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A senior state prosecutor is withdrawn from the criminal trial of the 28 land rights defenders

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State prosecutor Birivumbuka Richard

By witnessradio.org Team

Mubende – Uganda – Barely two weeks after Mubende district resident Judge Justice Joseph Murangira has been transferred, a senior state prosecutor Birivumbuka Richard in the matter of the 28 land rights defenders has been withdrawn from the case and transferred to another jurisdiction.

 

On November 4th, 2019 the defense legal team for the 28 land rights defenders applied for the disqualification of Mr. Birivumbuka Richard from this case on grounds of bias and lack of impartiality.

 

This application to disqualify Birivumbuka from this case was filed before the Mubende High Court where the witnesses contended that the Senior Resident State Attorney Birivumbuka was involved in meetings and negotiations associated with the eviction scandal that begot crimes in the indictment vide MBD-CO-AA-153/2018. The defense had intended to have (Birivumbuka) as one of their witness.

 

The defense witnesses further contended that Birivumbuka acted and played the role the advisor and lawyer to the land grabbers’ transaction prior to the fatal eviction of over 3000 inhabitants from eviction site, the associated death and the concomitant prosecution.

 

The 28 victims were framed, arrested and jailed because of their stiff resistance against an illegal and forceful eviction of over 3000 inhabitants off their 322.5 hectares of land comprised on Block 168, Plot 19, 22 and 23. This land covered five villages of Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana, Kanseera and Lwensanga in the East Division of Mubende Municipality, Mubende district.  The arrest of the 28 land rights defenders ultimately weakened the fight which the indigenous communities had put up and consequently, over 3000 inhabitants were dispossessed off their land by a one businessman Kaweesi George with help of security agencies including Mubende police officers.

 

The grabbed land was hosting about 600 families that were evicted by Kaweeri Coffee Plantation limited in the early 2000s. This land is adjacent to the plantation of Kaweeri Coffee Plantation limited.

 

Although the judge declined to disqualify the Senior Resident State Attorney (Birivumbuka) from this case, the court got convinced that the prosecutor used the Mubende district Director of Public Prosecution’s office to host meetings that were outside its mandate.

 

Justice Anthony Oyuko in his ruling ordered prosecutors in the country to stop forthwith from using their offices for matters outside their mandate.

 

According to Jacquelyn Okui, the Director of Public Prosecution’s Spokesperson confirmed that the withdraw and transfer of Birivumbuka was ordered on January, 14th, 2020. She however declined to mention the Senior Resident State Attorney (Birivumbuka’s) new deployment station.

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Business & Human Rights: Industrial Park Development in Buikwe is dispossessing hundreds of Native Families…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Buikwe – Uganda – Close to 1000 families in Namabere landing site, Buikwe District are forcefully being evicted off their land to give way for an industrial park, witnessradio.org has learned.

The industrial park which measures approximately 329.5 Ha, along the shores of Lake Victoria, is the brainchild of Magan Patel, the head of Nile Group of Companies. It is not clear whether the park authorities obtained the social and environmental impact assessment from environmental regulatory bodies as it is adjacent to the lake.

witnessradio.org findings indicate that so far the park has attracted about 26 companies amongst others include; Nile Agro Ltd; Nile Aluminum Ltd; Nile Batteries Ltd; Nile Wheat Ltd; Auro Meera Paper Ltd; Modern Distillers Ltd; Modern Laminates Ltd; Nile GM Plastics Ltd;  Modern Rubber Ltd; and Cable Ltd and many others.

According to the affected persons, GM Sugar Company one of the companies targeting their land, since November 2020 with the help of Buikwe police has been forcing natives to receive payment in form of transport on a gunpoint to vacate the land. The payment ranges from 100,000 – 200,000 Ugandan shillings to residents of the area to vacate their land.

“Imagine at a gunpoint, someone is paid Uganda Shillings 100,000, his/her properties get destroyed and your forced to vacate where you earn a living. How do you feel? Do you know how hard this is?” angrily asked a 45-year-old Bayati Kafuuko.

Bayati, a mother of six (6) said that she has nowhere to go and left with nothing to feed her family since all her property was destroyed by the armed men.

“What can that money do, it can’t even meet transport costs,” added Bayati.

Several affected persons revealed that before the eviction, there was neither consultation and concession to the project nor valuation and fair compensation of their property.

“Ever since the attack started we live in fear, we cannot sleep because most of our houses were pulled down. All our fish was taken by soldiers, we have nothing to eat,” said a 58-year-old Francis Obiire.

He added that he cannot accept being illegally evicted on land he has lived on since his birth.

“My father has lived on this land since 1950. I was born here in 1962. With this little money, which land do they expect me to buy,” Obiire added.

The chairman of Namabere village Mr. Ochen Peter said his people are being intimidated without due process is followed.

