Ugandan army must cease violence against fisherfolk on Lake Victoria

In Uganda, the army is brutally targeting communities living from subsistence fishing on Lake Victoria and other lakes to eliminate what the state considers illegal fishing.

FIAN calls on the Ugandan government to stop the criminalization of small-scale fishing and ongoing human rights violations.

Enforcing a 2017 directive to combat illegal fishing, the army has confiscated equipment, burned fishing boats and intimidated and harassed fisherfolk. Beatings are commonplace and property has been burned down. Young fishermen have died during operations by the armed forces. Many families were left in abject poverty as all their savings were invested in subsistence fishing.

“All my boats were burned when the army operations began,” said one fisherman in Mukono district, adding that Uganda’s fishing regulations make it impossible to earn a living.

“The nets they want us to use are so expensive, the requirements are expensive, the boat engine is expensive as well as the size of the boat needed … Everything is expensive, we request the government to help us, we no longer have food to eat.”

His experience is shared by many fisherfolk supported by FIAN Uganda, which has held human rights training sessions in the area.

“The government brought the army under the guise of protecting us. But our men are suffering because of this and we are suffering too,” said one fisherwoman and mother of four.

“They find them on the lake and claim that the boat is not of the standard size and that the nets are illegal, and the fish caught is also still young … We request the government to help us on that issue. It should also ensure that while making laws, they should come to us for consultation.”

Uganda has gazetted the fisheries and aquaculture Bill in 2020. The Bill, in its current form, poses threats to various human rights of both a civil and political nature such as freedom from torture and the right to a fair hearing, as well as those of an economic, social and cultural nature such as the right to adequate food.

Uganda has over a thousand kilometres of shoreline and fishing is one source of income for many communities living in extreme poverty. Women are particularly active in small-scale fisheries as they are generally responsible for drying, processing and selling the fish, as well as feeding their households.

Lake Victoria is an important source of food for several East African countries. Overfishing, especially of fish for export, combined with pollution from industry and agribusiness is threatening the livelihoods of millions.

For queries and additional information, you may contact Valentin Hategekimana, FIAN International Africa coordinator at