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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

How politically connected individuals abuse their powers to grab land from poor communities; a case of a Ugandan presidential aide

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Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo, (standing in the middle) in a meeting that was blocked by residents.

By witnessradio.org Team

As the demand for land for land based investments soars, the middleman’s role in the unlawful land transactions between investors and government agencies remains crucial in the broader scheme. The middleman business has become a lucrative venture in Uganda; more people are being recruited into it. For a public servant with access to vital information from land registries, the business is a goldmine. Middlemen are grabbing land for investors.

From the stage of land grabbing to investing, middlemen resort to the use of violence orchestrated by both police and other security agencies; at this point, high levels of impunity are exhibited, land rights defenders and land owners who demand for justice are then arrested for non-existent offences.

Witness Radio – Uganda records show that a reasonable percentage of grabbed land from poor communities in the country have for instance remained undeveloped.

In Mubende District, Central Uganda, residents accuse Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo a Senior Presidential Advisor for using her position to fraudulently acquire their land using police and officials from the Ministry of Lands. Ironically, Kabayo advises the President of Uganda on Pan-Africanism, and doubles as the Executive Secretary of the Pan African Women Organization’s PAWO Eastern Africa chapter, where she oversees the organization’s day-to-day activities.

Mubende District according to Witness Radio – Uganda figures, is ranked as one of the districts with the highest incidents of forced and illegal evictions and has registered with more than five cases since the year 2021 started.

Mubende District is bordered by Kyankwanzi District to the north, Kiboga District, Kassanda to the northeast and Mityana District to the east. Gomba district and Sembabule District lie to the south, whereas Kyegegwa District to the southwest and Kibaale District to the northwest.

Mrs. Kabayo with her political influence is allegedly using survey and boundary opening tactics to grab 625 Ha of land for thousands of inhabitants, which she has never lived on or owned.

According to locals, this is not the first time for the presidential advisor to engage into land grabbing, in 2017 while accompanied by the police in Mubende, she forcefully surveyed and grabbed 20 square miles and now wants to expand.

It is anticipated if Kabayo succeeds with the land grab, more than 5000 people on five villages comprising Kattambogo A, Kattambogo B, Rwobushumi, Rwonkubi and Nyaruteete, in Kigando-Buwekula Sub County in Mubende district, will lose their livelihood.

A letter dated 29th March, 2021, signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Docus Okalanyi which Witness Radio – Uganda obtained a copy, okayed the move by the president’s advisor to open boundaries on land located at block 379 and all adjacent blocks which include: 378, 380 and 381 a process which the residents opposed.

Without any prior notice to the residents, Kabayo accompanied by the officers from Ministry of Lands, State House officials, and security personnel for the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) and Uganda Police had planned to conduct a rally at Nyarutete, one of the 5 villages, but was blocked by the angry residents.

Mr. Ruzhoga Laurent, 53, a resident of the village from birth, said, they have been facing threats of forced evictions for the last three years by Kaboyo. He asserted that his family would not leave the land for an imposter. Ruzhoga added that he would only leave as a corpse.

Jordan Byakatonda, an area land committee, chairperson said, the land targeted is public land with people on living on it.

He said, any person who wishes to get a leasehold on public land must first show his or her interest in the land before picking application Form 8 from the District Land Office or Area Land Committee, fill it, and attach 4 passport photos. He stated that the area land committee’s mandate involves receiving applications and issuing notices for public hearings concerning land ownership using Form 10, Byakatonda observed that Kaboyo had not engaged the committee during the process.

Information Sources from Mubende district preferring anonymity for security reasons accused some government officials of manipulating the stated legal procedures and guidelines. “Everything is coming from the center (ministry) instead of starting from an area where the land is located”, said the source.

“The first time we saw her, she was grabbing land and now she has come back to take ours. When she was asked by the land probe committee headed by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire why she had surveyed the land forcibly, she replied that she never surveyed any land and did not know those people,” another villager who preferred anonymity said.

