the country awards contracts to multinational oil and gas companies to do the work. To make sure that there is no interference with operations, security personnel are hired to secure the area. Sometimes, these security personnel overstep their bounds and violate the human rights of people.

As Ghana continues to develop its extractive industry, it is imperative that the government and the companies that operate in the country adhere to the Voluntary Principles. The internationally-endorsed set of principles provides a necessary framework that ensures businesses and host community members coexist amicably and that the human rights of people are respected.

The Voluntary Principles were established in 2000 when civil society organizations, extractive companies and governments recognized the need for a framework to address human rights concerns related to the security arrangements of extractive companies. As of today, eight governments, 10 non-governmental organizations, and 24 companies in the extractive industries have signed the Principles, including the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Colombia, Australia, Canada, and four companies that operate in Ghana. The Principles are also implemented in several other countries around the world where companies that have signed the Principles operate.

Some companies in Ghana and elsewhere in the world have begun to address human rights issue in relation to their security arrangements by aligning their policies with the guidelines outlined in the Voluntary Principles. They have organized trainings for their staff and security managers; communicated their human rights policies to security personnel assigned to guard their operations; and have included language on the Voluntary Principles and Security and Human rights in contracts with security providers. The Voluntary Principles also outline ways in which extractive companies can address allegations of human right violations against security personnel, including obtaining evidence to aid prosecution, monitoring the progress of cases, and pressing for resolution.

However, for this to succeed, the Ghanaian government, civil society organizations and companies have to cooperate. Ghanaians whose rights have been violated need a mechanism through which they can air and have addressed their grievances. Without such an outlet, as we have seen, clashes can ensue between frustrated townspeople near mining areas and the security personnel who guard the mines.The resulting volatility not only upends the lives of the Ghanaian people, but it also deters multinational companies from investing in Ghana, significantly impeding the progress of the Ghanaian economy. 

For these reasons and more, I commend the Government of Ghana for taking a step in the right direction. The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini and the Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ghana, Lauretta Lamptey, have worked tirelessly to ensure that the human rights is respected in security arrangements in Ghana’s extractive industry. We also applaud the extractive companies that have adopted the Voluntary Principles, such as Tullow Oil, Anglo-Gold Ashanti, Hess Corporation and Newmont.

Much work remains to be done as far as the implementation of the Principles. It is one thing to sign a document; it is another to enforce the principles for which the document stands. Global Rights will continue to bring together civil society organizations, companies and government officials to make sure all sides play a role in ensuring the fundamental human rights and safety of the Ghanaian people are protected in extractive companies’ security arrangements.

Friday, March 21, 2014

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination


Today, March 21, is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Why do we observe this day every year?  On this day in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa against the apartheid "pass laws". Designating this Day in 1966, the General Assembly of the United Nations called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Those of us working to combat racism and racial discrimination face both long-standing and newly evolving challenges, all of which are rooted in attitudes, opinions and behaviors that transcend generations.  In Latin America, denial, exclusion and marginalization against millions of people of African descent are pervasive. The civil and political rights, as well as the economic, social and cultural rights of Afro descendants are affected by a lack of laws and policies along with sufficient enforcement to address the problems they face. In Africa, the denial of ethnic discrimination is aggravated by the lack of documentation of bias, incidents and attempts at remediation. 

This situation stands in stark contrast with one we faced 14 years ago in Santiago, Chile. There, a Conference of the Americas took place in preparation for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. During that Durban conference, governments of the world recognized that colonialism, slavery and other forms of servitude were a source of racism and racial discrimination worldwide. Because of that conference, many participating governments committed themselves to remediation and positive action through the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.

In the Americas, we have the opportunity to implement an Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance, approved during the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in June of 2013 in Antigua, Guatemala. Six countries have signed the Convention: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Antigua and Barbuda, Uruguay and Ecuador. We encourage these countries to take the next step following their signing and ratify the Convention.  Their example will set the standard for all other countries of the Americas to step up their efforts to combat racial discrimination.  We at Global Rights, with our civil society partners, recommit ourselves, as we do every year, to remain at the forefront of this important work, building on the momentum created by the seven lead countries.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sierra Leonean Youth Team Up to Combat Homophobia

Unclean. Abnormal. Bastards.

