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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.

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Breaking: A missing community environmental defender was found dumped by the roadside.



By Witness Radio team.

An environmental human rights defender abducted five days ago while in Kampala has been found abandoned on a roadside in Kyenjonjo district, Witness Radio has confirmed.

Speaking to Witness Radio, a member at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI) revealed that Stephen Kwikiriza was discovered at around 8:30 pm yesterday, abandoned on the roadside in Kyenjojo District. He added that the defender was severely beaten and is currently receiving medical attention at one of the hospitals in the country.

“We learned from his wife, whom he called, that he had been dumped in Kyenjojo. She informed one of our colleagues. We, therefore, had to find a means of rescuing him. He, however, was badly beaten and is not in good health,” he added.

Stephen Kwikiriza, a member of the King Fisher Project Affected Community, also working with the EGI, was abducted in Kampala by plain-clothed men, believed to be from Uganda Peoples Defense forces (UPDF) on 4th of June 2024 Tuesday morning.

According to sources, upon his (Stephen) abduction, he managed to send a text message to one of his colleagues at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI), a local organization supporting project-affected persons, which reported a missing person.

The Kingfisher project is an oil project in western Uganda on the shores of Lake Albert, developed by the Chinese company China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), of which TotalEnergiesis the main shareholder. The project will extract oil and be transported by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

According to a statement from the Stop EACOP Coalition members, Stephen had been receiving various threats from UPDF officers deployed in the Kingfisher area. The coalition members believe these threats are retaliation for being outspoken against human rights abuses and the threats to his community’s livelihood posed by the Kingfisher oil project.

His abduction comes barely a few weeks after the forceful arrests of the seven environment activists namely Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha.

On May 27th, 2024, the seven were arbitrarily rounded up by armed police in Kampala outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda while delivering a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On June 8, 2024, over 115 international civil society organizations wrote a statement in response to Kwikiriza’s abduction calling upon the Ugandan authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Stephen Kwikiriza.

In the statement signed by Both Ends, Bank Track, and SOMO among others, they called on Ugandan authorities to cease all forms of harassment of civil society organizations and community members living in and speaking out on the EACOP Kingfisher project and all other related oil projects, including the Tilenga project, and guarantee in all circumstances that they can carry out their legitimate human

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Seven Environmental activists against EACOP have been charged and released on police bond.



By Witness Radio team.

Jinja Road police have preferred a charge of unlawful assembly against the seven environmental activists brutally arrested on May 27th, 2024, by armed police in Kampala for protesting against the intended financing of the East African crude oil pipeline project (EACOP) by the Chinese gov’t.

Section 66 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, states that any person who takes part in an unlawful assembly commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year upon conviction.

The seven include Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha. The group got arrested outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda in an attempt to deliver a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On May 27th, seven protesters chose to sit outside the embassy, vowing not to leave until embassy officials received their protest letter, which contained grievances and demands. However, this did not happen. Instead, the police swung into action, brutally rounding up the protesters before throwing them into a police patrol and taken to Jinja Road police. The arrest occurred before any embassy officials had engaged with the protesters.

According to activists, the EACOP project has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis.

The EACOP is a project spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

According to Uganda’s State House website, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Thursday, April 4th, 2024, received a letter from the President of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, expressing his unwavering support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP).

“Your Excellency, I received your letter, and I am very happy to let you know that I am in full support of EACOP. I believe that it will enhance socio-economic development for the region. I am confident that with the strong cooperation between our nations, this project will be a success,” message President Museveni on his X platform read in part.

On Saturday last week, Civil Society Organizations advocating for energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and appealed to the Chinese President to drop his interest in funding the EACOP pipeline after several banks and insurance companies had abandoned the Total-led project.

The government of China has now joined the list of entities, including Total Energies, in funding the controversial and potentially disastrous project that has continued to criminalize those who speak about its negative impacts.

The seven activists will report back to Jinja Road police station on June 4th, 2024.

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Breaking: Over 600 attacks against defenders have been recorded in the year 2023 globally- BHRRC report.



By Witness Radio-Uganda.

The attacks and criminalization of land rights defenders, environmental activists, and climate activists have become common tactics employed by the authorities in the world to silence, suppress opposition, and perpetuate impunity against those that protect the climate, environment, and land rights.

The escalating scale of attacks against people defending our rights and climate from business-related harms, according to the report by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in 2023 titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023 shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and illustrates how voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop and remedy harm.

The report documented 630 instances of attacks directly affecting an estimated 20,000 people, raising concerns about business-related harms in the whole World where over three-quarters (78%) of these attacks were against people acting to protect the climate, environmental, and land rights.

According to the report, many attacks involved collusion between state, private sector, and other non-state actors occurring in contexts where there are high levels of impunity, adding that the direct perpetrators of attacks were largely state actors, with police and judicial systems being the most common perpetrators, followed by the military/armed forces. The highest number of attacks were connected with the mining (165), agribusiness (117), and oil, gas & coal (112) sectors.

According to the Resource Centre, Brazil leads the tally in the World with the highest number of attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm in 2023 with (68) cases followed by, India (59), Mexico (55), Honduras (44), the Philippines (36), USA (27), Iran (24), and Colombia (22), among others.

In 2023, 86% of the cases we tracked were non-lethal including arbitrary detention (157), physical violence (81), intimidation and threats (80), strategic lawsuits against public participation (38), and others. The Resource Centre also recorded 87 killings of defenders speaking out about business-related harms in 2023. Additionally, the Centre has revealed most attacks – both lethal and non-lethal against HRDs go uninvestigated and unpunished, promoting a culture of impunity and fueling further attacks.

In Africa, Uganda has recorded the highest number of cases, with 18 incidents reported. The East Africa Crude Oil pipeline stands out as a focal point for most of these attacks, with individuals opposing this major infrastructure project being targeted by the state.

The report revealed one of the incidents where the Police officers refused to let the students enter parliament. Most were chased away, but four students, including Kajubi Maktom, were caught by police and allegedly kicked, punched, and beaten with wood, and brutally arrested. They spent the weekend in Luzira prison, where Maktom contracted tuberculosis, before being charged with public nuisance and released on bail. Since then Maktom has continued to receive threats from unknown persons.

Several reports including those of Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, and Witness Radio among others have published reports describing patterns of arbitrary arrests, threats, office raids, and intimidation against individuals who have raised concerns about EACOP and other oil developments in Uganda.

The 630 instances of attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms recorded in 2023 only are part of a consistent, ongoing pattern of attacks against HRDs protecting our rights and planet globally, with more than 5,300 attacks recorded since January 2015 by the Resource Centre.

The report calls upon States to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of HRDs and for business actors to respect the rights of HRDs by taking immediate action on these recommendations.

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