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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Benet: Uganda’s stateless people

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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: independent.co.ug

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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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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Kawaala community land rights defenders will report for police bond for the fourth time on 1st August.

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By Witness Radio – Uganda team

Kampala, the three community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II charged with fraud are reporting back at the Old Kampala Regional Police Headquarters on Monday 1st of August.

It will be the fourth time for the defenders to report for the bond.

While appearing at the station on 18th July 2022, the two of the three defenders were re-arrested and subjected to another interrogation which lasted for one hour between 11 am to 12 pm local time.

They were quizzed by the head of the investigations at the Old Kampala Police headquarters, Deputy Assistant Inspector of Police (D/AIP) Patrick Domara. Land rights defenders Kabugo Michael and Kasozi Paul Ssengendo reported.  The third defender Busobolwa Adam did not turn up due to health-related issues.

On the third time, the two defenders who reported before police recorded additional statements on fraud charges that were preferred against them on July 11th, 2022.

Section 342 of the Penal Code states that forgery is the making of a false document with the intent to defraud or deceive. It carries three-year imprisonment on conviction.

The lawyers representing the defenders said their clients were questioned by the police about their land ownership in Kawaala and the documents proving ownership. Police said that the complainant accuses defenders of forging land sales agreements and occupying land illegally.

The defenders were summoned, arrested, and interrogated on the orders of the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (RCC) in charge of Rubaga Division Anderson Buroora who is accusing them of fraud.

The Resident City Commissioner is a representative of the president in the Capital City at the division level.

However, Witness Radio – Uganda believes that charges preferred against the community land rights defenders are a result of their continued mobilization of the local community of Kawaala to resist forced eviction, seek fair compensation, and resettlement before the Lubigi drainage channel is constructed.

“We challenge the RCC to bring evidence pinning the community land rights defenders on the alleged charges. We believe this is intimidation and continued efforts of fighting back to silence the work of the land rights defenders, wastage of their time and resources,” said one of the lawyers.

Since the first COVID outbreak in 2020, the victim defenders and others have been leading a pushback campaign to stop forced evictions by a multimillion dollars Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) funded by World Bank. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is the implementer of the project.

The said project first impacted Kawaala Zone II around 2014, when a channel diversion was constructed. The current planned expansion will widen that channel and require forced evictions across an area at least 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long.

According to Witness Radio-Uganda lawyers, the community which is being forced off of its land without due process started living on that land in the 1940s and did not invite the project on their land.

The defenders will be reporting back on police bond at 10 am local time on the 1st of August 2022.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Police re-arrest and interrogate Kawaala Community land rights defenders upon reporting back on bond.

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By Witness Radio Team

Kampala, Two of the three community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II, Kampala suburb have been re-arrested and re-interrogated on fraud charges at Old Kampala Regional Police Headquarters.

The duo had reported back to police on bond on fraud charges for the third time since they were first summoned on June, 29th 2022.

Kasozi Paul and Kabugo Micheal were subjected to another interrogation which lasted for one hour between 11 am to 12 pm local time. They were quizzed by the head of the investigations directorate at the Old Kampala Police headquarters, Deputy Assistant Inspector of Police (D/AIP) Patrick Domara. The third defender Busobolwa Adam could not make it due to health-related issues.

According to defenders’ lawyers, the duo recorded additional statements on fraud charges that were preferred against by police on July, 11th, 2022.

According to defenders’ lawyers, the victims were questioned by the police about their land ownership in Kawaala and the documents proving ownership. Police are saying that the complainant is accusing defenders of forging land sales agreements and occupying land illegally.

Section 342 of the Penal Code states that forgery is the making of a false document with the intent to defraud or deceive. It carries three-year imprisonment on conviction.

The defenders were summoned, arrested, and interrogated on the orders of the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (RCC) in charge of Rubaga Division Anderson Buroora who’s accusing them of fraud.

Resident City Commissioner is a representative of the president in the Capital City at the division level.

Witness Radio-Uganda says that the community which is being forced off its land without due process started living on that land in the 1940s and did not invite the project on their land.

Witness Radio – Uganda further believes that charges preferred against the community land rights defenders are a result of their continued mobilization of the local community of Kawaala to resist forced eviction, seek fair compensation and resettlement before the Lubigi drainage channel is constructed.

Since the first COVID outbreak in 2020, the victim defenders and others have been leading a pushback campaign to stop forced evictions by a multimillion dollars Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) funded by World Bank. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is the implementer of the project.

This project first impacted Kawaala Zone II around 2014, when a channel diversion was constructed. The current planned expansion will widen that channel and require forced evictions across an area at least 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long.

The defenders were released on a police bond and required to report back on the 1st of August 2022 at 10 am local time.

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