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COVID-19 LOCKDOWN LAND GRAB VIOLENCE: Multinational company, security firm sued for torture



By Team


Masindi – Uganda – In an effort to hold investors and their agents accountable and curb COVID-19 lockdown violence and human rights abuse, communities in Kiryandongo district have ran to Masindi High Court and sued Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 limited and Saracen, a private security firm hired to guard the company. Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 is a subsidiary of Agilis Partners, which also owns many other food dealer companies including Joseph Initiatives and Asili Farms.


Agilis Partners through its companies is financially supported by DOB Equity (dob Foundation) of the Netherlands, via the UK-based Dutck Oak Tree Foundation, owned by the De Rijcke family of the Netherlands; the United Nation’s Common Fund for Commodities, via the Dutch Trust Fund arrangement set up by the Netherlands Ministry for Development Cooperation; and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) via its Food Trade programme among other Development Finance Institutions.


Since lockdown measures were announced in Uganda on March 18th, 2020, multinational companies that are grabbing community land with the help of district security apparatus, have intensified violence ranging from house demolition, illegal arrest and detention, torture, attempted defilement,  water sources have been filled with soil to plowing food crops (cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, and banana e.t.c) covering hundreds and hundreds of acres of land without a court action.


Byaruhanga John, one of the land owners who was tortured with intention to force him off  his land by Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 limited workers and security guards from Saracen security firm, said state institutions in Kiryandongo district have abandoned them while siding with their tormentor-investors.


He added that the compromised area police has made it difficult for affected locals in Kiryandongo district, to report and open up a case against companies or their workers during the current COVID-19 lockdown. “all police officers have informed us that they have instructions from Kiryandongo district police head one Bakaleke Joseph not to attend to our concerns, instead they refer us to his office” said Byaruhanda.


He further explained that when he went and met Bakaleke Joseph in his office, Bakaleke offered to mediate between him and his tormentors to get treatment, which he refused.


Byaruhanga narrates that on the 22nd day of March 2020, at around midnight, he heard a knocking noise reverberating from the door to his house.  He said that followed with voices of some unknown people who were demanding him to open the door.  He added that they threatened to break in or burn down the house if he did not open for them, which he begrudgingly complied with their demands.  He revealed that they were armed with clubs, pangas and the other was armed with a gun.


He further narrates that when he opened the door and stepped out they ordered him to sit down, which he complied. He added that a group of men grabbed him, got beaten and kicked, which.  lasted about 30 minutes. He said, it reached a point where by he could not endure any further beatings from his captors prompting him to make an alarm. He explained that his wife, who watched my beating in disbelief, could not contain it anymore and therefore joined him in wailing and making an alarm in anticipation of being rescued from my captors.


“The wailing and alarms from both my wife and I forced my captors to bundle me into the trunk of an awaiting Tata lorry truck, and drove off to the Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 Limited camp which is about 30 miles from my home. To the best of my recollection, Odongo and Ondema, employees working with the company, were part of the six members who beat me” narrates Byaruhanga.


Byaruhanga who’s among the many victims of torture and violence orchestrated by Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 Limited especially during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown said, the attack left him stressed, psychological tortured, helpless and hapless and stripped of his dignity, with other effects spread to his children who are traumatized after learning of his ordeal during his arrest, and detention by company workers.


He said, he wants court to order companies to compensate him and other victims for torture suffered and properties destroyed as well as direct re-instatement back on their land.



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



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



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



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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