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Forests Are Not Empty Spaces: To Save the Climate, Recognize Our Land Rights

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MESSAGE FROM AN INDIGENOUS LEADER AT THE BIDEN CLIMATE SUMMIT

*** Global indigenous leadership welcomes the commitment to finance the protection of tropical forests to save the climate, while pointing out that success depends on recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to their lands ***

WASHINGTON DC / ONLINE (22 April 2021).— The Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, a coalition of organizations representing indigenous and local communities from Brazil, Indonesia and  the nations of the Amazon and Mesoamerica, called for the recognition of the ancestral and traditional peoples’ lands, during the Leaders Summit on Climate organized by President Biden.

“It is not a request for charity, nor even for justice: It is our right and also what western science and the data indicate as the only possible course of action to confront this climate crisis,” said Tuntiak Katan, coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities and Indigenous leader of the Shuar people of Ecuador. Katan was invited to speak at the Summit session on “Nature-Based Solutions” session, led by the US Secretary of the Interior, Debra Ann Haaland.

The time for truth has arrived, Katan said, addressing a global audience gathered for the Summit: “Just as our elders traveled to Geneva in 1923 to claim their right to live according to their own laws, on their own lands, and according to their own cosmovision, we come again before all nations, with open hearts, looking ahead to the future together and building a new era, all of us, the protagonists in implementing the solutions that will determine the future of humanity.”

On behalf of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, Katan welcomed the Biden Administration’s announcements of funding for climate action and the launch of an initiative on Lowering Emission through Accelerated Forest Finance (LEAF). He also invited governments and international institutions to, “learn from past mistakes and avoid depending on the same financing model that has not resulted in the expected outcomes in climate impacts and solutions”, in clear reference to the REDD + initiative, and its single minded focus on the capture of carbon.

Katan noted that the findings of a recent study had reported that Indigenous and other local communities receive less than 1% of climate finance for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

“That must change, if we really want to avoid climate change,” Katan said. “The forests that are the focus of this Climate Summit are not immense empty spaces:

“We, indigenous peoples and local communities, occupy those forests, and we are ready to contribute our forests to one of the most important challenges of our era: the restoration of the Earth”, he said. “However, real restoration can only happen with legal recognition of our rights to our territories. Without this, it will not be possible to ensure the integrity of ecosystems or climate security.”

In the 18 countries that are home to the organizations represented by the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, Indigenous Peoples and local communities occupy more than 840 million hectares of land, the equivalent of 80% of the area of the United States.

“Out of those 840 million hectares, at least 400 million hectares have no recognized legal rights (1), Katan said. “We need those land rights to be recognized as the first step to ensure the integrity of ecosystems and to live according to our own rights.”.

He urged the US president and other heads of state to consider investing in the $5 cost per hectare of titling the forests claimed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities in tropical forest countries. Funding this proven climate solution, as calculated by experts at the Rights and Resources Initiative and other research groups, would channel at least US$2 billion dollars into securing land rights.

“Numerous scientific studies(link is external) show the key role of indigenous peoples and local communities in protecting forests and other key ecosystems,” Katan said. “Where our rights are recognized there is less deforestation and degradation.”

At a time, “full of darkness, it is also time to wake up”, Katan said. “This is a time when Western science and our traditional wisdom are building bridges.”

For this reason, Katan said,  the Indigenous leaders of the organizations represented by the  Global Alliance disagree with the concept of “Solutions Based on Nature.” Instead they call on the international community to speak and act with a focus on “Nature and Community-based solutions”.

“The communities are already implementing initiatives for the sustainable management of forests,” Katan said. “We are part of the solution to climate change, and that is why recognition of our rights to land is the first step in any serious effort to tackle the climate crisis.”

He ended with the following message: “Mr. Biden, you have the opportunity and the historic responsibility, along with other world leaders, to make the right political decisions to stop the climate crisis.”