According to guidelines of Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Planning Act, 2010 and Land Act, Cap 227, state that;

Any applicant for a leasehold on the public land must have in his/her possession fully completed form 4,10,19 23, a set of 3 authentic deed plans, 3 passport photographs, receipts of payment and a forwarding letter requesting for a freehold title signed by the District Land officer of the respective district where the land is located.

Step 2

The applicant presents the full set of original documents in duplicate and a photocopy of the same to the department of land administration for checking.

The photocopy is stamped received and returned to the applicant. The applicant checks with the department of land administration after 10 working days to confirm their approval or rejection.

Step 3

Once approved the documents are forwarded to the department of the land registration for issuance of a freehold land title. The applicant checks after 20 working days.

Step 4

The applicant presents the photocopy given to him/her by the department of land administration stamped, received and identification documents on collecting the freehold Title. The applicant signs for the title and the photocopy is stamped returned on completion.

Documents required include; Deed plans, set of passport photographs, general receipts of payment and a requesting letter. Fees paid at the ministry. Registration fees-10,000#, Assurance of the title- 20,000#, issuance of the title-20,000#.

The preliminary steps that involve the Area Land Committee were not complied with by Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo as she acquired land that accommodates thousands of people.

DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Over 600 attacks against defenders have been recorded in the year 2023 globally- BHRRC report.

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By Witness Radio-Uganda.

The attacks and criminalization of land rights defenders, environmental activists, and climate activists have become common tactics employed by the authorities in the world to silence, suppress opposition, and perpetuate impunity against those that protect the climate, environment, and land rights.

The escalating scale of attacks against people defending our rights and climate from business-related harms, according to the report by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in 2023 titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023 shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and illustrates how voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop and remedy harm.

The report documented 630 instances of attacks directly affecting an estimated 20,000 people, raising concerns about business-related harms in the whole World where over three-quarters (78%) of these attacks were against people acting to protect the climate, environmental, and land rights.

According to the report, many attacks involved collusion between state, private sector, and other non-state actors occurring in contexts where there are high levels of impunity, adding that the direct perpetrators of attacks were largely state actors, with police and judicial systems being the most common perpetrators, followed by the military/armed forces. The highest number of attacks were connected with the mining (165), agribusiness (117), and oil, gas & coal (112) sectors.

According to the Resource Centre, Brazil leads the tally in the World with the highest number of attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm in 2023 with (68) cases followed by, India (59), Mexico (55), Honduras (44), the Philippines (36), USA (27), Iran (24), and Colombia (22), among others.

In 2023, 86% of the cases we tracked were non-lethal including arbitrary detention (157), physical violence (81), intimidation and threats (80), strategic lawsuits against public participation (38), and others. The Resource Centre also recorded 87 killings of defenders speaking out about business-related harms in 2023. Additionally, the Centre has revealed most attacks – both lethal and non-lethal against HRDs go uninvestigated and unpunished, promoting a culture of impunity and fueling further attacks.

In Africa, Uganda has recorded the highest number of cases, with 18 incidents reported. The East Africa Crude Oil pipeline stands out as a focal point for most of these attacks, with individuals opposing this major infrastructure project being targeted by the state.

The report revealed one of the incidents where the Police officers refused to let the students enter parliament. Most were chased away, but four students, including Kajubi Maktom, were caught by police and allegedly kicked, punched, and beaten with wood, and brutally arrested. They spent the weekend in Luzira prison, where Maktom contracted tuberculosis, before being charged with public nuisance and released on bail. Since then Maktom has continued to receive threats from unknown persons.

Several reports including those of Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, and Witness Radio among others have published reports describing patterns of arbitrary arrests, threats, office raids, and intimidation against individuals who have raised concerns about EACOP and other oil developments in Uganda.

The 630 instances of attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms recorded in 2023 only are part of a consistent, ongoing pattern of attacks against HRDs protecting our rights and planet globally, with more than 5,300 attacks recorded since January 2015 by the Resource Centre.