These are just a few of the epithets hurled with regularity at gay youth in Sierra Leone. One woman recounted how her uncle, upon discovering that she is a lesbian, told her that he didn't want to see her in his house again, adding: “I will not live with a beast and a bastard like you.”

Sierra Leone is among 38 of 54 countries in Africa that have laws against homosexuality. Although the law in Sierra Leone—a vestige of the British, colonial-era laws against “buggery”—is rarely enforced, it contributes to, and reflects, widespread homophobia in Sierra Leonean society.

Sierra Leonean youth leaders gather to discuss ways to combat homophobia in their respective villages.

Homophobia exacts a particularly heavy toll on Sierra Leonean youth who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Many are abandoned by their families and left with nowhere to live. Others are forced to drop out of high school and university.

To address these issues, Global Rights and our Sierra Leonean partner, the Coalition for Equality and Gender, hosted more than 30 youth leaders from across Sierra Leone—many of whom are not gay—for a daylong conference in mid-February about sexual orientation and gender identity. The coalition, which grew out of Global Rights’ initial two-year project in Sierra Leone, comprises three LGBT-rights organizations and four mainstream rights groups. The coalition’s mission is to “fight discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

After participating in facilitated dialogue groups and discussions, the youth leaders emerged with suggestions about how to move forward with the campaign for LGBT rights.  The groups and discussions produced consensus about the need to educate and sensitize the wider public to the plight of the LGBT community, with particular outreach to religious leaders, tribal leaders, and the media, who wield broad influence over the public but are largely hostile to the LGBT community.

Furthermore, the youth recognized the major obstacles that LGBT persons in Sierra Leone face when trying to access health care. In September 2013, Global Rights released a report documenting these obstacles. The report highlights a pervasive situation facing the LGBT community in Sierra Leone, which receives less medical care than their heterosexual counterparts. The roots of this situation lie in part with doctors and nurses who simply refuse to treat people who have medical issues linked to homosexuality, and in part with LGBT people who are too embarrassed or fearful to see doctors because of the resulting humiliation and violence they will face if their sexual orientation is discovered. Among 80 participants in a survey, 33 percent said they did not go to doctors for fear of being discovered as gay; 39 percent simply “self-medicated” to avoid seeing doctors; and 28 percent were denied treatment because their ailments were linked to homosexuality.

The conference, which took place in city of Makeni, is part of a yearlong project that began September 2013 and is being funded by the U.S. Department of State. Global Rights’ initial two-year program in Sierra Leone, which lasted from April 2011 to June 2013, served to identify the challenges that the LGBT community faces, while this new project will focus on overcoming those challenges.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Lawyer Who Defends Convicted Homosexuals in Cameroon

Michel Togué is one of the few lawyers in Cameroon with the courage and conviction to defend Cameroonians charged with violating the country's anti-homosexuality law.

It is illegal in Cameroon to engage in same-sex conduct, with jail sentences lasting up to five years. In addition, Cameroonian society is hostile toward the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and to the few who defend their rights. Mr. Togué's office has been broken into and ransacked. He has received numerous death threats. He has even had to relocate his family to the United States to ensure their safety.

So why has Mr. Togué, himself a heterosexual man with a wife and children, chosen to put at risk his life and the lives of his family to defend LGBT Cameroonians? To Mr. Togué, the answer is simple: LGBT rights are human rights.

“It is for human rights," he said last week in an interview with Global Rights. "Until the law that punishes homosexuality will be changed in Cameroon, I will fight; I will struggle.”

Last Thursday, Mr. Togué spoke at Global Rights’ office in Washington about the challenges he faces when defending Cameroonians who have been convicted under the country’s anti-homosexuality law. About 35 people attended the talk, including representatives from the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and human rights organizations.

Mr. Togué (center left with the suit) requested the more than 30 attendees at last Thursday's event to get in a picture with him. The attendees obliged.

More people in Cameroon are prosecuted for homosexual conduct than in any other country in the world. In addition to time in prison, gay Cameroonians face a life of “perpetual danger,” forced to hide their sexual identities for fear of reprisals, Mr. Togué said. The jail sentence under the anti-homosexuality law is anywhere from six months to five years with a fine of $40 to $400.