For more information: Lucas Tolentino, +55 61 9254-0990 (WhatsApp), lucas.tolentino@alianzaglobal.me(link sends e-mail)

Notes to editor: 

(1) Recent research shows that in the last 10 years, less than 1% of cooperation funds against climate change have been allocated to forest management and recognition of rights (RRI and Woodwell Climate Research Center: preliminary evidence from a study of forthcoming publication).

ABOUT THE GLOBAL ALLIANCE:

The Global Alliance of Territorial Communities represents indigenous peoples and local communities from the Amazon Basin, Brazil, Indonesia and Mesoamerica, grouped in four territorial organizations: the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

Original Source: Landportal.org

Corporate Accountability

Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…

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By Witness Radio Team.

The growth of a country is discerned by great leaders and innovators who see opportunities out of darkness and transform their areas from nothing to success. Those are great leaders whose interest is to see the developments in their countries and the well-being of their citizens.

Every single day, countries all over the world receive investors that acquire loans, grants, and donations to implement mega projects that are seemingly expected to develop host countries. countries and investors borrowing the money Often, countries and investors portray how these projects improve the livelihood of the browbeaten, au contraire, they have left many broken families, poor-dirty homesteads, and shattered dreams.

Uganda is one of those countries, whose citizens have paid a price for reckless or unsupervised and profit-led international investment. In a bid to implement its industrial policy, the country has welcomed both foreign and local investors with interests in the fields of extraction, industrial agriculture, carbon credit tree plantation, mining, infrastructural projects, and many others.

It has received billions of dollars from different financiers including commercial banks, Pension Funds, and International Development Finance Banks or institutions, among others. For instance, the World Bank has invested more than 20 Billion Dollars since 1963 and currently

Every project comes with its own chilling story. More often their stories are unheard by the World. Witness Radio – Uganda surveyed some projects in Uganda. This study revealed agony, illegal evictions, abject poverty, environmental degradation, and loss of life among others, as some of the consequences suffered by the would-be beneficiaries of these international funded projects across the country.

In the capital of Uganda, Kampala, over 1750 families were forcefully evicted from a city suburb, Naguru, for Naguru- Nakawa housing estates.  11 years down the road the project that was highly hyped is to take off on the grabbed land. Pleas from the victims of the eviction to regain their land have all fallen on deaf ears.

About 80km away from Kampala is the island district of Kalangala surrounded by the World’s second-largest lake, Victoria, and known for palm growing. When the palm-oil project was introduced to residents they were given the impression that it would improve their livelihoods and create job opportunities.  Instead, it has dumped thousands into poverty after their land was grabbed by BIDCO, a Wilmer international-funded project. People lost land and now work on plantations as casual laborers. The neighboring communities are accusing BIDCO workers of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the South-Western District of Kiryandongo, multinational companies including Agilis Partners Limited, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited with funding from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and Common Fund for Commodities among other financiers are forcefully evicting more than 35,000 people. The eviction has been on since 2017.

Workers that worked on a World Bank Project in Soroti, in the far east of the country, are accused of sexually harassing minors. Several young girls were defiled and left pregnant. Despite the government being aware of this none of the pedophiles have been brought to book, the World Bank-funded project in the Eastern Town of Soroti left several underage girls defiled and impregnated.

In late 2020, residents of Kawaala zone II woke up to the hail of armed men and graders evicting and destroying their properties to implement a multimillion-dollar project funded by the World Bank. The project is being implemented by the Kampala Capital city Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the government of Uganda.

The above-listed and other projects, on the other hand, continue to perpetuate violence and judicial harassment against leaders of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and community land and environmental rights defenders because of their work that resists illegal evictions and destruction of the environment among others.

Although project implementers such as government entities accuse local communities of occupying land targeted for projects illegally, in most cases victim communities have rights over these pieces of land because their settlement on the same land can be traced to have happened generations ago.

No matter how people are negatively impacted being by these harmful projects, financiers continue to release more money to the government and investors. The banks aim at profit margins other than the livelihoods of the people. In Bulebi village, Mbazi parish, Mpunge Sub County in Mukono district, Akon’s futuristic city is about to lead to the eviction of over 1000 residents whose entire lives have been built on their land.

