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JLOS under-use to criminalize land defenders in Uganda.



By Team

Key members of Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) are being targeted and used by land speculators and grabbers to frame frontline land defenders with criminal charges to harass, intimidate with intention to silence critical voices, can reveal. JLOS is a sector wide approach adopted by the Government of the Republic of Uganda.


JLOS brings together 18 institutions with closely linked mandates of administering justice and maintaining law and order and human rights including Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MOJCA); Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA); The Judiciary; Uganda Police Force (UPF); Uganda Prison Service (UPS); Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP); Judicial Service Commission (JSC); The Ministry of Local Government (Local Council Courts); The Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development (Probation and Juvenile Justice); The Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC); The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC); The Law Development Centre (LDC); The Tax Appeals Tribunal (TAT); The Uganda Law Society (ULS); Centre for Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (CADER), The Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) and the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA)


The key members being targeted and used by land speculators and grabbers include Uganda Police Force; Judiciary; Directorate of Public Prosecution; and Uganda Prisons Services. has recorded patterns of land defenders’ harassment tracking over one and half decades majorly manifesting in central (Buganda) and mid-west (Bunyoro) sub regions due to minerals and geographical positioning to international and national markets.


Land defenders (community leaders elected by natives facing eminent eviction threats, such people help communities to engage lawyers, both technical and political leaders at all levels; local council chairpersons; councillors at lower and districts’ councils; and NGOs among others) are being targeted with charges ranging from criminal trespass, theft, incitement to violence, aggravated robbery, to murder among others.


The JLOS under-use institutions have orchestrated torture, longterm imprisonments, deaths, disappearance of files, intimidation and harassment that have costed local families’ livelihood and survival, destroyed their (natives) sense of belonging, caused school dropouts and early marriages among teenage girls whose breadwinners are in prisons for refusing to surrender their land for land based investments.


In 2014, a Nyamasoga local council One (1) chairperson Ologa died in Masindi Central Prison while serving his three (3) year jail sentence. Late Ologa in his early 70s was convicted alongside with six (6) others of assault and malicious damage to property. In Mid 2013, Buliisa district police aided the arrest of late Ologa, maliciously charged and prosecuted him with assault and malicious damage to property charges. Ologa was being punished for refusing to collaborate with a ‘rich-man’ to grab a piece of land in his village (Nyamasoga) hosting quarry-stone deposit. According to sources, ‘a rich-man’ had developed interests in a quarry-stone deposit, which he planned to sell to contractors of Hoima – Wanseko road. Because Bunyoro sub-region land is customary and communally owned (people have no land titles), its very easy for a wealthy person to emerge from nowhere to claim land ownership as long as he/she has got interests in a particular land. These and other issues have caused land wrangles and a number of people have ended up in prisons.


On October 9th 2018, police aided an eviction without a court order of over 3,500 people who have lawfully been occupying five villages namely, Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana, Kanseera and Lwensanga in East Division, Mubende Municipality, Mubende district. The targeted land is registered on Block 168, Plot 19, 22 and 23 covering over 322.5 Ha claimed to owned by one Kaweesi George. In a process of reacting to save the poor people from fraudulent eviction, 14 land defenders including Municipal council councilors namely; Nantubiro Grace representing Busaale Ward and Mugwabya Ronald representing Kaweeri ward on Mubende Municipal council (Local council 4). They were arrested, charged with nine (9) counts including aggravated robbery and remanded to Muyinayina government prison. They are expected to return to court on 5/12/2018.


In 2009 shortly after the oil drilling started in Bunyoro sub region, the Kasenyi Local Council One (1) Kaliisa Julius Nange plus his three brothers were arrested, kept in police cells for 45 days, later charged and sentenced to two years in prison because they protested against a rich man from grabbing their family land, which hosted the first oil well (Ngiri-1). “A rich-man came and asked me to sign documents that would certify that he rightfully owned land where Ngiri-1 oil well was located. I vehemently refused and asked him to approach my grand father who would sanction his ownership. Shortly after, the rich-man with impunity brought iron sheets and poles on the land and constructed a three bedroomed house to seal his land ownership bid. I petitioned the office of the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) who later advised us to go to court that her office had nothing to do with our case” Said Kaliisa. He further explained in 2012/13, Ngiri-4 and Ngiri-7 wells were also drilled on their land and our campaign to expose the rich-man was enhanced. “During that time, I got arrested by Buliisa police, kept in cells before being transferred to Masindi Chief magistrate Court, which is 70 kilometers from Buliisa and later I was remanded to Masindi Central Prison for two months. I was later granted and stayed on a court bail for one year but I was conditioned to report every after three weeks for a full year before I and other suspects got convicted” Kaliisa narrated. He added that he suffered intimidation, harassment and psychological torture.         


A High Court sitting in Mubende convicted and sentenced 5 community land defenders to 34 years imprison over murder and aggravated robbery, ordered to pay UGX 10 million. The imprisonment came after 1000 native families had lost 10-square mile covering thirteen (13) villages including; Kaziragoma, Nakasozi, Butoro, Kyedikyo, Kamagwa, Kicucuulo, Namayindi, Kiguluka, Kabuwuka, Kaswa, Kitebi, Kyabbogo and Kisiigwa located in Maddudu and Butoloogo sub counties in Mubende district. The families were displaced and land dispossessed by a Chinese company, Formasa Tree-Planting Company.


The 2007/8 economic crisis effects to Uganda is causing extreme socio-economic inequality which is becoming more acute. Uganda’s middle class (a few) which has access to power and money in terms of control over land is making the situation both unjust and unsustainable to majority native communities.

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Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.



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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Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.



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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Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes



The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting 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.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.


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