The law explicitly defines the crime as having “sexual relations with a person of the same sex,” but because it is nearly impossible to provide credible evidence of same-sex conduct, Cameroonians are often convicted for merely dressing or acting in a way that is perceived as homosexual. For example, Mr. Togué said that a judge in 2011 convicted two transgender women of being gay because they were spotted wearing women’s clothing and drinking a liqueur that the judge deemed feminine. Roger Mbede, who made headlines in early January when he died after being in jail for three years, was originally sentenced for sending an amorous text message to another man.

A Cameroonian newspaper that depicts the fight for LGBT equality as a Western plot. Another newspapers pits LGBT "lobbies" against Cameroon, featuring an editorial that calls homosexuality a "crime against humanity."

The arbitrary application of the law makes it extremely difficult for Mr. Togué to win cases for his clients. He has only won a handful of the more than 20 cases he has defended that involved the alleged violation of Cameroon’s anti-homosexuality law.

“Judges in Cameroon, I’m not sure that they’re judging according to the law,” Mr. Togué said in the interview. “Even if they are judges, they share the same homophobia as the society.”

Mr. Togué, however, remains optimistic about the future for Cameroon’s LGBT community. He said that society is at least willing to publicly discuss homosexuality and the discrimination against the LGBT community, something that was considered taboo only a few years ago.

To assist Mr. Togué in his quest for justice, Global Rights is currently partnering with him and the Cameroonian organization for which he works, the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals (ADEFHO), to provide legal assistance to persons detained and convicted under the anti-homosexuality law. We are also helping to promote a grassroots campaign to create a more favorable climate in Cameroonian society for the recognition of and respect for LGBT persons. In addition, Global Rights will conduct security training for LGBT activists and their supporters, many of whom suffer physical attacks—and in one case, alleged murder—for their LGBT advocacy. The two-year program will also empower more than 10 LGBT and mainstream organizations to monitor and document human rights abuses and how to more effectively advocate for the rights of LGBT people in Cameroon. To learn more about this program, please visit our Web site.

Friday, February 7, 2014

New Alumni Network Created for Graduates of Global Rights Human Rights Courses in Afghanistan

Since Global Rights began offering human rights courses to Afghan law students in 2005, about 2,800 Afghan men and women have graduated our programs. Many of these graduates have gone on to become leaders of influential Afghan human rights and women’s organizations.

But not until the recent founding of an alumni network was there an opportunity for all 2,800 graduates to share their knowledge, skills and experiences with one another. On December 1, 2013, about 300 participants from across Afghanistan gathered at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul to celebrate the founding of the new alumni network, including graduates of Global Rights courses, university law school deans, and senior Afghan judges and lawyers. Opening remarks were given by the Afghan Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Obaidullah Obaid, and the deans of the law faculties at Kabul and Herat Universities.

All those in attendance pledged their support for the alumni network, and a six-person management committee was assigned to develop a constitution and strategic plan for the network. Many graduates gave impassioned speeches, emphasizing the network’s critical role in sustaining the model of practical legal education championed by Global Rights in Afghanistan while highlighting the significant achievements Global Rights has already made to higher education in their country.

While at the conference, Mandana Hendessi, Global Rights country director in Afghanistan, had a chance to speak with some Global Rights’ graduates (see below). To learn more about the human rights courses that Global Rights offers in Afghanistan, visit our Web site.

Monday, February 10: Global Day of Action Against Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill


On Monday, February 10, Global Rights and dozens of other human rights organizations will participate in an international “Day of Action” against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill

This global advocacy campaign was initiated by the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitution Law, a coalition of 51 Ugandan human rights groups that was formed in 2009 to prevent the passage of the anti-homosexuality bill.

The notorious “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda was first introduced in 2009 but was quickly shelved due to international pressure. England and other European nations threatened to withdraw international aid if the bill became law. U.S. President Barack Obama called it “odious.”

Regrettably, however, the anti-gay bill did not disappear. Reintroduced without the death penalty clause, the bill passed with a majority vote in the Ugandan Parliament on Dec. 20, 2013. The bill includes life sentences for persons convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.”

The good news is that the bill has yet to become law, and we concerned human rights advocates can play a role to ensure that it never does.

