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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

A land grab case against Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 Limited kicks off next week.

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Some of the evictions performed by Agilis Company in Kiryandongo District.

By Witness Radio Team

A human rights enforcement suit filed against Agilis Ranch 20 and 21, a subsidiary of Agilis Partners Limited, is set to take off on the 20th of April 2022 at the High Court in Masindi. Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 Limited is part of a group of multinationals grabbing land in the Kiryandongo district for large scale commercial farming.,

In 2021, hundreds of families affected by Agilis’s violent land grab ran to court seeking its intervention to block the ongoing illegal evictions by the company. Through their lawyers, Messrs. Kiiza and Mugisha advocates, the communities demand compensation for damages for the human rights violations by the company and its agents.

Hon. Mr. Justice Byaruhanga Jessie, the Resident Judge at the Masindi High Court, fixed 20th April 2022 for the hearing of High Court Miscellaneous Cause No.  11 of 2020 of Joseph Mangfu and 11 others vs. Agilis Partners.

Agilis is one of the three multinational companies that have been implicated in the land grabbing scandal which has rendered thousands of smallholder farmers homeless in the Kiryandongo district. The others are Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Great Seasons SMC limited.

The company is owned by American twin brothers, Philipp Prinz and Benjamin Prinz. It owns Joseph Initiative, a beneficiary of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) financial support and Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) based in the Netherlands, and supplies food to United Nations’ World Food Program. The company deals in large-scale plantations of grains and oilseed. At the height of the evictions, the company received the 2019 United States Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence in Sustainable Operations (ACE), something that did not go well with the victim of its land grab.

Since 2017, Over 2500 residents have been evicted by the company on more than 2000 hectares. The victims claim they were violently, forcefully, and illegally evicted off their land without any compensation or resettlement.

Homes were burnt, crops were destroyed and women were raped during the evictions. And many members of the local community have been rendered homeless.

“We sought the court’s attention to intervene since we have suffered a lot. We have lost our gardens, we lost schools and our children have since dropped out of school. We are arrested, beaten, and charged for our resistance to vacate our land, we want all this to end and regain back our land.” Said, Sam Kusiima, a community land rights defender.

He added that as a community, they are excited to hear about a hearing date of the case with high hopes that violence is going to stop.

A 45-year-old Namala Zedekiah is one of the community members that have recently tested the wrath. Mr. Namala told Witness Radio that his cows were stolen at gunpoint by the company workers and later demanded a ransom of one Million Ugandan Shillings for their return. “My cows were found grazing before were forcefully taken. They demanded two million to return them.”

During the lockdown, gross human rights violations/abuses were meted out against the community. These include; torture, kidnaps, arbitrary arrest and detention, and fly-grazing, and recently the company has rented out land that was grabbed from poor communities to rich people to further the eviction.

The overwhelming violence continues despite the court’s schedule for hearing the company’s gross abuses. Despite this, the community is not willing to give up on their land. “We don’t want their money; we want our land. We went to court to get justice.” One of the aggrieved smallholder farmers told Witness Radio.

The hearing of the case is scheduled to start at 10am local time.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

The abducted community land rights defender is found and released on a police bond.

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By Witness Radio Team.

A Kawaala Zone II community land rights defender who was waylaid and arrested by eight (8) armed policemen has been found at Old Kampala regional police headquarters and released without a charge.

On 31st/10/2022, armed Policemen arrested Kabugo Michael who was due to set off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and the Accountability Counsel intended to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

Kabugo is a community land rights defender in Kawaala Zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district. He is one of the community land rights defenders facing reprisals for defending the community’s land targeted by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) for a drainage channel construction and expansion project funded by the World Bank.

After a long day search for the abducted community defender, Witness Radio lawyers found him held at the Old Kampala regional police headquarters.

Mrs. Adongo Sarah, one of the victim’s lawyers said the police reviewed an old file where the victim was accused of ‘fraud’ and re-interviewed him.

“He was able to make an additional statement, and his police bond and that of his other colleagues accused alongside with on the old file was extended to Friday 4th November this year.” She added.

She further said Michael’s arrest was arbitrary, adding that even the Officer in Charge of the case at Old Kampala Regional Criminal Investigations Department could not give reasons.

The victim’s lawyers believe these increased actions of arrests, kidnaps, and detentions of Kawaala community land rights defenders are reprisals for their work of opposing

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Breaking: A Kawaala community land rights defender kidnapped and taken to unknown destinations, others on the run.

