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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Local communities lost over 60,000 acres of land to grabbers at a time Witness Radio – Uganda was under a suspension.

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By Witness Radio Team.

In our breaking article published last week, Witness Radio and its contributors based on their data indicated that evictions rose during their suspension. According to the data, over 300,000 people’s livelihood was at stake as their land was on the verge of being grabbed. However, the new findings by the team reveal that 50,000 Ugandans were evicted. The evictions left the communities impoverished, homeless, hungry, disintegrated, and lost their livelihood.

Recently Witness Radio’s suspension was lifted as the National Bureau of non-government organizations licensed it to operate as a non-governmental organization. However, one of the chilling evictions transpired in Nyamutende and Kikungulu villages around the 3rd of September 2021. Over 20 residents slept in the cold after they were evicted at gunpoint by a multinational, Kiryandongo Sugar Company Limited.

“The soldiers guarding the company come from nowhere, they were tough and did not talk to us but only destroyed everything they found,” Mr. Olupot James, one of the evicted residents recounts the ordeal in an interview with Witness Radio.

When the area chairperson Mr. Ochola Charles intervened to stop the evictions, he said he was threatened to be shot at.

“Their manager whom we identified as Peter instructed the soldiers to shoot at me. He argued that I had no reason to stop them from doing what they are doing. But am the area chairperson who has to know what is happening in my community. This is the impunity we are fighting but the companies seem to be protected,” Mr. Ochola wondered.

In Katusiime William’s community, Kisalanda village in Kiryandongo district, his family is among the many that Agilis Company has recently evicted. Katusime who is protected by law as a bona fide occupant was evicted from the land claimed by the company. His family occupied the said land in 1975.

According to Uganda land law, a person who settled and utilized the land unchallenged by the registered owner for twelve years or more before the coming into force of the 1995 Constitution is protected by law as a bona fide occupant.

In an interview we held with him a fortnight back, he said he was attacked by 18 people consisting of 8 armed policemen, 7 private security guards, and 3 government soldiers, who destroyed his cassava plantations and a son’s house. They immediately ordered them to leave their land.

When we contacted Mr. Johny Masagazi, the Corporates Manager for Kiryandongo Sugar and Agilis’ Communications Corporates Manager, Mr. Emmanuel Onyango denied evicting residents.

These systematic and forceful evictions have ravaged smallholder farming communities since the suspension. These evictions have continued in Mubende, Kyankwanzi, Kikuube, and Kiryandongo districts.

In the Mubende district, families continue to be displaced and terrorized by Formosa, a tree planting company accusing them of occupying their land illegally.

According to Witness Radio’s legal officer, Ms. Sarah Adongo, none of the evictions that happened during their suspension was peaceful and neither followed the required legal eviction guidelines.

“In some communities, land rights defenders were kidnapped and whisked away, tortured purposely to instill fear among the people they lead. The evictors always use extreme force that is un-called-for yet eviction directives clearly state that the evictions shall be carried out in a manner that respects the dignity, right to life, property, and security of all persons affected.” She said.

“Persons to be evicted shall be allowed to remove illegal structures and where a person does not comply, the eviction shall be carried out. Evictions should be carried out on weekdays from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. But cases are seen happening at night without complying with any orders, and particularly without valid legal notices.” She added.

Concerning the forceful evictions, over 60,000 acres of land were grabbed by the big shots in government and local or foreign investors. Research by Witness Radio indicates that most of the grabbed land is used for large-scale commercial agriculture, industrialization, or what the government calls development projects which have disrupted people’s livelihoods.

Katusiime and Olupot’s communities form part of the 50,000 people. Katusiime described the current situation as hell. Mr. Katusime had over 150 acres that were grabbed by the company. “I am useless without my land. I used to provide for my family. We used to eat well”. He grieved.

Currently, 90 community land rights defenders in only four districts namely Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kikuube, and Kiryandongo are facing unscrupulous charges over multiple resistance to land grabbing.

The Head Legal at Witness Radio, Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, one of the lawyers who were arrested while collecting evidence in Kiryandongo district in 2020 to pin multinational land grab in court said police and army are in bed with the investors to cause fear within the oppressed communities by arresting and charging them.

She noted that the Kiryandongo district is one of the areas where the criminal justice system has been used to kidnap, torture, and arrest land rights defenders, and the main perpetrator is the Uganda Police Force which tortures eviction victims, arbitrarily arrests and dumps them in police cells only to be falsely charged with abusive criminal charges. She added that at the time of the organization’s suspension, the defenders could not be represented in court or while in police cells.

Our attempts to speak to the Uganda Police Force’s spokesperson Fred Enanga on his known contact for comment on the increased arrests were futile since our repeated calls were neither received nor returned by press time.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

The abducted community land rights defender is found and released on a police bond.

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By Witness Radio Team.

A Kawaala Zone II community land rights defender who was waylaid and arrested by eight (8) armed policemen has been found at Old Kampala regional police headquarters and released without a charge.

On 31st/10/2022, armed Policemen arrested Kabugo Michael who was due to set off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and the Accountability Counsel intended to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

Kabugo is a community land rights defender in Kawaala Zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district. He is one of the community land rights defenders facing reprisals for defending the community’s land targeted by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) for a drainage channel construction and expansion project funded by the World Bank.

