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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

COVID-19 Lockdown: Lawyers demand for court’s immediate intervention into the land grab violence meted out to communities by multinational companies in Kiryandongo

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By witnessradio.org Team

 

Masindi – Uganda – lawyers representing more than 35,000 people that are being dispossessed by three multinational companies to give way for agribusinesses, have filed certificates of emergency at Masindi High court demanding that court should use its powers to stop unlawful, forceful and violent evictions. The multinational companies namely; Agilis Ranch 20 and 21 limited/Joseph Initiative/Asili Farm; Great Season SMC limited; Kiryandongo Sugar Limited are forcefully evicting bonafide and Internally Displaced People (IDPs), victims of a 20 year-old Lord’s Resistances Army (LRA) civil war in Northern Uganda without a court action.

 

The action follows multinationals to take advantage of the lockdown to intensify their use of violence to dispose the community despite government directives that halted land evictions during the COVID-19 lockdown.

 

witnessradio.org has documented pieces of evidence showing that from the announcement of the lockdown; multinational companies with aid of Kiryandongo District Police headed by one Bakaleke Joseph, Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and other private security have orchestrated violence ranging from filling water sources for communities with soil, kidnap, torture, intimidation, illegal arrest and detention to property destruction among others causing a humanitarian crisis.

 

Apio Sarah, a mother of 9 children accuses Kiryandongo Sugar laborers for attempting to defile her two girls whom she had sent to fetch water. She said, the incident happened on May, 30th, 2020 at 3PM.

 

She said, Kiryandongo Sugar limited workers on that day ring-fenced a community borehole at Ndoyo village which had been serving over 150 families and blocked community members from accessing the water source. “My daughters came back home crying that and when they were asked what had happened, they shared details of attempted defilement by laborers. “We have since opened a case at Bweyale police” said Apio

 

In all certificates filed, Kiiza & Mugisha Attorneys stressed that there is an urgent need to dispose of the Miscellaneous Causes filed in Masindi High court including No. 007 of 2020, to secure several human rights and freedoms that are under attack.

 

“Multinational companies have taken advantage of the COVID-19 Lock Down to continue with the impugned violations rendering many homeless, hopeless and starving” read the certificate in part.

 

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

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.

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