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THE WITNESS

Joint statement on the charges against Nicholas Opiyo.

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Lawyers for Lawyers and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) condemn the spurious charges under the Anti-Money Laundering brought against Ugandan lawyer and human rights defender Nicholas Opiyo and call for them to be dropped.

The organizations consider that this action stands to impede work of lawyers in the country of carrying out their professional functions, particularly regarding human rights work.

There do not appear to be legitimate grounds for these charges or the ongoing prosecution. The organizations are further concerned at numerous alleged violations surrounding the arrest, detention and pre-trial proceedings.

Nicholas Opiyo, Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, a civil rights charity working to defend human rights and civil liberties, was arbitrarily arrested on 22 December 2020, not informed of the reason for his arrest and effectively held in incommunicado detention for a prolonged period.

On 22 December 2020, plain clothed law enforcement officers who did not identify themselves seized Mr. Opiyo from a restaurant, along with four other individuals, including three lawyers.

He was later charged under section 3 (c) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act on allegations that he acquired USD 340,000 through the bank account of Chapter Four Uganda, knowing that “the said funds were proceeds of crime”.

Chapter Four Uganda have confirmed that these are legitimate donor funds for lawful purposes.

Sophie de Graaf, the Director of Lawyers for Lawyers, said:

“Lawyers play a vital role in the protection of the rule of law and human rights. It is the responsibility of lawyers to protect and establish the rights of citizens from whatever quarter they may be threatened. Their work is indispensable for ensuring effective access to justice for all. To fulfil their professional duties effectively, lawyers should be able to practice law freely and independently, without any fear of reprisal”.

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ’s Africa Director, added:

“Uganda is required under its Constitution and under its international legal obligations, to respect and protect the independence of lawyers. These baseless charges seek to intimidate and harass Mr. Opiyo and interfere with his work as a lawyer”.

Lawyers for Lawyers and the ICJ call on the Ugandan authorities to drop the spurious charges against Mr. Opiyo and to ensure that his rights to due process and fair trial are fully respected.

The organizations emphasize that the responsibilities authorities must comply with Uganda’s international legal obligations to ensure that members of the legal profession can carry out their professional functions without harassment and improper interference, including arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention.

Background

Article 23 of Uganda’s Constitution stipulates that suspects under detention should be brought before a court of law within 48 hours from the time of arrest. Article 27 of Uganda’s Constitution requires that a person charged with a criminal offence should be informed immediately of the charges against them. Article 28 of the Ugandan Constitution guarantees for every person the right to a fair hearing and the right to legal representation. These rights are protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, to which Uganda is a party.

International and regional standards on ensuring the independence of lawyers are set out in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (UN Basic Principles) and the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa.

Original Source: lawyersforlawyers.org

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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Corporate Accountability

Why UN Food systems summit is irrelevant to Uganda’s smallholder farmers: A case of capitalism pushing the poor away from family land

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Some of the community members affected by land grabbing in Kiryandongo District

By witnessradio.org team.

As the United Nations, is striving to end hunger, achieve food security through sustainable agriculture what they termed as one of the 17 sustainable development goals by 2030, Uganda still grapples with mass forced evictions being aided by International development financiers being hosted and protected by big nations.

In Uganda, the ‘development financing’ has exacerbated poverty, hunger among the local populations, threatened food security, and forced inhabitants to migrate to urbanized cities or working as laborers on large plantation farms established formerly on their land as the only means of looking for survival.

Ever since the mandate to set up the Food Systems Summit was taken over from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) by the UN secretary-general’s office in close partnership with the World Economic Forum, a private sector organization fronting corporate interests, the summit lost its relevance as far as smallholder farmers concept in Uganda is concerned.

The governance of the summit is under capture by “experts” known to be staunch defenders of industrial agriculture, and wealthy nations, which host many of the large multinational corporations and International Development Financiers, to drive their agenda.

In a bid to translate these aspirations into tangible results, the United Nations’ three-day pre-summit in Rome, which ended on the 28th day of July 2021…. in a lead up to the UN Food Systems Summit in September in New York City, US, made no mention of peasant agroecology, or indigenous ecological knowledge and it’s feared by smallholder farmers to be fronting corporates’ interests.