After a long day search for the abducted community defender, Witness Radio lawyers found him held at the Old Kampala regional police headquarters.

Mrs. Adongo Sarah, one of the victim’s lawyers said the police reviewed an old file where the victim was accused of ‘fraud’ and re-interviewed him.

“He was able to make an additional statement, and his police bond and that of his other colleagues accused alongside with on the old file was extended to Friday 4th November this year.” She added.

She further said Michael’s arrest was arbitrary, adding that even the Officer in Charge of the case at Old Kampala Regional Criminal Investigations Department could not give reasons.

The victim’s lawyers believe these increased actions of arrests, kidnaps, and detentions of Kawaala community land rights defenders are reprisals for their work of opposing

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Breaking: A Kawaala community land rights defender kidnapped and taken to unknown destinations, others on the run.

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By Witness Radio-Uganda.

Armed Policemen have this morning waylaid and arrested a community land rights defender in Kawaala zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district, Witness Radio-Uganda has learned.

Mr. Kabugo Micheal is a renowned community land rights defender who advocates for fair compensation of the community land on an ongoing project of Lubigi drainage channel expansion funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

According to eyewitnesses, the defender was at Mr. Kasozi’s home (one of the community defenders) before setting off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and Accountability Counsel. The meeting was to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

“As he was sitting on a Boda (motorcycle taxi driven in Uganda and other East African States), police rounded him up before his arrest. We saw him being manhandled. They (police) forced him onto one of the police bodas before he was taken to unknown destinations.” Said an eyewitness.

Another eyewitness further explained that he was arbitrarily arrested by eight (8) armed policemen on a police patrol

Mr. Kasozi Paul Ssengendo who also witnessed the arbitrary arrest of Michael said police are targeting them with arrests because of their work to resist forced eviction by Kampala Capital City Authority.

“I am currently on the run. I was a target of police but I managed to escape.” The defender told Witness Radio.

In June this year, Mr kabugo and 5 others were arrested and falsely charged with forgery, a charge they said is retaliation for their work in fighting for their land rights.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Court dismisses a criminal case against a community land rights defender for want of prosecution.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Kiryandongo. A criminal trespass case against a community land rights defender has been dismissed over the prosecution’s failure to adduce evidence before the Chief Magistrate Court that pinned the community defender on the alleged charges.

On 27th October 2021, Kiryandongo Chief Magistrate Court charged Otyaluk David with criminal trespass and remanded him to Masindi prison. He was later granted court bail and since then, he has been traveling 48 kilometers to and from court every fortnight.

Before he was presented before a court, Otyaluk was kidnapped and illegally detained in Kiryandongo Central Police Station (CPS) cells for five (5) days for trespassing on a piece of land he (Otyaluk) had lived and cultivated since he was born.

In the afternoon of 21st October, two (2) armed men cladding Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) uniform and police personnel raided Otyaluk’s home and got him kidnapped to an unknown destination. UPDF soldiers guard Kiryandongo Sugar Limited plantations.

“On the day of his kidnap, Otyaluk was found praying in his house. In a blink of an eye, the defender was rounded up and bundled onto a vehicle owned by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, forcefully evicting us off our land. We later learned that he was taken into evictor’s facilities where he was kept for some time before being transferred to Kiryandongo CPS” A family member remembers.

A family member further added that before the kidnap, Otyaluk’s family had lost about 12 acres of land to Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

“Company workers under the protection of soldiers brought a tractor and plowed acres of semi-mature maize, beans, sorghum, and sim-sim. We were only left with a small piece of land where our house sits and we are currently trapped in the middle of a sugarcane plantation” a family member added.

Since the trial period was announced, the prosecution failed to bring witnesses to pin Otyaluk for trespassing on his land. It was only on the 19th of July, 2022 during a court session, one Adamuru Peter, allegedly to be a company manager turned up as a company representative but not as a witness.

In her ruling last week, a magistrate at Kiryandongo Magistrate court discontinued the trial of Otyaluk and dismissed the case.

Otyaluk is one of the luckiest among hundreds of community land and environmental rights defenders currently under persecution to have his case dismissed. It’s an order of the day for the community land and environmental rights defenders to be kidnapped, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured on orders of investors for their work of mobilizing the communities to desist land grabs.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is among multinationals forcefully evicting over 35000 local and indigenous people off their land to give way to large-scale agribusinesses.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is one of the many companies owned by the Rai Group of Mauritius. The dynasty owns several other companies in DR Congo, Kenya and Malawi, and Uganda. A dynasty owns companies such as West Kenya Sugar (which owns Kabras Sugar), Timsales Limited, Menengai Oil Refineries, Rai Ply, and Webuye Panpaper.

In Uganda, the Rai Group of Mauritius owns Nile Ply limited, Kinyara Sugar Limited, and Masindi Sugar Limited among others. One of its directors is a shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company, listed in the Panama Papers database recently.

The same company has fraudulently gotten a license to replace part of Bungoma natural forest with a sugarcane plantation.

“Court has shown today that the company is maliciously arresting us to keep us in jails. To weaken our hearts, wasting our time and resources. They intentionally do this because we refused to surrender the land we have lived on for years. It is shaming that the government has failed to protect the rights of the poor people.” The defender noticed.

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