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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking Alert: Uganda passes the National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kampala – Uganda – the Government of Uganda is yet to launch the first-ever National Action Plan (NAP) on business and human rights, Witness Radio – Uganda has learned.

Bernard Mujuni, the Commissioner of Equity and Rights at the Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development, has confirmed that the NAP document was signed and approved by the cabinet.

In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council established the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG) and tasked it with facilitating the global dissemination and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs). The framework provided by the UNGPs entails the duties of States and responsibilities of business enterprises in addressing adverse business-related human rights impacts.

As part of the state’s responsibility to disseminate and implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights based on this mandate, the UNWG strongly encouraged all states to develop, enact and update national action plans (NAPs) and has also developed a Guidance on National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (GNAPs) which provides recommendations on the development, implementation, and update of NAPs.

In June 2014, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling upon states to develop NAPs. In 2016, the Government of Uganda acknowledged recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to develop a National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights to implement the UN Guiding Principles (UNGP).

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.

The UPR is often designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed. It is aimed at advancing the situation of human rights and human rights violations in all countries.

Uganda’s NAP was first drafted by the NAP Resource group, comprised of the Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development (MGLSD), the Office of the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Uganda Human Rights Council (UHRC), the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the UN Global Compact Uganda chapter and CSOs (including the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, the Uganda Consortium for Corporate Accountability and FIDA-Uganda) and OHCHR held consultations from different stakeholders on key issues arising from the business-related developments.

According to the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, the major issues identified by the participants during the stakeholder consultations included; environmental pollution, low remuneration for workers, and absence of contracts, child labor, human rights violations concerning the externalization of labor, sexual exploitation, and gender-based violence, land conflicts and forced evictions.

In Uganda, violent and forced evictions resulting from business activities aided by national and foreign investors are escalating. The communities are grappling with evictions by multinational companies, politically connected and wealthy individuals. Districts such as Mubende, Kiryandongo, Kassanda, Mityana, Kayunga, Kiboga, and Hoima, according to a survey by Witness Radio are riddled with evictions.

Mr. Haweka Martin is one of the land rights defenders in Jerusalem-Kisalanda, Kiryandongo district. His family is being evicted by Great Seasons SMC limited owned by a Sudanese investor to pave way for a coffee plantation.

He owned over 20 (twenty) acres of land, but he currently stays on less than an acre. His family of 10 (ten) lives in their small, wattle and daub house in the middle of the plantation.

“We are sleeping in a small house. The others were razed by the company, and they don’t allow you to reconstruct them,” he said

Since 2017 an estimated number of 36,000 people have been evicted from their land in the Kiryandongo district by the three (3) multinational companies without prior consultation, education, or compensation.

The companies have not stopped.  Rape, defilement, and fly-grazing are being meted to some of the residents who refused to vacate the said land. The evictees are now jobless.

“We are not accepted to dig on our land. We spend all the time at home. Our families are starving, because we used to survive on agriculture which we no longer practice,” the 52-year-old defender shares.

Land evictions have affected the wellbeing of the poor families, whose entire livelihood only depended on their land.

“The only thing we can do now is collecting pieces of dry wood, burning them to charcoal to get what to feed the family. You have to struggle to find them and if the guards see you, you are arrested and charged either with criminal trespass or malicious damage. Due to lack of food, the entire village depends on water but even then, some wells were contaminated by the companies while others like boreholes were also fenced off.” he revealed.

According to Mujuni,  Haweka and other people whose rights have been breached as a result of business-related activities will have a lasting solution. “The NAP is a big achievement for Uganda as a country. Having and acting on a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights shall fulfill the state’s duty to protect citizens and communities from business-related human rights abuses. It is now a National document awaiting to be launched,” he said.

Since, and conflicts being one of the major issues raised during the stakeholder consultations, he believes all developments causing disintegration of families, shall first and foremost be required to consult, educate and compensate residents before the projects take off.

“No project is expected to start without clearing the processes, we are tired of seeing our people suffering,” he added.

For complaints arising from the unfair compensation, he says that there shall be a grievance redress mechanism comprised of different stakeholders to resolve the matters before seeking justice from courts of law.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.

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By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

A breaking alert! A community land rights defender is kidnapped from his home.

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Kassanda, Uganda: a community land rights defender is missing after unidentified men cladding Uganda police uniform raided his home at around 10 PM local time, his wife has revealed.

Julius Ndagize is one of the community land rights defenders in Kassanda district advocating for the compensation of over 10,000 people illegally evicted from their land by the New Forest Company (NFC) in 2008 to plant monoculture trees.

In early 2020, evictees rose again to revive their demands to repossess their land following NFC’s failure to resettle and compensate them for the human rights violations and damages.

Evictees further narrate that ever since NFC grabbed their land, they have experienced increased deaths among children due to malnutrition and hired out land to bury their relatives who have died. All children who were attending school at the time of eviction have dropped out of school, while others have gotten married at a tender age. Furthermore, many families of the evictees have since broken up, and the list of long-standing impacts goes on.

“Our home was raided by unidentified men in police uniform at 10 PM local time. When they reached home, they banged on the house door and demanded that I should open the door. Upon opening, they forcefully entered the house without identifying themselves, with no explanation. Instead, they asked the whereabouts of my husband. They searched while throwing house properties in every direction until they got him and took him to an unknown direction. Said Mrs. Ndagize

She accused Uganda police of stealing Uganda Shillings 350,000, which is equivalent to about USD 90, which they found in their bedroom. She said the money belonged to a local women’s savings association, of which Mrs. Ndagize is the treasurer.

Since 2011 NFC has benefitted financing from international banks and private equity funds, including the European Investment Bank (EIB) with five million Euros (almost US 6 million dollars) to expand one of its plantations in Uganda; The Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund, had invested US 6.7 million dollars; the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the UK bank HSBC with around US 10 million has caused unimaginable pain to hundreds of households and continued to suffer gross human rights abuses, mainly in Mubende district.

Lately, NFC has benefited from the carbon offset financing from several financiers, including the Dutch Development Bank (FMO).

Witness Radio has commissioned search for the lost person, but no success had been reached by the time of writing this article.

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