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.
A reference filed by CSOs against the planned construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is set for hearing.
By Witness Radio Team
Four East African Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have petitioned the regional court of justice, seeking both temporary and permanent injunctions against the planned construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)
The reference submitted by the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Natural Justice-Kenya, and Center for Strategic Litigation in Tanzania highlights significant issues including threatening local livelihoods, food security, public health, biodiversity and the global climate that have failed to be addressed by both the governments of Uganda and Tanzania.
According to the reference filed on the 6th of November 2022, the governments of Uganda, and Tanzania and the Secretary General of the East African Community have violated environmental laws, human rights obligations, and regional agreements, in authorizing French oil giant, Total, to build a massive oil pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to Tanga, Tanzania.
For years, communities and civil societies have echoed concerns over the impacts of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project which has affected thousands in Uganda and Tanzania. Human rights organizations claim French energy giant Total and its partner China National Offshore Oil Corporation involved in the $3.5 billion EACOP have failed to fully address concerns raised by the project to host communities.
The 1,443km people crude oil export pipeline which is expected to impact over 118000 people will transport Uganda’s crude oil from Hoima in Uganda to Tanga port in Tanzania.
The project will cross through 10 districts in Uganda, a distance of 296 kilometers, and 25 districts in Tanzania, covering eight regions, and 25 districts is estimated to be the longest electrically heated pipeline in the world.
Its impact has largely been witnessed by the PAPs, leaders, and human rights activists opposing the project including land grabbing, harassment, and arrests of community leaders and rights activists.
“Construction of the pipeline will destroy farmland, disrupt livelihoods and exacerbate food insecurity. Thousands of people are to be displaced and have already been told not to set up or plant any long-term structures or crops and yet they have not been given any compensation yet. These impacts are set to cause major social disruption and erode social cohesion, leading to increased poverty in areas affected by the EACOP in Uganda and Tanzania.” The reference reveals in part.
The reference further adds that the pipeline will traverse protected forests, such as the Wambabya and Bugoma reserves, and endanger numerous water sources of great importance to millions of people in East Africa, including Lake Victoria. The pipeline passes along the Lake Victoria basin which is a major water source for millions in not only East Africa but the whole of the African region. This risks and exposes Lake Victoria and River Nile to danger through oil spills and pollution. The EACOP will also significantly impact biodiversity and put numerously vulnerable and endangered species native to Uganda and Tanzania at risk, including elephants, lions, and giraffes.
The EACOP has been widely criticized by civil societies and other actors advocating for the rights of affected people expressing the unaddressed concerns the project is likely to expose to the host communities.
On the 14th of September 2022, the European Union Parliament passed an advisory resolution to suspend the oil pipeline for a year citing disastrous human and environmental rights violations associated with the project.
According to the resolutions by the European Parliament legislators, the oil pipeline has caused the displacement of people from their land without fair compensation, caused harassment, criminalization, intimidation, and arrests of human rights defenders, and closure of NGOs, and is likely to endanger the nature reserves and habitats.
The case is scheduled to be heard in Kampala on the 11th of November 2022.
The private sector, civil society organizations, government bodies, and development partners are to meet and discuss how to strengthen responsible business conduct in Uganda.
By Witness Radio team.
For years, victim communities, and community land and environment defenders in Uganda have been facing negative impacts and reprisals arising from business investments. These investments often require large sizes of land and the government occasionally takes the responsibility to acquire land for these investments. However, the acquisitions or allocations of public or community land tend to leave the communities past retrieval.
Communities are faced with devastating impacts ranging from environmental challenges such as pollution of air and water, forceful evictions, and unfulfilled pledges such as good jobs that not only cause damages to their lives but also to the future generations.
Recently, a government entity the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) wanted to expand the Lubigi drainage project with funds from the World Bank. But, during the initial stages of land acquisitions, the KCCA hid under the public health Act, Cap 281Act, to evict the people and then smoothly expand the drainage channel. This happened without sensitization, compensation, or resettlement of the project-affected persons.
According to documents seen by Witness Radio Uganda and testimonies from the affected communities, they had lived on the land for many years and were surprised to face eviction threats.
Continuously members of this community continue facing retaliation for their resistance to the land grab for the infrastructural project. Ever since the project began, community land defenders have been persecuted for their works and subjected to false charges including fraud, simple robbery and currently continue to report at police and courts over the charges. In contrast, others are on run for their dear lives.
Similarly in the Mubende district, a Chinese company has rendered thousands homeless over since it started its tree planting activities in 2011. Formosa tree planting company is planting eucalyptus and pine trees within the district. Over 12 villages have suffered the worst of this so-called development. These include; Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Namagadi, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, Ngabano, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties and those that resisted continuing to face violent threats from the company and its workers.