In April last year, American rapper Aliaune Damala Badara well known for his stage name AKON visited Uganda in search of land for constructing the city. On the same business trip, he met President Museveni Yoweri Kaguta and expressed his interest in building a futuristic city with its currency. The president ordered the Ministry of Lands, housing, and urban development to look out for free land for his city.

However, on 7th Jan 2022, the Uganda Land Commission showed the Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development “Hon Judith Nabakooba” land that was proposed for the Akon city. According to the Uganda land commission, the land is Freehold Volume 53 Folio 9 measuring I square mile.

This has sparked outrage amongst the affected as they were never consulted or consented to allow the project in their community. According to community members that Witness Radio interviewed, they said they heard the distressing news of Akon city through the Media.

The community said no official from the ministry has ever approached them about their land giveaway. “Our country is full of land evictions and evictors begin in that way. There has been no official coming on the ground to officially inform us about the project and neither have we heard any official communication of compensation.” Obori said.

Residing in the attractive village surrounded by freshwaters, the community asserts this has been the source of livelihood and advised the government to get alternative land for the City.

Controversies surrounding the land giveaway and ownership of the area still exist. A section of residents have protested and vowed not to surrender their land for the City. They claim to have acquired freehold titles from the Mukono lands board.

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Corporate Accountability

Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.

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By Witness Radio Team.

As the onslaught on civil society heightens, its space continues to shrink which has bearing on the services they render to the communities. Witness Radio, was among the 54 organizations suspended by Uganda’s National Bureau for Nongovernmental Organizations on August 20th, 2021. The actions are amongst the recent forms of attack on civil societies in Uganda. Other numerous attacks include arrests of rights activists, harassment, tortures, and office- break-ins at night by security operatives who move away with valuables.

The effects of this suspension were felt by communities facing land grabs across the country. For seven months while the organization was suspended, over 300,000 people were evicted from their land and couldn’t access specialized and prompt legal assistance.

Witness Radio Uganda, globally known for its campaign against community land-grabs couldn’t assist these victims of land grab since it risked facing further sanctions from the Bureau in case it intervened. However, last week, there was some relief, when Uganda’s National Bureau for NGOs lifted suspension and certified its operation.

According to Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, the Head Legal at Witness Radio – Uganda, the organization conducted a review of the evictions that happened during the suspension. With information and assistance from some lawyers, local journalists, and community land and environmental rights defenders across the country, the evictions watchdog was able to document cases of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans that were either forcefully evicted or received threats of evictions while in its limbo.

The ban imposed on Witness Radio coupled with the disruptive impacts of COVID- 19 resulted in the surge of eviction cases, especially in areas where the organization had a presence. Throughout the ban, without access to swift and prompt legal support, the communities resorted to sharing with the world their ordeal.

She further noted that the evictions were conducted in disregard of the law on evictions. “I was shocked to see powerful people and companies take advantage of our suspension to escalate the evictions of vulnerable communities that received our assistance. The evictions did not comply with the land eviction practice directives. None of them was preceded by legal court orders.”  She noted.

According to the Land Eviction directives, issued by the former Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe, evictions shall be preceded by valid court order, properly identifying the persons taking part in the eviction, and upon presentation of formal authorizations. The police and local authority of the area shall be notified and shall be present to witness the evictions, among others.

Based on the data gathered by the team, various communities across the country were left dispossessed by land grabbers without any form of assistance. Others have received threatening messages with intentions of dispossessing them off their land.

During the period under review, over 300,000 people across the country are believed to have been threatened with evictions, while 350,000 acres of land were either grabbed or on verge of being grabbed.

“However much, we gathered this information, we expect the cases to be higher because some evictions go unreported either due to the remoteness of the areas or other related factors.” One of the collaborators observed.

The evictions were extremely violent.  They were characterized by kidnaps, arrests and detentions, torture that often-caused unexpected grief to the communities.

Among the most affected districts include Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kassanda, Hoima, Buikwe, Wakiso, Kikuube, and Bulambuli districts.

In some of the mentioned districts, the Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Minister toured and halted the evictions but the evictors continued unabated.