The report calls upon States to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of HRDs and for business actors to respect the rights of HRDs by taking immediate action on these recommendations.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Eight (8) environmental activists have been arrested by police over protesting against the EACOP project.

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By Witness Radio team.

As the criminalization of critics of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project escalates in Uganda, Witness Radio-Uganda has learned that a group of eight environmental activists have been brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala.

According to eyewitnesses, the eight included Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Imaniraguha Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Binntukwanga Raymond, and Mulimbwa were arrested outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda while delivering a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

The eight activists, who chose to sit outside the embassy and shout messages such as “Stop EACOP,” had taken a principled stand not to leave until embassy officials came out to receive their letter of grievances and demands. However, this did not happen. Instead, the police swung into action and brutally rounded them up before being thrown into a police vehicle and taken away. The arrest occurred before no embassy officials had engaged with the protesters.

According to activists, the EACOP project has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis.

The EACOP is a project spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

According to the state house website, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Thursday, April 4th, 2024 received a letter from the President of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, expressing his unwavering support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP).

Your Excellency, I received your letter, and I am very happy to let you know that I am in full support of EACOP. I believe that it will enhance socio-economic development for the region. I am confident that with the strong cooperation between our nations, this project will be a success,” message President Museveni on his X platform read in part.

The government of China has now joined the list of entities, including Total Energies, in funding the controversial and potentially disastrous project.

Several organizations advocating for energy just transition, climate, environmental, and land justice, including Witness Radio – Uganda, are calling for the immediate release of the climate activists.

The Eight are currently detained at Jinja Road police station as no charge is preferred against them yet.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Nearly 175 arrested as climate protesters target France’s TotalEnergies and key investor

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Demonstrators gathered outside Paris meetings of energy giant and Amundi, with some forcing their way into fund manager’s tower block.

The head of TotalEnergies has told shareholders that new oilfields have to be developed to meet global demand, as the annual meetings of the French energy giant and one of its biggest shareholders were picketed by climate activists.

Police said they detained 173 people among hundreds who gathered outside the Paris headquarters of Amundi, one of the world’s biggest investment managers and a major TotalEnergies shareholder.

Climate activists also gathered hours before the TotalEnergies annual general meeting opened. Greenpeace members unfurled a huge “Wanted” banner calling its chief executive, Patrick Pouyanné, “the leader of France’s most polluting company”.

The banner was quickly taken down by police.

Several hundred activists belonging to Extinction Rebellion gathered outside Amundi for its general meeting.

A few dozen protesters forced their way into Amundi’s tower block, daubing graffiti on the walls and smashing some windows, police said. Amundi said eight of its security staff were injured.

The activists say TotalEnergies is contributing to global warming and the destruction of biodiversity through its gas and oil activities.

Police detain protesters outside Amundi’s offices
Police detain protesters outside Amundi’s offices. Photograph: Antonin Utz/AFP/Getty Images

Pouyanne told shareholders that higher oil prices prompted by insufficient fossil fuel output “would quickly become unbearable for the populations in emerging countries, but also in our developed countries”.

Demand for oil was growing in line with the global population, he said.

But Pouyanne said TotalEnergies would pursue its “balanced strategy” of developing both fossil fuel and low-carbon energy production.

TotalEnergies had proved it was possible “to be a profitable, or even the most profitable, company while pursuing a transformation” toward cleaner energy, he said.

At Friday’s meeting, nearly 80% of shareholders approved the company’s climate strategy, with more than 75% also voting to renew Pouyanne as CEO for three years.

Pouyanné, who last month floated the idea of a New York listing for the company, told shareholders there was “no question” of TotalEnergies leaving France.

He said in April that there was “a case” to move from the Paris CAC 40 index to New York in search of higher valuations and larger markets.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, asked by Bloomberg if he would be “happy” with such a move, responded: “Not at all and I would be very surprised.”

Source: The Guardian

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