At least seven community land rights defenders since 2018 are languishing in jails for crimes they did not perform. According to the residents, the Formosa Company is responsible for false charges against the defenders. They were arrested for 15- 35 years.
“Wounds caused by Formosa to me can never heal. In 2017 my two sons; Sam Serugo and Yona Sejjombwe were arrested and imprisoned for 34 years over the same struggles. And again they came threatening to kill us if we did not move off our land. We have lived and occupied this land for decades.” Cecilia Namawejje revealed this to Witness Radio researchers.
Communities still grapple with these related outcomes, sadly those who advocate for their rights are arrested for sabotaging the projects. These and other related issues are expected to be discussed by participants in a two-day 4th symposium on business and human rights on November 9th and 10th 2022.
The 4th annual symposium that will be held at Imperial Royale Hotel Kampala will bring together more than 100 stakeholders across Uganda and beyond to advance responsible business and human rights agenda in the region.
The symposium organized by Resource Rights Africa (RRA) and partners will bring together private sector players, government actors, academia, media, civil society, and local community representatives from Karamoja and Tooro regions to explore how accountability and remedy mechanisms for business-related human rights abuses can be enhanced to advance respect for people and the planet in the next decade.
The symposium is based on the theme “Strengthening Responsible Business Conduct in Uganda to advance respect for people and planet in the next decade.”
NFA land giveaway bonanza turns Luweero farmers into destitute.
By Witness Radio Team
Land evictions in Uganda spiral and are a thorn in the lives of many poor Ugandan communities whose entire livelihood thrives on substance farming.
The government, and its agencies, especially the National Forest Authority (NFA), have been singled out by communities for aiding forced evictions to give way for land-based investments by the untouchable wealthy local and foreign investors.
The insatiable thirst for carbon credit schemes has left many smallholder farmer communities grappling with the life-threatening effects of violent land grabs masterminded by the National Forest Authority and fueled by unpoliced and loitering international funding.
The continuous evictions have left millions of indigenous and local smallholder farmers homeless and landless. Uganda’s National Forestry Authority has been cited in several cases for donating land occupied by communities to investors (both local and foreign) for planting trees in the name of reforestation of depleted forests for carbon credits.
Over 2900 acreages in the Luweero district belonging to residents were donated to investors to grow eucalyptus and pine trees while part of the said land is occupied by a goat farm.
Every time a conversation about NFA crops up, Topi Nalwoga is a taken-back to the 2015 eviction by NFA in Yandwe, Butuntumula Sub-County, Luweero district. It disintegrated her community and deprived her of human interaction. What used to be homes to friends and relatives is now littered with trees. Neither was she spared. Her home is in the middle of a tree plantation.
Nalwoga said before the evictions would harvest coffee, maize, matooke, and mangoes from six acres of land to educate and provide for her family of 7.
This practice is not different in other parts of the country. On a fateful day of 18th May 2019, in Luweero, Yandwe village woke up under the invasion of armed soldiers and police who burnt houses and razed down their gardens claiming they were illegally occupying Mbale Central Forest Reserve land.
A 49-year-old, former landlord is now a casual laborer on nearby plantations to put food on the table for her family. In a day, Topi earns 5,000 Uganda Shillings (equivalent to 1.31 USD) explaining that it cannot meet all her family’s needs. Before, she was earning about 1,000,000 Million Uganda Shillings (about 262.62 dollars) from her proceeds in a season.
“I spend my daily wages on food. My children no longer go to school because we have been turned into slaves in our own country,” she revealed.
Her settlement on the land has a lineage bond. Her grandfather Mr. Kosia Katula occupied the grabbed land in 1921 before its gazettement as a forest reserve. Later in 1944, her father was born and inherited the land.
The NFA gazetted the Mbale Central Forest Reserve in 1967 when people had already settled on it. This accordingly meant that the community had to be consulted, compensated, or resettled before the evictions.
Her story is not different from the other 700 community members who lost their source of livelihood in NFA evictions in the same area.
Some of the residents that have resisted the forceful evictions were barred from using the land. About 9 families have their houses trapped in the middle of the tree plantations laboring elsewhere to feed their families.
Mr. Wilson Kabiira who had 20 acres says he was denied access to his land. He said the NFA employed gangs to beat people who had refused to vacate the land.
“My family is starving because I have nowhere to work from, when they find you attempting to do any work on the land, they beat you and raze down your crops,” he added.
He added, “Our young girls have been married because ideally, they dropped out of school, families do not have food and many of them have separated as a result.
During the evictions, people lost property worth millions. The community says the NFA did not consult, or compensate them for their land.