As part of the planned events for February 10, Global Rights and other rights groups will hold a demonstration from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. in front of Ugandan Embassy, located in Washington at 5911 16th St, NW. We and the other participating organizations have also launched a social media campaign to galvanize support to strike down the draconian bill. We encourage you to join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #stopAHB.

As was evident in 2009, the international community holds immense power to shape Ugandan legislation and safeguard the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Uganda. We at Global Rights strongly believe that in our role as human rights advocates, we must defend the rights of all marginalized groups, whether they are LGBT persons, women, or ethnic and religious minorities.

We are currently working with LGBT-rights advocates in Cameroon—where more people are prosecuted for being gay than anywhere in the world—to strengthen legal assistance for people charged or convicted for homosexuality.  In Sierra Leone, we are working with LGBT- and mainstream rights organizations on an advocacy campaign to advance the rights of LGBT individuals.  Our work in Sierra Leone is largely informed by the first-ever report about the discrimination faced by the Sierra Leonean LGBT population, which we drafted in collaboration with our local partner organizations.

Thirty-eight of Africa’s 54 countries have laws against homosexuality. Brave people there are fighting for equality, but they can’t do it alone. We encourage you to spread the word about the Ugandan bill and to help ensure that all Africans—irrespective of gender identity and sexual orientation—receive equal treatment under the law.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ugandans Air Concerns About New Oil Industry


HOIMA, Uganda—Multinational oil companies are not likely to start tapping Uganda’s 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil reserves until 2018, but community leaders already have begun to address concerns they have with Big Oil’s plans to set up operations in their communities.
This week, Lien De Brouckere, Global Rights director of natural resources and human rights, and I traveled to the Albertine Graben districts of Hoima and Bullisa in southwest Uganda to meet with leaders in the communities where oil companies Tullow and Total plan to set up their operations.
Despite the excitement about the potential economic benefits from a profitable oil industry, local leaders identified several concerns they have with oil companies drilling near their communities. Many community members feel that they are largely unaware how the oil industry operates and how the new Ugandan oil industry will affect them. There are also concerns about whether people will be properly compensated for their land and crops that they will have to abandon to make room for the the refinery and related infrastructure. Even if people are compensated monetarily, they lack the knowledge how to use the money to start a new life once they leave their homes. Other issues include the exclusion of groups such as women, the elderly, persons with disabilities and youth; the lack of skilled laborers who could actually work in the refinery; and challenges immigrants from other African countries encounter when claiming rights to the land around the planned oil refinery. 

Lien De Brouckere discusses concerns about the nascent Ugandan oil industry with local community leaders
About 65 percent of Ugandans live on less than $2 per day and only 8.5 percent of Ugandans have access to electricity, according to the latest World Bank statistics. Ugandans see their oil reserves as a way to alleviate these societal problems, but the country lacks the resources to build the infrastructure needed to extract and refine the oil. Consequently, the country has struck deals with multinational oil companies Tullow, Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), which have begun laying the groundwork for operations but won’t start drilling until 2018.
In addition to meeting with local leaders, Lien and I also met with government officials, civil society leaders at the national and local levels, representatives of oil companies, and religious and cultural leaders—all of whom have a vested interest in creating a profitable oil industry in Uganda.
From these discussions, it is clear that there is still a lot to do to create awareness within the communities on the pros and cons of the oil industry. This needs to be done in a collaborative, inclusive and non-confrontational manner, preferably at the village and parish levels. Another viable option is community-based dialogue that brings together all relevant parties—civil society, the Ugandan government, and oil companies—including marginalized groups such as women, people with disabilities, the elderly and youth. It is also vital that the media, in particular the local radio hosts, disseminate appropriate messaging to the wider community. In addition to radio broadcasts, we need to design informational material about the oil business and land laws to then distribute to the people whose lives the oil refinery will impact.
Next week, we travel back to Kampala, Uganda’s capital, to meet with central government officials, oil company officials, civil society organizations and national conflict-resolution consultants. Following these engagements, we will write a report to assess the situation and that will include our next steps and future program to address these issues.

Our meetings in Uganda are part of a five-year project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) aimed at building peace and mitigating conflict among ethnic groups over competing claims to land and oil. Global Rights is working in partnership with the National Center for State Courts and Search for Common Ground.