Urgent Interventions

Uganda: Arbitrary detention of Federica Marsi and Maxwell Atuhura


UGA 001 / 0521 / OBS 061
Arbitrary detention /
Harassment /
May 26, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Uganda.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention of the Italian freelance journalist Federica Marsi, and Maxwell Atuhura, a Ugandan human rights defender working with the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), an organisation which notably participated in the legal action against Total in France. Ms. Marsi focuses her work on conflict, migration and the effects of environmental degradation on social conditions and public health. She was writing an article on Total’s oil developments in Uganda at the time of the arrest. She had been interviewing community members, whose right to land and livelihoods have been affected by large-scale relocation programs to make way for the oil projects.[1]

On May 25, 2021 at around 3 pm, Maxwell Atuhura and Federica Marsi were arrested by the Resident District Commissioner of Buliisa and the District Police Commander (DPC) of Buliisa.[2] The arrest took place at the Adonia Hotel in the city of Buliisa where they were staying for a fieldwork to interview communities affected by the Tilenga project, developed by French oil company Total. They were then taken to the Central Police Station (CPS) in Buliisa, without being told the reason of their arrest or if they were formally charged.

Federica Marsi was released without charges shortly after and was asked by Buliisa CPS police officers to leave the Albertine region, Uganda’s oil frontier, “before bad things happened”. On her way from Buliisa to Hoima, her taxi was stopped in Biso by two unidentified individuals in civilian clothing, who attempted to arrest her and threatened her. She was brought in front of the Biso police station but eventually allowed to continue driving.

On May 26, Maxwell Atuhura was transferred to the Hoima CPS for questioning, where he remains detained at the time of publication of this urgent appeal, without any formal charges. The police asked Mr. Atuhura for a written statement, asking him "why he was working against Total with foreigners". The police alleged he was not “speaking the truth”.

On May 25, 2021, Total S.A. informed the Observatory that its subsidiary company in the country Total E&P Uganda had been in touch with local authorities to express its concern about the arrest of Federica Marsi and Maxwell Atuhura.

The Observatory further notes that, as many other human rights defenders working on the impacts of oil projects in Uganda, Maxwell Atuhura has received repeated threats and intimidations. In recent weeks, he received an important number of threatening anonymous calls and both his homes in Kampala and Buliisa were vandalised, which lead him to file a complaint at the Buliisa police station on May 24, 2021.

The Observatory recalls that the harassment and violence human rights defenders who criticise the negative impacts of oil extraction projects around Lake Albert has been denounced repeatedly since the start of oil exploration over a decade ago, including by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights and the United Nations Special Procedures. As the implementation of the oil projects accelerates, the Observatory notes that threats against civic participation are mounting in Uganda.

The Observatory urges the Ugandan authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Maxwell Atuhura and to put an end to any form of harassment, surveillance and intimidation against him and Federica Marsi, as well as against all human rights defenders and journalists in Uganda.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Uganda asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Maxwell Atuhara, Federica Marsi as well as all human rights defenders in Uganda;

ii. Unconditionally and immediately release Maxwell Atuhara, since his detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing him for his human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to any form of surveillance, intimidation and harassment – including at the judicial level - against Maxwell Atuhara, Federica Marsi as well as all human rights defenders in Uganda;


• Mr. Kaguta Yoweri Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, E-mail: museveni@starcom.co.ug / aak@statehouse.go.ug
•Mr. William Byaruhanga, Attorney General, and Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, E-Mail: mojca@africaonline.co.ug
• Ms. Jane Frances Abodo, Director of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, Email: admin@dpp.go.ug
• Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti, Acting Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission, Email: uhrc@uhrc.ug
• H.E. Christopher Onyanga Aparr, Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: mission.uganda@ties.itu.int
• H.E. Mirjam Blaak Sow, Embassy of Uganda to the EU in Brussels, Belgium. Email: ugembrus@brutele.be, info@ugandamission-benelux.org
• H.E. Attilio Pacifici, Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Uganda, Email: delegation-uganda-ppi@eeas.europa.eu
• Mr. Cathal Gilbert, HRD Focal Point, Delegation of the European Union in Uganda, Email: cathal.gilbert@eeas.europa.eu

• Mr. Robert Kotchani, Country Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda, Email: rkotchani@ohchr.org

• H.E. Natalie Brown, Ambassador of the United States in Uganda, Email; KampalaWebContact@state.gov

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Uganda in your respective countries.


Paris-Geneva, May 26, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel. FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
· Tel. OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39

[1] In September 2020, FIDH and its Ugandan member the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, highlighted the major risks linked to the Lake Albert oil project led by French energy giant Total in Uganda. On top of loss of land and livelihoods, the report revealed affected communities’ concerns that drilling could further contaminate their water, contribute to noise and air pollution, and impact their health for the worse. The Tilenga oil project is moving forward in one of the world’s most ecologically diverse and sensitive regions.

[2] The Resident District Commissioner is the representative of the Ugandan President in a district and is in charge of security.