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By Witness Radio-Uganda.

Armed Policemen have this morning waylaid and arrested a community land rights defender in Kawaala zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district, Witness Radio-Uganda has learned.

Mr. Kabugo Micheal is a renowned community land rights defender who advocates for fair compensation of the community land on an ongoing project of Lubigi drainage channel expansion funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

According to eyewitnesses, the defender was at Mr. Kasozi’s home (one of the community defenders) before setting off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and Accountability Counsel. The meeting was to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

“As he was sitting on a Boda (motorcycle taxi driven in Uganda and other East African States), police rounded him up before his arrest. We saw him being manhandled. They (police) forced him onto one of the police bodas before he was taken to unknown destinations.” Said an eyewitness.

Another eyewitness further explained that he was arbitrarily arrested by eight (8) armed policemen on a police patrol

Mr. Kasozi Paul Ssengendo who also witnessed the arbitrary arrest of Michael said police are targeting them with arrests because of their work to resist forced eviction by Kampala Capital City Authority.

“I am currently on the run. I was a target of police but I managed to escape.” The defender told Witness Radio.

In June this year, Mr kabugo and 5 others were arrested and falsely charged with forgery, a charge they said is retaliation for their work in fighting for their land rights.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Court dismisses a criminal case against a community land rights defender for want of prosecution.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Kiryandongo. A criminal trespass case against a community land rights defender has been dismissed over the prosecution’s failure to adduce evidence before the Chief Magistrate Court that pinned the community defender on the alleged charges.

On 27th October 2021, Kiryandongo Chief Magistrate Court charged Otyaluk David with criminal trespass and remanded him to Masindi prison. He was later granted court bail and since then, he has been traveling 48 kilometers to and from court every fortnight.

Before he was presented before a court, Otyaluk was kidnapped and illegally detained in Kiryandongo Central Police Station (CPS) cells for five (5) days for trespassing on a piece of land he (Otyaluk) had lived and cultivated since he was born.

In the afternoon of 21st October, two (2) armed men cladding Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) uniform and police personnel raided Otyaluk’s home and got him kidnapped to an unknown destination. UPDF soldiers guard Kiryandongo Sugar Limited plantations.

“On the day of his kidnap, Otyaluk was found praying in his house. In a blink of an eye, the defender was rounded up and bundled onto a vehicle owned by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, forcefully evicting us off our land. We later learned that he was taken into evictor’s facilities where he was kept for some time before being transferred to Kiryandongo CPS” A family member remembers.

A family member further added that before the kidnap, Otyaluk’s family had lost about 12 acres of land to Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

“Company workers under the protection of soldiers brought a tractor and plowed acres of semi-mature maize, beans, sorghum, and sim-sim. We were only left with a small piece of land where our house sits and we are currently trapped in the middle of a sugarcane plantation” a family member added.

Since the trial period was announced, the prosecution failed to bring witnesses to pin Otyaluk for trespassing on his land. It was only on the 19th of July, 2022 during a court session, one Adamuru Peter, allegedly to be a company manager turned up as a company representative but not as a witness.

In her ruling last week, a magistrate at Kiryandongo Magistrate court discontinued the trial of Otyaluk and dismissed the case.

Otyaluk is one of the luckiest among hundreds of community land and environmental rights defenders currently under persecution to have his case dismissed. It’s an order of the day for the community land and environmental rights defenders to be kidnapped, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured on orders of investors for their work of mobilizing the communities to desist land grabs.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is among multinationals forcefully evicting over 35000 local and indigenous people off their land to give way to large-scale agribusinesses.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is one of the many companies owned by the Rai Group of Mauritius. The dynasty owns several other companies in DR Congo, Kenya and Malawi, and Uganda. A dynasty owns companies such as West Kenya Sugar (which owns Kabras Sugar), Timsales Limited, Menengai Oil Refineries, Rai Ply, and Webuye Panpaper.

In Uganda, the Rai Group of Mauritius owns Nile Ply limited, Kinyara Sugar Limited, and Masindi Sugar Limited among others. One of its directors is a shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company, listed in the Panama Papers database recently.

The same company has fraudulently gotten a license to replace part of Bungoma natural forest with a sugarcane plantation.

“Court has shown today that the company is maliciously arresting us to keep us in jails. To weaken our hearts, wasting our time and resources. They intentionally do this because we refused to surrender the land we have lived on for years. It is shaming that the government has failed to protect the rights of the poor people.” The defender noticed.

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