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Benet: Uganda’s stateless people



Kapchewuut cave in Benet Sub-County in Kween District still acts as a home for some of the evicted people who were evicted 13 years ago from their ancestral home.

Kampala, Uganda. The Ugandan government must recognise the Benet as the indigenous inhabitants of the forest from which it evicted them and restore them to their ancient home.

Amnesty International, the London-based international human rights NGO made the demand in a report titled, ‘13 Years in Limbo: Forced Evictions of the Benet in the Name of Conservation,’ that it launched on Nov.08.

“The treatment of the Benet is a flagrant violation of Uganda’s constitution and its own international human rights obligations,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa during the release of the report.

This is the latest call for the restoration of the rights of the Benet, a community of an estimated 18,000 people who lost their ancestral land in Mount Elgon area of Sebei in eastern Uganda in 1920 when the British colonial protectorate classified the moorland and grasslands as a forest reserve.

Subsequent governments have piled violations on the minority group, including violent forced evictions since 1983, further deepening the plight and poverty of this community. Amnesty International says the Benet face a multi-generational struggle.

The Benet is one of Uganda’s indigenous ethnic minority groups who have been deprived of their right to health, adequate housing and education, it said.

“They are still living in temporary settlements made of flimsy huts of mud and stick, deprived of essential services such as clean drinking water and electricity and cut off from healthcare and education,” said Muchena.

Perhaps the most brutal evictions happened on Feb.16 in 2008 when 178 families were rendered homeless.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority and the national army—the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF)—forcefully evicted the families claiming they were still settled inside the national park despite government allocating the same land to them after previous evictions.

People’s houses and crops were destroyed, cattle were confiscated. The displaced Benet found shelter wherever they could: in caves and under trees. The luckier ones stayed in a nearby primary school or joined relatives elsewhere.

David Chemutai, the current coordinator of the Benet-Mosop Indigenous Community Association, a community based organisation in Kween District in eastern Uganda still remembers the 2008 evictions.

“I came back home from school only to find our home burnt. All the houses in the homestead were burnt,” he told The Independent on Nov.10, “Our food which we used to keep in the house was also burnt. My parents were gone and I did not know where to find them.”

Chemutai who was 23 at the time was only able to find his parents days later in a cave. Over a decade later, hundreds of families of the Benet community still live in temporary resettlement sites. Some still live in the cave.

They accuse UWA of killings, unlawful use of force and firearms, including shootings, beatings, and even crimes under international law, including torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This often happens when they try to enter the forest which was declared a national park in 1993.

In 2004, the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) filed a legal suit, Uganda Land Alliance, Ltd. v. Uganda Wildlife Authority in the High Court of Uganda on behalf of the Benet community, for enforcement of their right to use their forest land.

On 27 October 2005, the court in a judgment commonly referred to as the “Consent Judgment”, which was settled and agreed to by the affected Benet community, the UWA, and the Attorney General of Uganda, recognised the Benet as the historical and indigenous inhabitants of the forest that the government had classified a national park in 1993.

The judgment underlined the need to “redress the imbalance” facing the Benet in education, infrastructure, health, and social services, provided for under Article 32 of Uganda’s Constitution.

Despite the court ruling, the Benet are still not permitted to build permanent structures and live in small huts constructed from sticks and mud in temporary resettlement camps, with no electricity and potable water.

The restriction has impacted the Benet peoples’ agro-pastoral lifestyle and other economic, social, and cultural practices such as the right to access cultural sites for rituals, fruit gathering, bee keeping, and hunting.

“We are now a stateless community,” says Chemutai, “This is something we are still fighting for.”

The Uganda Wildlife Authority insists it is not to blame for the fate of the Benet.

“We are not responsible for the gazettement and degazettement of these places. The Uganda Wildlife Authority only manages these spaces,” Bashir Hangi, the UWA public relations officer,told The Independent on Nov.10, “Regardless whether they were evicted or not, when the government handed over the area to us, we had no alternative but remove the people.”

But Amnesty International’s Muchena says academic research says conservation, such as by UWA, works best when the state works with the indigenous people as equal partners in conservation.

“It must not result in human rights violations, or be used to justify them,” he said.

Original Source:

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Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels



The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.


Download the statement:

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Uganda: Judicial harassment of environmental and human rights activist Desire Nkurunziza



UGA 001 / 0923 / OBS 037
Arbitrary detention /
Release /
Judicial harassment
September 5, 2023The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (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 of the arrest and subsequent release of Desire Nkurunziza, an environmental and human rights activist and the elected leader of Nyairongo village, Kikuube district, mid-western region of Uganda. As a member of the Save the Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) community task force, Mr Nkurunziza has been calling out the local and central government authorities about the deforestation of the Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, which has been leased to the Hoima Sugar Limited company, mainly for sugarcane cultivation, by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, South-West region of Uganda. This project is not only affecting the biodiversity of the forest but also the local community, which has been subjected to extortion by land grabbers associated to Hoima Sugar Limited and/or its agents.

