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Omot agwa okwoy Land and Rights in the Gambela Region

Omot Agwa Okwoy is a church leader in Ethiopia’s Gambela region and a human rights defender who works to promote the rights of indigenous peoples and people living in the Gambela region.

He works against the degradation of land in rural parts of Ethiopia and advocates for the establishment of national parks. Omot Agwa Okwoy also works for the rights of indigenous people living in rural villages in Gambela near the South Sudanese border, who are often caught in the bloody conflict between Ethiopian and South Sudanese ethnic groups.

He was arrested on 15 March 2015 and charged under the anti-terrorism law.

The charges brought against the human rights defender relate to a food security workshop that he was due to attend in Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2015. It was reported that the workshop was considered by the Ethiopian authorities to be linked to terrorist activities and Omot Agwa Okwoy was arrested by Ethiopian security agents.

The arbitrary detention of Omot Agwa Okwoy was followed by torture and poor physical and psychological prison conditions towards him, away from his family and subject to questionable proceedings. His judicial trial took several months , spreading his unlawful detainment.
On 17 January 2017, human rights defender Omot Agwa Okwoy was released on bail of 50,000 Ethiopian Birr (approximately 2500 USD) from Kulinto Prison after almost two years in detention.
Ethiopia is among African countries promoting large-scale commercial agricultural investments that deny the right of the affected communities for active involvement and free, prior and informed consent. Despite great concerns for its human rights records against Ethiopian food, land rights and human rights defenders and journalists, Ethiopian government remains to be strongly supported by major donor countries and institutions.
The World Bank that funded the Ethiopian controversial villagisation programme and facilitated major development projects in the country has been heavily criticised for ignoring the arrest of food and land rights activists Pastor Omot Agwa Okwoy who was World Bank Inspection Panel translator in 2014, Ashinie Astin and Jemal Oumar.
In recent years, numerous opponents of the Ethiopian government’s land policies have been arrested, beaten and even killed, while many communities have been forcefully evicted from their lands to make way for large scale agricultural projects.
Pastor Omot also campaigned against the government’s unjust program of “Villagization,” which forces the marginalized indigenous people to be displaced from their ancestral lands and relocated elsewhere. Additionally, Omot was elected the first President of the Church of Gambella, a position he held for four years. As the president, he initiated peace talks between the Anuak and the Nuer to end the longstanding conflict between two groups

“If you commit yourself to good things, you will make it. But if you don’t want to do it, that’s fine too, you should not be forced. Human rights work starts as an internal motivation,” Omot states.

For years, Omot has worked as a park protector in Gambella’s national park, advocating against land grabbing, deforestation, poaching, illegal logging, as well as foreign investment – which largely threaten the parks’ biodiversity and the livelihood of local people.

He is committed to continuing his human rights work. “I need to train young people in human rights, because tomorrow when I am not there, they need to continue the work,” he says.

Credits:

1. UNICEF Ethiopia; Guinea Worm case containment center; June 28, 2014; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 2. UNICEF Ethiopia; Mother with baby basket-Gambela Region; October 6, 2005; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 3. UNICEF Ethiopia; Nuer settlement along Baro River; October 5, 2005; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 4. UNICEF Ethiopia; Mother and children take ITNS home through swamps along the Baro River; October 6, 2005; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 5. UNICEF Ethiopia; An announcer mobilizing the community in Tergol town a day before the vaccination campaign; February 15, 2014; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 6. UNICEF Ethiopia; School opening celebration; October 7, 2015; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 7. UNICEF Ethiopia; women and children sing and dance following itn distribution on baro river; October 6, 2005; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).