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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

LOCKDOWN ILLEGAL EVICTION: Fresh waves of unabated acts of forced eviction violence have hit Kiryandongo once again…

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Mr. Baluma Sipiriano’s house that was burnt by the workers of Great Seasons SMC in Kiryandongo district.

By witnessradio.org Team

With only a few weeks of the second COVID 19 lockdown in Uganda, multinational companies have taken the advantage of the situation to brutalize and use other violent methods to force poor communities off their land in the Kiryandongo district.

Ever since Uganda went into a total lockdown on June 6th, 2021, agents of multinationals under the protection of area police, the army, and private security guards are burning people’s houses, arbitrarily arresting community land rights defenders, attack and beat up community leaders, and, have now hired out part of the grabbed land to pastoralists outside Kiryandongo district to purposely graze animals into poor communities’ gardens among other acts of violence.

The second lockdown was a result of a new surge of COVID causing outrageous infections and deaths. Currently, Uganda has 92,490 Coronavirus Cases and 2,557 deaths.

Multinationals with the support from security organs and operatives deployed to guard the grabbed land are likely not to stop the forced eviction despite this year’s ministerial directive halting further evictions that were issued on July 18th, 2021 by the lands minister, Mrs. Judith Nabakooba Nalule.

Since 2017, three multinationals have orchestrated violence to over 35000 inhabitants in the Kiryandongo district to give way to large-scale agribusiness projects.

The Multinationals include; the Dubai domiciled Great Season SMC Limited, Cayman Islands domiciled Agilis Partners Limited, and Mauritius domiciled Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

Since that period, the area has witnessed various forms of violence ranging from rape, defilement, kidnap, torture, intimidation, illegal detention, imprisonment to the demolition of schools, worship centers, and homes, among others.

Early this month, at 8:00 AM local time, a family of Baluma Sipiriano was attacked by three armed agents allegedly part of Great Season SMC Limited and torched one of his houses before running away. Baluma is a community land rights defender who has been charged and persecuted on trumped-up charges.

“I was not at my home by the time of the attack. But three of my children, who were at home told me that armed with machetes, spears, bows, and arrows, company workers with the protection from armed police carried out the attack. One of them pulled out a matchbox and set my house on fire and all property was reduced to ashes”.  Baluma narrated.

According to residents, more than 10 houses have been burnt in the area but the police are silent and no intervention has been made.

Whereas Mr. Baluma reported the incident to the area police in Kimogola, police have not taken any against the perpetrators.

Another case of violence involves a 78-year-old Mr. Kajasiyo David. He was attached by cattle keepers who hired part of the grabbed land from companies and was severely beaten.

Mr. Kajasiyo David a small holder farmer showing his forearm that was fractured during a scuffle with herders

A medical report seen by Witness Radio -Uganda confirms that the old man’s left hand got a fracture.

“Three (3) herdsmen came and grazed their cattle in my small garden left. When I approached and requested them not to destroy my food crops, they responded by beating me until I became unconscious” Narrated the old man.

According to residents, multinationals are using fly-grazing as a form of eviction with more than 1000 heads of cattle.

“These cattle keepers have abandoned grazing spaces to target gardens and destroy our food crops, we are being pushed into extreme hunger and poverty while the multinationals reap huge profits from our own country,” Said Benon Baryeija, one of the community leaders.

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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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