On July 16, 2023, two cars came to Desire Nkurunziza’s home in Nyairongo trading center, one of them belonging to a supervisor of Hoima Sugar Ltd and the other to an associate of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner, both known by Mr Nkurunziza. The two men informed him that two of his village members were arrested in the forest, now a sugar cane plantation, and he agreed to go with them to help his constituents. Upon reaching the plantation, he was handed over to armed Hoima Sugar Ltd personnel, who started beating him and then recorded a video accusing him of illegally cutting down sugar cane. He was then taken to the Kikuube police station by the same Hoima Sugar Ltd car, where he was arrested on the grounds of “incitement of violence” and “criminal trespass” under Section 51 and 302 of the Penal Code Act, respectively, and detained there by the police for two days. He requested temporary release from police bond – custody -, but his request was denied.

On July 18, 2023, he applied for Court bail, which was denied even though he fulfilled all the requirements set by the Court and no reason was provided. He was then remanded to Kiryatete prison.

After reporting back to court on July 24, Desire Nkurunziza was released on Court bail. He had to pay a cash bail of 300,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately 74 Euros) in addition to satisfying all the conditions for release, with the obligation to report back on August 31, 2023, to the Chief Magistrates Court of Hoima, which is handling the matter. During his audience, the magistrate informed him that he would need to report back once again to the Court on November 2, 2023, without providing any reasons.

The Observatory recalls that the Bugoma Forest is the second biggest natural forest reserve in Uganda. In recent years, it has been claimed by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Western Uganda, which obtained a land title through irregular ways before it leased it to sugar manufacturer Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane cultivation, to establish an urban centre, develop eco-tourism, and restore a portion of the forest reserve. Before leasing the land to Hoima Sugar Limited, an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) certificate was issued by the National Environment Management Authority, in circumstances that have been contested by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) in courts of Law. The contestation is based on the allegations that the assessment was made without consulting the local community, even though this issue clearly concerns them. A trial which aims to annul the ESIA certificate is ongoing in front of the Court of appeal.

The Observatory further recalls that this is not the first time that defenders of the Bugoma Forest are targetted for their legitimate human rights activities. In September 2020, nine environmental rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested for defending the Bugoma Forest, including Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, respectively team leader and Head of Programmes of Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), who were first arrested on their way to a radio talk show to discuss the dangers of sugar cane cultivation in the Bugoma Forest and call on peaceful protests, as well as Sandra Atusinguza, member of AFIEGO who went to the police station to negotiate their release and got arrested herself. These various acts of harassment against environmental and human rights defenders, in addition to the numerous arrests of local residents defending their right to access their own land, show the will of the local and national governments to intimidate and silence them.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Desire Nkurunziza, as well as the other above mentioned human rights defenders, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.


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Uganda: Targeting community land and environmental defenders with criminal offenses is rising as two community land rights defenders arrested in a hotspot district of forced land evictions.



By Witness Radio team

As land and environmental rights defenders strive to better their areas, they continue to bear the brunt of defending communities’ land rights from negative impacts brought by the development projects.

In Kiryandongo District, multinationals have increasingly chosen to adopt a strategy of criminalizing activities of community defenders who are working tirelessly to protect communities’ farming fields.

This criminalization method has captured area police units and use it to cause arbitrary arrest and detention, and prefer various offenses against community land and environmental defenders. Commonly used charges include criminal trespassing on a piece of land communities have cultivated for generations and causing damage to their own property. These actions have weakened the activism charisma of defenders and deter them from continuing with pushing back against illegal and forced land evictions. These tactics do not only undermine the legitimate work of community land and environmental rights defenders but also create an environment of fear and intimidation among those who dare to resist land grabbing and environmental degradation.

On the 22nd of August 2023, two community land rights defenders were rounded up for the seventh time in a period of two (2) years by police officers attached to Kiryandongo district police, and three workers from Great Seasons SMC Limited company Limited arbitrarily arrested and dumped in the Kiryandongo district police cells.

The defenders Barumangabo Sepriano and Ramu Ndahimana rounded -up and arbitrarily arrested from their farming fields preparing for the upcoming planting season, handicapped, and subsequently taken away.

“In the early morning hours, we were suddenly confronted by a group of armed people comprised of Kiryandongo district police personnel and individuals representing the company. Swiftly and forcefully, we were pushed into a white land cruiser bearing the registration number UBF 417C, which was later identified as the property of the evictors. Initially, the captors asserted that one of the grounds for our apprehension was our alleged trespassing on the company’s land.

However, upon arrival at the police station, the officers altered their claims and stated that we had supposedly posed threats to the company’s workers, a charge we vehemently denied. Shortly after a short period of time, another accusation of malicious damage was leveled against us. Astonishingly, we were informed that we were being held accountable for purportedly setting a structure ablaze.” One of the defenders narrated when visited by Witness Radio team at police.

The two defenders are among a group of community land and environmental rights defenders who have been on the forefront advocating for land, social and economic justice of communities in Kiryandongo district whose land is targeted for large-scale farming by multinationals.

Great Seasons SMC Limited, planting coffee on a large scale, is one of the multinational companies in the Kiryandongo district that have violently deprived communities of their rights to own land, and homes, demolished community schools, cut down food crops owned community members/families, destroyed water sources, and privately-owned health centers.

Over 35000 residents have lost their family lands after violent and forceful land evictions to pave the way for industrial agriculture. In addition to the Great Seasons SMC Limited, there are other multinationals implicated in land-grabbing activities, such as Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, Agilis Partners Limited, and Somdiam Limited.

Kiryandongo district police has preferred threatening violence, criminal trespass and malicious damage to property charges against the two (2) defenders.

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