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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Community land rights defenders that have been on trial since 2020; are set to return to court this January.

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By Witness Radio Team.

The criminal trial of eight (8) Community land rights defenders on charges of threatening violence is to resume on the 23rd of January 2022, with the state producing its final witness.

The defense lawyers are preparing a submission of no case to answer upon closure of the prosecution’s case because of the insufficiency of the case.

So far, the prosecution has presented two witnesses before the court since 2020, whose trial sessions have been marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of hearing magistrates.

The eight community land rights defenders include; Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha were charged with threatening violence, a charge that attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight and others, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

In November 2020, the prosecution disclosed to defense lawyers and informed the court that investigations were closed and the prosecutor’s chambers were ready to proceed to trial.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local people and later criminalized activities of smallholder farmers that have resisted illegal evictions in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The trial will start at 10 am East African Time.

Defending Land And Environmental Rights

State fails to produce a key witness, prematurely closes its prosecution in the trial of the eight land rights defenders

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By the Witness Radio team,

The state prematurely closed its prosecution in the trial of the eight community land rights defenders after it failed to produce its last witness, the Investigating Officer (IO).

Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha are facing a charge of threatening violence, which attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

Upon closure of the prosecution, the defense lawyers applied for the dismissal of the case for want of prosecution, adding the evidence before the court too weak to sustain a conviction

The court has directed the defense to file its written submission and serve the prosecution by 10th February 2022.

Since 2020, the prosecution has only presented two witnesses, which resulted in the trial being marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of trial magistrates.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight community rights defenders, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local farmers and criminalized activities of community land rights defenders for resisting illegal and forceful evictions of poor communities in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The court will rule on the application to dismiss the case on the 20th of March 2022

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Mubende police arrest and charge farmers that workers of a tree-planting company attacked.

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By Witness Radio team

Five smallholder farmers have been arrested and charged with malicious damage by Mubende police, Witness Radio Uganda has learned.

The victim farmers include; Kabuka Levi, Lubwama Robert, Bulegeya Erisa, Byakatonda David, and Byamukama Yuda are among the victims of the company attacks. Upon arrest, they (victims) recorded statements and later were released on police bond.

Before their arrest, the farmers had opened several cases against their tormentors (company workers) for attacking and destroying their properties worth millions of Shillings. Several files were opened including SD.ref/09/07/12/2022 and SD.ref/12/07/12/2022 against company workers. However, to their surprise, the police made a U-turn and got them arrested.

On December 7th, 2022, in the wee hours of that day, a group of over 20 casual workers linked to Formosa limited, a tree planting company based in Mubende district attacked several families, properties like houses and food crop plantations were destroyed, and several farmers were severely beaten with intentions of forcing them off their land.

“When we reached Mubende police, we were all arrested and interrogated for almost an hour before recording statements on malicious damage charges. The company reported that we cut its trees and had photos as evidence which we did not do.” Mr. Kabuka Levi told Witness Radio in an interview.

In the meantime, the same company in 2017 caused the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of 5 community land rights defenders for 15 years and 35 years on murder and other charges. The five include; Paul Sinamenya, Richard Ssemombwe, Fenehansi Kaberuka, Esau Hategeka, Godfrey Bukenya, Yonnah Ssebanenya, and Sserugo Sam Ssemigo.

Witness Radio appealed against the conviction of 5 defenders for review and is waiting on the appellant court to set the hearing date of the case.

Since 2011, Formasa company under the protection of private security guards and the police has grabbed 2590 hectares that were a source of livelihood for hundreds of poor communities.

The land grabbing has affected over ten (10) villages including Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties in Mubende district.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Leaders adamant on ending charcoal trade

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The authorities of Paibona Sub-county in Gulu District have blamed political leaders for promoting massive tree cutting for commercial charcoal production.

 Mr Joseph Otim, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) sector manager, in an interview on Friday, said local leaders at sub-county and district levels connive with charcoal dealers in the guise of raising revenue.

“One of the biggest challenges in forest governance in this country is that the people who should be taking action are relaxed. The ones in office, the foresters, and the leaders at all levels view charcoal trade as a lucrative business. So everyone looks at what goes into their pockets, at the expense of conservations,” Mr Otim said.

He said some of the forest officials have been targeted and threatened by such leaders, especially whenever they impound forest products.

 “Another challenge is the people who are highly placed and connected in the security organs who issue threats,” Mr Otim added.

During a field assessment by the district authorities to map deforestation in the area last week, heaps of cut trees being burnt for charcoal were found but no dealers found on site.

 But in Akor and Ayweri villages that have chunks of deforested land, there are 193 registered commercial charcoal dealers. Some of these dealers were found on site and have been asked to abandon the trade. For fear of prosecution, some of the dealers withheld their identities. They, however, told Daily Monitor that they cannot abandon charcoal business because it is their only source of livelihood.

Mr Jackson Ayoli, the chairperson of Paibona Sub-county, however, said leaders cannot fight commercial charcoal burning because it is a major source of revenue.

He noted that the sub-county collected Shs3 million in the Financial year 2021/2021 from taxing charcoal and other forest products. From the September to November 2022 quarter, Mr Ayoli said the sub-county collected Shs3.1 million from forest-related products.

“Forest products are one of the major sources of local revenue in this sub county and without it, paying the allowances of the sub-county councillors and other staff would be a huge challenge,” Mr Ayoli said.

 The Sub-county Chief, Mr David Kercan, said Paibona projected to collect Shs 16 million in local revenue in the last Financial Year (2021/2022). Local revenue sources include local service tax, trading licenses, and operations from Non-Governmental Organisations. “However, we realised only 67 percent of local revenue projections, translating to Shs 10,720,000 out of Shs16 million,” he said.

Ms Betty Aol Ocan, the Gulu City Woman Member of Parliament, said local governments should be innovative and find other sources of revenues.

The Global Forest Watch says  Gulu District lost 988 hectares to illegal logging and charcoal burning in 2021—an equivalent to 440,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

It is also estimated that between 2001 and 2021, Gulu lost 38,700 hectares of tree cover.

Source: Daily Monitor

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