Human Rights Report Pins Oil Firms On Sexual Harassment

A new report by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has highlighted a lot of human rights violations in the petroleum sector.

The report, “Oil in Uganda: Emerging Human Rights Issues”, was released last week. It follows complaints of human rights violations in the oil communities.

In May last year, UHRC received a petition from residents about human rights violations in the refinery area of Kabaale parish, Buseruka sub-county, Hoima district. In addition to the petition on the refinery, the commission had also received numerous allegations of violations in areas of Nwoya, Nebbi and Amuru districts.

These included irregularities in the valuation and disclosure of compensation rates, coercion of the affected residents to accept unfair compensation rates and delayed payments, among others. The report reveals a string of human rights violations, including delayed payments, and sexual harassment.

On sexual harassment, the report said the commission received a lot of complaints from women in oil camps. However, the report does not mention which oil companies were guilty of committing these crimes.

“A case in point is where failure to prepare for the influx of mostly male construction workers results in increased sexual exploitation of or abuse against local women and children. There were several allegations of sexual harassment within oil camps,” the report reads.

“It was further alleged that some of the Turks constructing the Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road were procuring prostitutes and ending up inviting a number of their colleagues who gang-rape them.”

The investigations were conducted from August to November last year in Hoima, Buliisa, Nwoya, Amuru and Nebbi districts. The commission also investigated allegations of unfair and meagre compensation rates in the oil refinery area.

It found that, save for a few isolated cases, the compensations were largely fair.

Residents in the oil frontline districts also complained that they were often sidelined when it came to access to jobs. One of the community members in Kisomere village, Ggwendo sub-county, Hoima district, is quoted to have said: “They don’t give us jobs on the pretext that we are not qualified, yet they go and bring people as drivers from Mbarara who can’t even speak broken English.”

The commission also noted that there was a communication gap between local employees and oil companies. In the specific case of Cnooc, the locals could hardly understand Chinese and depended on gestures, which were sometimes not well understood.

There were also complaints about irregular land sales.

“In Buliisa district, people are selling communal land, without following proper procedures as provided by law,” the report notes.

It is said that one Kampala-based businessman owns more than 80 per cent of the land with oil wells in the area.

“How come that wherever he buys a piece of land, an oil well is discovered there?” one resident is quoted as saying.

The report recommends that government should expedite payment of compensation for the refinery-affected people so that it is not devalued by delays. It also asked the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment in oil camps.

Source : The Observer

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