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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Forced eviction during covid-19 lockdown: KCCA with the World Bank funding is excluding me and my siblings from being compensated for our properties because we evolved lawyers in the eviction process.

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Nasande Kadijah, seated in one of the village meetings.

By witnessradio.org Team

Nasande Kadijah, not real name due to fear of retaliation, is one of the residents of Kawaala zone II, in Rubaga division, in Kampala district whose piece of Kibanja is being grabbed by Kampala Capital City Authority, (KCCA) to expand and construct the Lubigi Primary Channel with the aid of the World Bank loan to tune of USD 175 Million without compensation.

Nasande was born on the same piece of land in 1972 and, later with her siblings, they inherited the same property from their parents. The land measures an acre on which she constructed a house and also uses it to grow beans, bananas, and maize.

In early December 2020, Nasande’s family was among the 120 families that first received an eviction notice from KCCA without prior notice. It later dawned on them that the eviction notice was to pave way for the channel construction.

According to Nasande, they learned about the Second Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) from Witness Radio – Uganda lawyers.

A selfless community leader claims that she has been targeted by KCCA for mobilizing other community members to resist the COVID-19 land grab. As a result, her land has not been valued and compensated for, and yet KCCA is insisting on constructing and finishing the channel by December 2021.

After filing a complaint to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel on 17th June  2021, and holding a meeting with all stakeholders, KCCA was advised to repeat the whole evaluation process however, KCCA instead went ahead to carry out a forceful surveying exercise. Many property owners were excluded from the exercise including Nasande. KCCA also went ahead and asked them  to sign documents whose contents were  unknown to the project Affected Persons since they are illiterate who can barely read and write in English.

“We have requested lawyers from Witness Radio – Uganda to represent us. I never went to school, and I don’t know how to read. Documents were in English and no one could interpret for me. This is why I wanted my lawyers to be present on my behalf,” she said.

She added that there was a list of property owners allegedly circulating from KCCA but her name (Nasande) did not appear on it.

“One of the project members, Mr. Kyaddondo David accused me of ‘fighting KCCA work’ in one of the interfaces. I told him I was not fighting them but instead fighting their injustices in the eviction process. This is my land and I deserve to be compensated. If they claim what they are doing is right, why do they discouraged me from associating with my lawyers? My lawyers are there to fight for me and it is their role to do what I cannot. If they believe they want my land, let them follow what is right. Am one of the persons who welcomed the project for the development of our community,  of what importance does it have when we are left suffering?”, she added.

“My land is my everything. Am a poor woman unlike them working in the offices, this is what I depend on to feed my family of five. Do they want to find me on the streets begging? I asked those officials if they can give me part of their land, then I leave this for them but they refused,” she emphasised.

According to Kadijah, even those that were allegedly valued, KCCA did not display the evaluation rates.

“Many of them were caught unaware, they are now crying, and no one knows which rates were used. The systems were fraudulent. And some of us who were mobilizing others to resist started using fellow villagers to fight us back. They told them that we are the ones holding KCCA from paying them by involving lawyers who will take our money. Our purpose of getting lawyers was to get justice, because if these people wanted to compensate us, why did they think of evicting us at first. Before saying we are bad, they are bad too,” she further added.

According to Kadijah, had it not been for the intervention of Witness Radio Uganda, and Accountability Council they would have been already evicted.

“No one could hear our voices, everyone would not listen to our stories, not even the government offices. When Witness Radio came in to help us, they slowed down and even accepted to compensate us. So why do they want us to leave Witness Radio, they want to grab our land which we cannot accept. We have given KCCA many chances and we agree to be compensated but fairly and allow the government project to proceed,” she explained.

Such unlawful processes prompted, Witness Radio Uganda together with its partner Accountability Counsel on behalf of community members to file a complaint to the inspection panel seeking their interventions.

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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