In a survey conducted by Witness Radio-Uganda on development projects (agribusiness, afforestation, carbon offset projects, mining, and infrastructure development) being financed by members of the World Economic Forum for the last ten years, both COVID-19 lock-downs inclusive, estimate that 1, 257,200 (one million two hundred, fifty-seven thousand and two hundred peasant families have been forcefully evicted or threatened with eviction from more than 5 million Ha.

Approximately 98.2% of the grabbed land or on the verge of being grabbed was agricultural land being used for subsistence farming by local peasants.

As we write this story, Nalumunye Betty, not real name, a small-holder farmer in Kawaala who grows yams to feed her family fears that an eviction facilitated by World-Bank financing of the expansion and construction of Lubigi Channel under the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) Project will take away her cheap and sustainable source of food.

She is not alone, there are many other smallholder farmers across the country including Kiryandongo district, 122 Km away from Kampala facing a related quandary. They are battling multi-national companies, including, Agilis Partners Ltd through its Asili Farms that received USD 1,200,000 from the Netherlands-based Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), a basket fund that gets part of its money from the European Union. Agilis Partners Limited is using the development finances to forcefully evict thousands of peasants off their land.

“Every eviction has a ripple effect and this country will have to pay dearly for it soon”, Mrs. Joan Bulyelari, one of the legal officers with Witness Radio – Uganda, noted with great concern.

“It is a double-edged sword. It takes away a live hood and leaves communities hungry. It breeds domestic violence, breaks families, forces children out of school. Just look at what is happening in Kiryandongo. Employees of multi-national companies are raping mothers and defiling children to defeat their spirited efforts to reclaim their land from multi-nationals”, she added.

By and large, agriculture plays a vital role in the Ugandan economy, and most of the persons evicted are smallholder farmers whose land is being targeted constitute 68% (sixty-eight percent) of all working Ugandans are employed by agriculture.

Small-holder farmers account for 89% (eighty-nine percent) of all land users in Uganda. They contribute up to 80% (eighty percent) of the annual total agricultural output, this includes food crops.

Conversely, this contribution seems to have been overlooked by key stakeholders’ aggressive advocacy, and blind funding by international financial institutions of large-scale mechanized agriculture without prioritizing the land rights of smallholder farmers, which is an affront to food security that has been guaranteed by small-holder farmers through their 80% (eighty-percent) contribution to the annual total agriculture.

According to the Country Director, Witness Radio-Uganda, Mr. Wokulira Geoffrey Ssebaggala, “It is time we rethink, and jealously protect the smallholder farmers’ contribution to food sovereignty, but that debate will only make sense if key stakeholders; governments, financial institutions, and international bodies take up the responsibility to finance community-led projects that cater for the protection  of land rights of smallholder farmers.”

“They should not just throw money at large-scale agricultural and development projects, especially, if they will involve the forceful land acquisition. These development finances are aiding instability in Uganda and worsening food insecurity yet it should alleviate such issues. This is akin to throwing pearls to pigs. International financiers, among other solutions, should set independent supervisory and audit units to ensure that there is prior, adequate, fair, and prompt compensation before any evictions ”, he advised.

In Rome, the priorities of the UN Food Systems were emphasized on paper as “hunger and nutrition, climate change and inclusion and equity but such can only be achieved if the summit remains an independent space for all to find lasting solutions to food security.

Earlier this month, one of Uganda’s dailies, The Daily Monitor, reported that a total of 36 civil society organizations (CSOs) in Uganda and across Africa under the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) had ruled out their participation in the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) scheduled for September 2021 in New York, USA.

UNFSS is accused of excluding the critical views of indigenous farmers in defining suitable food systems, “We are deeply concerned that the current rushed, corporate-controlled, unaccountable, and opaque process for this summit will not lead to the transformation we envision of sustainable and healthy food systems.”, its statement read in part.

Globally, the International Peasants Movement, while christening the UNFSS as a ‘Scientific Group’ also views it as a composition of “corporate-sponsored actors who legitimize corporate-owned knowledge and technology systems, and hold peasant agroecological practices in contempt.”

Witness Radio Uganda will not take part in the Food Systems Summit, later in September 2021 in New York, instead joins other actors to reaffirm the need of the UN and other stakeholders to rethink approaches that have left smallholder farmers landless and threatening food security.

 

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