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JLOS under-use to criminalize land defenders in Uganda.

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By witnessradio.org 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, witnessradio.org 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.

 

Witnessradio.org 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.

food

Gov’t body evicts hundreds, orders the remaining families on the land to de-molish their houses…

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By Witness Radio

A forest body in Uganda, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) is displacing over 700 poor families that have lawfully settled and cultivated their land since the 1920s. The targeted land is needed to plant monoculture trees.

The National Forestry Authority is a semi-autonomous statutory body established by c National Forestry and Tree Planting Act of 2003 and it’s charged with the responsibility to manage and control the country’s forests.

The land measuring about 2900 acres is located at Yandwe village, Butuntumula Sub County in Luweero district in Buganda region, in Uganda.

The forest authority is responsible for causing loss of properties and committing human rights violations/abuses against local and indigenous communities as land belonging to them is leased out to investors to plant trees for carbon offsets without following due processes.

According to Global Forest Watch (GFW), in 2010, Uganda had a tree cover of 6.93 Mha, extending over 29% of its land area. However as of 2020 the GFW latest data presented a tree cover loss of 76.3 kha in Uganda. In the same year, Luwero district was named with the most tree cover loss. It lost 9.10kha of tree cover, equivalent to 4.48Mt of CO₂ emissions.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration asserts that ‘environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens. This principle is seen to be in reverse in Uganda’s practice.

Before forced evictions which started in 2015, families used the land for subsistence farming to raise money to meet basic needs and grow food for feeding, burial grounds and constructed permanent houses that have earned them a sense of belonging for generations but NFA has since destroyed 70% of their heritage.

Since 2015, the families have been forcefully evicted without court orders, prior consultation, and consent to give away their land. “There has not been any single document that permitted them to evict us since 2015. They came with graders, armed police, and soldiers to terrorize the whole village and enforce their evictions. We were not informed, consulted, and neither did we consent to give them our land.” The local council chairman, Mr. Buule Cossy, also one of the affected said in an interview with Witness Radio – Uganda.

According to documents seen by Witness Radio – Uganda, ownership of land by the indigenous community is traced between the 1910s and early 1920s. Some locals have receipts indicating payments made to the then colonial matters while others have presented sale agreements.

On a fateful night, 18th March 2019, the entire village of Yandwe woke up to face the wrath of armed police, soldiers, and armed workers of NFA. Victims narrated that armed groups burnt their houses, razed gardens, and looted their properties at gunpoint before the majority of community members fled their homes.

The violence orchestrated by different armed groups left one villager identified as Ntalo Simon shot and badly wounded.

“We had one incident in which our community member Ntale was shot in the process of eviction and the victim was badly wounded while others were beaten, houses demolished and crops were cut down,” Buule confirmed.

The NFA claims that residents are occupying the forest land illegally. According to residents, Mbale Forestry Reserve was gazetted in 1967 as a central forest reserve land, found their ancestors already on the land. They claim they are the lawful owners of the land and accuse the NFA of forcefully grabbing their land tactically.

Another victim, Katongole John said his grandparents settled on this land in 1915 and claimed that they were paying some dues to the colonial administrators then.

“Upon making payment, colonial matters would issue a certificate known as an occupational license to the payee. The documents would prove land ownership”. he claimed.

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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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