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Accountable Development To Communities

Investigate the criminalization of land rights defenders – witnessradio.org asks National Human Rights Body.

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kampala – Uganda – Witnessradio.org has petitioned the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) calling for investigations into the continued aiding of persecution of community land rights defenders and native land-owners.

Witnessradio.org, a land rights advocate is accusing some members of the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) namely; the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Police and Judiciary of fueling land grabbing and protecting the supposed investors, through promoting the use of the criminal offenses under the Penal Code Act against land rights defenders and native land-owners that resist illegal and violent evictions.

The petition is the first of its kind to bring criminalization of land rights defenders and land-owners issues to the attention of UHRC under Business and Human Rights thematic principles. UHRC is a constitutional body with obligations to protect and promote human rights in Uganda

“Witnessradio.org, expresses dismay and disappointment over the increasing violence orchestrated against bonafide land-owners and individual community land defenders by some justice, law and order sector members in order to give individual investors and companies access to people’s land and then dispose native

e communities”. The statement reads in part.

In the petition, the Executive Director, Mr Wokulira Geoffrey Ssebaggala says that the continued harassment of land-owners and community land rights defenders by Uganda police and the office of the director of public prosecution has immensely contributed to case backlog and subsequently overcrowding in prisons.

“According to the World prison’s brief of October 2017, Uganda has 54,059 people in Prisons implying that 129 prisoners for every 100,000 Ugandans”. Mr Ssebaggala says

He also says the rights of people to express themselves, to peacefully assemble and participate in decisions that affect them and to exercise the full panoply of individual and collective human rights has also been curtailed.

Witnessradio.org recommends that the Human Rights Commission investigates the continued aiding of persecution of community land rights defenders and land owns by JLOs members institutions to give way for land-related investments, make findings public.

It also recommends that the commission undertakes courtroom observer missions especially where land rights defenders are under trial starting with Mubende’s 2 land rights defenders trial.

The same petition has been copied to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights and Democracy and Human Rights Donor, Working group.

Accountable Development To Communities

The committee calls for the protection of projects’ host communities.

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By Witness Radio team

Development Banks and investors have been urged to invest in activities or projects that do not deprive individuals or communities of access to land or land-associated resources on which they depend for their livelihoods.

The negative effects arising from the projects funded by some development banks and investors have forced the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 26 (2022) on Land and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights while giving its general comment on land to call on development banks and states hosting the projects to refrain from actions that interfere, directly or indirectly, with the enjoyment of the Covenant rights in land-related contexts outside their territories

In 2014, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that some 3.4 million of the most vulnerable people were left homeless by the projects funded by World Bank. Till today, more of the bank’s funded projects continue to harm communities.

Currently, there is an ongoing mediation process between the project-affected persons of Kawaala Zone II and Kampala Capital City Authority, an implementer of a World Bank funded-project over human rights violations.  In December 2020, their houses were marked with an x as a sign of demolition and later some of the residents’ crops got destroyed.

In the Pakwach district, the Paten clan continues to experience gross human rights violations arising from the Wadelai Irrigation Scheme implementation funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

According to the communities, the project forcefully acquired more land for the Wadelai Irrigation Scheme project under The Farm Income Enhancement and Forestry Conservation Project-Phase 2 (FIEFOC-2). This was contrary to the earlier understanding with the community that the project would utilize 365 acres which the community had freely offered for the project. Instead, 365 hectares were forcefully acquired.

The committee while reviewing state parties’ reports, claims has encountered an increasing number of references to the negative impact on individuals, groups, peasants, and indigenous peoples’ access to productive resources, as a result of international investment negotiations, agreements, and practices, including in the form of public-private partnerships between state agencies and foreign private investors

The committee says land transfers are quite often financed by international actors, including public investors such as development banks financing development projects requiring lands, such as dams or renewable energy parks, or by private investors.

“Parties must take concrete measures to prevent their domestic and international policies and actions, such as trade, investment, energy, agricultural, development and climate change mitigation policies, from interfering, directly or indirectly, with the enjoyment of human rights that applies to all forms of projects implemented by development agencies or financed by development banks.” The committee noted.

Adding that “ there is a need to establish the necessary regulatory mechanisms to ensure that business entities, including transnational corporations, and other non-State actors that they are in a position to regulate, not impair the enjoyment of Covenant rights in land-related contexts in other countries and moving the necessary steps to prevent human rights violations abroad in land-related contexts by non-State actors over which they can exercise influence, without infringing the sovereignty or diminishing the obligations of the host States.”

The committee further emphasized the conduct of human rights impact assessments before making such investments and regularly assess and revise them. Such assessments shall be conducted with substantive public participation and the results shall be made public and inform measures to prevent, cease and remedy any human rights violations or abuses.

In addition to responsible investment, the committee directed states to take all necessary measures to respect human rights defenders and their work, including concerning land issues and to refrain from imposing criminal penalties on them or enacting new criminal offenses to hinder their work.

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Accountable Development To Communities

World Bank extends the Lubigi drainage project dispute resolution process for another six months.

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By Witness Radio Team.

The World Bank, Accountability Mechanism has granted the Parties involved in a dispute resolution case in Uganda an additional six months with expectations of achieving better mediation in the ongoing dispute resolution between the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Projected Affected Person.