Mr. Kimazi Experito, a journalist based in Mubende, attributed the rise of evictions to the organization’s suspension which denied the evictions-affected communities access to specialized legal assistance.

He said Witness Radio has offered support to over 20 land-grab-affected communities in Mubende with legal support. “Witness radio is a game-changer that brought back lives of evicted communities to normal,” he lauded.

“Mubende is one of the fastest-growing areas because of gold and other minerals as well as factors related to fertile soils. Currently, it is one of the hotspots of evictions. Opportunists used this chance to grab land from people with full attention. Without the defenders, it’s often hard for people to get justice since local people are not much informed about land laws.” Kimazi explained.

Engineered by powerful people in public offices, multinational companies, and politicians using state machinery including the army and national police, forced evictions to continue to affect food sovereignty and threaten the role of indigenous communities to protect the environment.

During the same period, President Yoweri Museveni stopped any eviction without the approval of the Resident District Commissioners. However, legal experts warned that the move is to usurp the powers of the Judiciary. In a statement signed by Pheona Nabasa Wall, the Uganda Law Society President noted that the directive undermined the role and independence of courts in handling eviction matters.

That notwithstanding, “Occasionally, the residents are not given any opportunity to negotiate with the landlords. Even when the government obliges to pay landowners, neither does the government nor the evictor compensate for the damaged property. During evictions, properties that were made for their life end up being destroyed in seconds which causes lifetime misery.” Paul Kasoozi, a community land rights defender stated.

With different tactics aimed at alienating the poor from their land, it has been established that the police and the army continued to play a huge role in the largest forms of violent evictions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention and instilling fear and pressurizing the local communities to vacate their land on orders of the evictors.

Many of those community members who oppose land evictions end up being kidnapped, tortured, or arrested and detained to silence the community. It takes support from an organization defending communities’ land rights to intervene for such communities to get justice.

Days before the lifting of the suspension imposed on Witness Radio, communities neighboring the Katta Barracks in Bulambuli district, were violently evicted by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces under the alleged command of Lieutenant Colonel Mukiibi Julius without offering alternative resettlement.

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NGO work

African bishops demand end to ‘land grabs’ by private companies

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OXFORD, England (CNS) — Africa’s Catholic bishops have criticized the appropriation of land, natural resources and other economic assets by private companies and called on national governments to show greater concern for local community rights and needs.
“For most Africans, land is neither a tradeable commodity nor an individual possession — it is a gift from God and our ancestors, a common good,” said the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
“The impunity of corporate and elite capture of African land and natural resources and the damage this is doing to Africa’s food systems, to our environment, our soils, lands and water, our biodiversity, our nutrition and health is a major concern. Land grabs push people off the land, fueling conflicts and provoking displacement,” the statement said.
The bishops were joined by leaders of other faith-based and nongovernmental organizations ahead of talks between the African Union and European Union foreign ministers in Kigali, Rwanda, that opened Oct. 26.
The statement expressed concern that land deals in 2021, covering more than 62 million acres, had been concluded “by private actors encouraged and financially supported by governments and public development banks.”
Such business ventures, the statement said, continued to reflect European perspectives because of “the legacy of colonialism and huge differentials of power and capacity.”
“We have come together in solidarity and fraternity to amplify the voices of African communities struggling for land justice,” it said.
The signees urged the African Union and European Union to ensure “meaningful community participation” in future development projects.
The foreign ministers were meeting to discuss common challenges ahead of a sixth European Union-African Union summit, planned for Brussels in early 2022, including recovery from COVID-19, poverty, security, migration, education and skills development.
They met as the United Nations’ climate summit was about to begin in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 31.
In a separate interview Oct. 25 with Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI, Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, SECAM president, said Africa’s growing Catholic Church was needed for “world evangelization,” but was being held back by “scandalous structural poverty.”
He explained that Burkina Faso’s 17 gold mines are owned by international companies, leaving just 9% of profits in the country. He said a “new order” was urgently needed.
“African countries have gained independence,” he said, “but this is just a formal independence, since we are still subject to domination.”

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