He further said that workers of the investors under the protection of police carry out daily patrolling of the area just to intimidate residents.

When witnessradio.org contacted Ssekamatte Musa, one of the GM Sugar company managers, he declined to speak.

“I am busy, I will call you,” he said.

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Two Witness Radio members, 26 others have been released on bail after spending close to 3 years in jail…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Mubende – Uganda – the High Court in Mubende has released two Witness Radio members and 26 others on bail after spending 28 months in prison. In late 2018, all the 28 were targeted and arrested because of their role in empowering the community to lawfully desist an illegal eviction, charged with 9 counts including murder and aggravated robbery, and remanded.

This was the second bail attempt after the 2019 bail for two Witness Radio members Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya was rejected by the then Mubende High Court resident Judge Justice Joseph Murangira on pretty flimsy excuses.

Before the arrest of Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya, the duo had used the media platforms local radio stations, and community meetings to call upon Mubende district authorities to intervene and stop an illegal and forceful eviction of 3500 inhabitants off five villages namely; Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana, Kanseera, and Lwensanga in East Division in Mubende municipality by one Kaweesi George.

Also in the line of fighting for the protection of the community’s land, Grace Nantubiro, Ronald Mugwabya, and some members of the press at one point were waylaid and kidnapped by laborers of the businessman. Mubende police rescued them but the perpetrators remained scot-free.

Due to public pressure, the situation was arrested by the then Mubende district police commander Martin Okoyo and other leaders, stopped the eviction, and ordered the withdraw of the businessman’s casual laborers from the community’s land until the land matter is resolved.

Shortly after the withdrawal, the laborers were secretly returned on the conflicted land in the wee hours in the following night and a fight ensued between businessman’s laborers and some locals. In a process, the life of one Yunusu Tabu was lost. Tabu was a manager of laborers.

The deadly scuffle introduced the criminalization of land rights defense and caused a random arrest that targeted Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya because of their work. Some of the activists namely; Mugisha Focus, Ssekamana Kaloli, Mwikirize Keleti, Ssewanyana Kizza John, Tumwine Moses, Bigirwa Gilbert, Mulindwa Tadeo, Kayesu Patrick, Kyalimpa Tobias, Mugisha Stephen, Mwesigye John, Kiiza John Bosco, Byakatonda Aroon, Manirikiza Elidefunce, Tabalamule William, Kobwemi Christopher,  Kiwanuka Emmanuel, Senkula Charles, Ssemombwe George, Musinguzi Paul, Biryomumisho Fred, Maniriho Forodis,  Habimana Ernest, Byaruhanga Emmanuel, Mwesigye Julius, and Kezaala Saul were severely beaten and tortured by Mubende police during the arrest and as result, some still have visible scars all over their bodies.

The ill-planned arrest and conduct by Mubende police facilitated a land grab of more than 322.5 hectares, registered on Block 168; Plots 19, 22, and 23 in Mubende Municipality, Mubende district.

While appearing before Mubende High Court Judge Justice Isaac Muwata, all the 28 were released on a cash bail of 100,000 Uganda Shillings (one hundred thousand shillings) equivalent to about US dollars 28 while sureties were conditioned UGX 2 million not cash.

Other conditions, the 28 are required to report to the Mubende High Court registrar’s chambers every first Monday of the month.

 

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The World Bank project affected persons have petitioned the court seeking to halt an illegal eviction by capital authority

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By witnessradio.org Team

 

Kampala – Uganda – more than 300 families at Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga Division in Kampala district have today, the 11th January 2021 petitioned the court seeking to restrain the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) from illegally evicting them off their land, which they have lawfully occupied and cultivated for decades.

 

The affected families through Witness Radio lawyers accuse KCCA of hiding under the Public Health Act to issue a demolition notice targeting all properties on the land to give way for construction of a multi-billion drainage channel, which is funded by the World Bank. KCCA is established by an act of Parliament and it’s responsible for the management and administration of the capital city.

 

Specifically, KCCA is using section 72(1) cap 281 of the Public Health Act, to force them off their land without consultation, sensitization, property valuation, and compensation claiming that they (residents) illegally constructed their houses in a wetland.

 

The court action follows Witness Radio and the affected attempted to engage KCCA over the irrational decision however efforts to hear from them were futile.

 

In 2015, KCCA acquired USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was earmarked to construct Lubigi Primary Channel and it’s being used to dispossess poor urban communities without consultation, sensitization, and infringed communities’ right to know and access to information.

 

The 2.58 Kilometers project expected to end later this year, stretches from Bwaise roundabout to Hoima road, southwest of Kampala.

 

The eviction is taking place at the time when the government of Uganda halted all land evictions during the COVID 19 pandemic and the determination of KCCA to forcefully evict the urban poor raises many legal questions.

 

The victims want the court to issue an interim order and temporary injunction to restrain KCCA from implementing the decisions that are being challenged.

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