According to the brief by World Bank Accountability Mechanism Secretary, Ms. Orsolya Szekely, the DRS extended the dispute resolution process which was supposed to end in December 2022, to six months which began this January 2023. Orsolya believes the added time will help all the parties resolve their differences.

The World Bank Accountability Mechanism is an independent complaints mechanism for people and communities who believe that they have been or are likely to be harmed by a World Bank-funded project.

The extension follows the failure to negotiate between the two parties in one-year-long negotiations of the dispute resolution process which started in December 2021.

The Kampala Capital City Authority is implementing the Lubigi drainage Channel expansion project under the KIIDP-2 with funding from the World Bank.

On December 3, 2020, the Kawaala communities were shocked to find KCCA representatives in their village, accompanied by armed police officers, distributing eviction notices and informing residents that they had 28 days to vacate their homes. A few days later, for instance, in the wee hours of 05th/12/2020, the community started experiencing attacks by armed anti-riot police and workers of the construction company; destroying properties, without any prior consultation or plan for compensation and resettlement.

In a bid to find justice, in June 2021, the affected community filed a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel raising concerns about forced evictions during COVID-19.

According to the complaint filed against KCCA, the implementor of the KIIDP-2 project excluded the affected community from benefiting from the Project’s Resettlement Plan (RAP) and instead resorted to the use of force to have them evicted. Following the intervention of the World Bank, KCCA conducted another Project’s Resettlement Plan. However, according to the affected community, the process was rushed and intended to promote inequality.

The project is marred with retaliatory attacks from people believed to be project implementers against project affected community.

The Accountability Mechanism’s operating procedures allow for a one-year period for all parties to resolve, with a six-month extension period in case parties fail to reach an amicable understanding.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Festive holiday forced evictions: armed gangs linked to a Chinese tree planting company descend on a village, severely beat and wound dozens of villagers.

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By Witness Radio Team

A festive holiday is happily waited for by many people in every corner of the world. It’s a period for merry-making and family get together. In Africa, particularly in Uganda, most people travel from towns to their ancestral homes to spend that time with family members, make parties and meet longtime childhood friends.

For a community at Kicuculo village, Kiruuma Sub-county, in Mubende district was a different experience. The much-awaited season was marred with violence, anxiety, and death threats from Formasa Tree Planting company targeting the community’s land to expand its commercial trees business.

Formosa is a Chinese-owned tree-planting company planting pine and eucalyptus trees in the Mubende district, Central Uganda.

Ugly incidents started happening on December 7th, 2022 in the wee hours of that night. A group of over 20 casual workers linked to Formasa invaded homesteads, started cutting people with pangas, and beat everyone found in their houses accompanying them with threats to kill them if they don’t leave the land.

Three people were hacked with pangas and clobbered with sticks by armed company laborers in an attempt to force them off the land they have lived on for decades.

While more than seven (7) people got hospitalized after sustaining deep cut wounds during the scuffle. Mr. Byakatonda David who sustained a deep cut wound on the head narrates his ordeal. “At around 11 pm, I heard my neighbor crying for help, and decided to respond. On reaching there, I found a group of armed workers from Formosa destroying his house while others were beating him. When one of them saw me, “he said, he is also among the people on our wanted list”.

“I wanted to run but was immediately caught by the rogues. They beat me and left me unconscious with deep cuts on my head. I got back to my normal senses admitted and bandaged at Maduddu Health Center II.” The father of 13 revealed this in his interview with the Witness Radio team.

According to his relatives, they found him lying in a pool of blood and rushed him to the hospital. “We waited for someone who had gone to the neighborhood to respond to an alarm, but he wasn’t returning. Due to fear, we searched only to find him bleeding on his head and lying in blood. I called the chairman on the phone who helped with a BodaBoda motorcycle to rush him to the hospital.” His wife revealed.

Violent forced evictions in the Mubende district occurred despite a government ban on evictions during the festive seasons. The lands minister, honorable Judith Nabakooba on December 2022, ordered that no family should be evicted during the festive holiday. She directed police and Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) to respect the order.

Mr. Byamukama Yuda, an area chairman of Kicuculo village told Witness Radio that Formosa company is a threat in their village because of continuous and violent attacks on his people for refusing to surrender their land to the company to grow commercial trees.

“Ever since the company started operations in 2012, the company under the protection of the police has been grabbing people’s land, beating them, raping women and young girls, cutting them, and causing arrests to community land rights defenders. Over 2500 hectares of people’s land have been grabbed and rendered families landless. And for only 2022, over 100 people have been terrorized by angry company workers.” He added.

He further said company workers seem to have powerful people protecting them and respect or fear no one. Adding that on Christmas, a group of workers went to his home and threatened him to be castrated in front of his wife and children.

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 among others include; Paul Sinamenya, Richard Ssemombwe, Fenehansi Kaberuka, Esau Hategeka, Godfrey Bukenya, Yonnah Ssebanenya, and Sserugo Sam Ssemigo

Witness Radio has since appealed against the conviction on grounds that the evidence relied on by the court was doctored.

When we contacted the Company Manager, Ms. Annah Kyoheirwe, she declined to discuss the allegations. She said she was busy attending a meeting and hung up.

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