Govt told to urgently resettle people evicted from national parks

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Cross Culture Foundation of Uganda’s Fredrick Nsibambi addresses the media flanked by Joel Cox Ojuko of Equal Opportunity Commission at Media Centre in Kampala. Photo by Ramadhan Abbey

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and other human rights defenders have called for the urgent resettlement of thousands of people who were displaced from Bwindi National Park and Mt. Elgon by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). 

They are arguing that the rights of these people were greatly violated after they were left homeless upon eviction.

When Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was established in the early 1990s, UWA mainly for the conservation of mountain gorillas, over 6700 of its native inhabitants, the Batwa, were evicted. Some continue to live in forests and mountains.

While delivering the position of the commission on the rights of indigenous people and minority groups on behalf of the commission chairperson, Sylvia Mwebwa Ntambi, Joel Cox Ojuko said: “Indigenous people have a right to recognition of their identities, way of life and right to traditional and ancestral lands, territories and ungazetted natural resources.”

The commission wants government to implement the Benet consent judgment of 2005 between Benet communities, which among others recognised the Benet community as indigenous to area protected as national park.

The government through UWA evicted the Benet from the Mt. Elgon National Park between 1990 and 2004.

The Benet took their case to the High Court. In October 2005, the High Court adopted a consent judgment, between the affected Benet community, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and the Attorney General and signed and agreed by all parties.

It declared that the Benet were the “historical and indigenous inhabitants” of the national park and should be allowed to “carry out agricultural activities” in the areas to which they have historical claim.

In the push, the EOC is supported by the ministry of gender labour and social development’s equity and rights department, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, Minority Rights Group International and Community Development and Resource Network.

Others are Uganda Women’s Network, Human Rights Network-Uganda, Initiative for Social Economic Rights, Defending Defenders, and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative and Global Rights Alert.

In their joint statement, they decried the gross violations of the rights of the minority tribes in the country.

The parties noted that the increased demand for land for exploitation of minerals, oil and gas and investment in commercial farming was another threat to the minority groups. Uganda has over 18 minority tribes.

Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda’s programs manager Fredrick Nsibambi said: “This has posed new threats to indigenous people’s customary lands such as those in Karamoja region, the Bagungu, Alur, Paluo, in Bunyoro sub-region and Amuru district.

He stated that lack of sufficient legal representation and enforcement of existing legal and policy frameworks for the protection of land ownership for indigenous people increases their vulnerability and loss of livelihood derived from their land.

Under the colonial and post-independence governments, large pieces of land were lost by indigenous communities due to conservation of forests, wild animals and for commercial farming in cash crops such as tea and cotton.

This displaced the Batwa in Kanungu, Kisoro, Kabale and Budibugyo, the Basongora and Bakonzo in Kasese, the Batuku and Babwisi in Ntoroko and Budibugyo, the Ik, Napore and Mening in Kabong.

Others are the Ngokutio in Kitgum, the Benet in Kween and other indigenous people in various parts of the country who have lost land to conservation.

While addressing Parliament recently the Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, disclosed that plans were under way to resettle the displaced communities.

On Friday last week, Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark International Day for Indigenous Peoples under the theme, “Indigenous People’s Migration and Movement.”

On December 23, 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People shall be observed annually on August 9 around the world.

Source: New Vision