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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

LOCKDOWN VIOLENCE ALERT: As lockdown bites, multinationals resort to the use of herds hired from pastoralists to evict locals off their land.

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A herd of cattle after destroying a local resident’s maize plantation.

By witnessradio.org Team

Kiryandongo – Uganda – As natives continue to resist illegal evictions, multinational companies opt to hire livestock as a new tactic to forcefully evict smallholder farmers from their land.

Ever since the government of Uganda announced the second lockdown, on 6th June 2021,  to curb the spread of COVID-19 and a blanket lockdown further on June, 18th 2021, dozens of local farmers are crying foul for their gardens that have been ravaged their gardens and destroyed food crops by animals brought by multinationals including Agilis Partners Limited.

On June, 18th 2021, on top of the closure of schools and a ban on inter-district travels, closure of courts, the government announced a total ban on both private and public transport, reduced human workforce presence in public offices to 10, and announced a stay home for 42 days.

The violence from multinationals, which started with the arbitrary arrest of four people including two community land rights defenders; Baluma Sepriano, and Martin Munyansi, has now spread to gardens owned by smallholder farmers, which have been a food basket in the presence of the lockdown.

It is important to note that since 2017, families whose land is targeted by multinationals have experienced cruelty ranging from rape, defilement, and gender-based violence as a tool to evict women and girls, houses have been torched, kidnaps, torture, arbitrary arrests, to beatings, among others.

Witness Radio – Uganda findings, indicate that Agilis Partners Limited is one of the multinationals that has allegedly hired cattle to destroy the communities’ food baskets and cause hunger to evictees, which in the end the situation at hand would force poor communities off the land. Other multinational companies include the Great Season SMC Limited and the Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

Since the second lockdown started, about 15 homesteads have lost family gardens to animals. The 15 homesteads are owned by individuals who are part of the 35000 that are forcefully being evicted by three multinationals. More than half of the evictees have lost their farmland to multinationals as more land is acquired by force.

Mr. Samuel Kusiima is among the residents affected, he said all his crops including maize, beans, banana plantations, and groundnuts have been destroyed.

The 45 year- old’s dream was to build a better house for his family after the harvest but all this was shuttered by the Balaalo’s invasion.

“Look at my house, it is leaking, I bought seeds with my hard-earned money intending to construct a better house but all of my crops have been destroyed,” he added.

Mr. Kusiima fears that their families are at risk of being attacked by famine since they are left with nothing to feed on.

“We don’t have anywhere to get food and these people do not mind, they say they paid for the land. This is to force us to vacate our land for large scale plantations but we shall not,” he added

M/s Harriet Mbabazi, another resident, says the pastoralists locally known as Balaalo invade her land at night with their animals and graze on her food crops.

“The first time they came was at around 2:00 AM in the night, I heard a loud noise and at first I thought they were buffalos passing. When the sound could not stop, I decided to sneak through the window to see what was happening. This is where my eyes landed on a large herd of cattle in my garden. I did not know who owned the cattle but I had heard of several other villagers before complaining about the cows” Mbabazi added.

“I had over 56 acres but the 53 were taken by the company, with only 3 acres of land, and all I had planted was destroyed. This is our land, we are Ugandans and they found us here. We shall not leave it and we are ready to defend it. What do they want us to do!” she further added.

To understand the amount of money Balaalo paid, the size of land they will be working on and the amount of time/ number of seasons they will take while using the land, Witness Radio – Uganda contacted the manager of the company Mr. Odong Sam for the truth of the matter, but he refused to comment. Instead, he invited Witness Radio – Uganda to their offices.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

State fails to produce a key witness, prematurely closes its prosecution in the trial of the eight land rights defenders

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By the Witness Radio team,

The state prematurely closed its prosecution in the trial of the eight community land rights defenders after it failed to produce its last witness, the Investigating Officer (IO).

Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha are facing a charge of threatening violence, which attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

Upon closure of the prosecution, the defense lawyers applied for the dismissal of the case for want of prosecution, adding the evidence before the court too weak to sustain a conviction

The court has directed the defense to file its written submission and serve the prosecution by 10th February 2022.

Since 2020, the prosecution has only presented two witnesses, which resulted in the trial being marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of trial magistrates.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight community rights defenders, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local farmers and criminalized activities of community land rights defenders for resisting illegal and forceful evictions of poor communities in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The court will rule on the application to dismiss the case on the 20th of March 2022

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Mubende police arrest and charge farmers that workers of a tree-planting company attacked.

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By Witness Radio team

Five smallholder farmers have been arrested and charged with malicious damage by Mubende police, Witness Radio Uganda has learned.

The victim farmers include; Kabuka Levi, Lubwama Robert, Bulegeya Erisa, Byakatonda David, and Byamukama Yuda are among the victims of the company attacks. Upon arrest, they (victims) recorded statements and later were released on police bond.

Before their arrest, the farmers had opened several cases against their tormentors (company workers) for attacking and destroying their properties worth millions of Shillings. Several files were opened including SD.ref/09/07/12/2022 and SD.ref/12/07/12/2022 against company workers. However, to their surprise, the police made a U-turn and got them arrested.

On December 7th, 2022, in the wee hours of that day, a group of over 20 casual workers linked to Formosa limited, a tree planting company based in Mubende district attacked several families, properties like houses and food crop plantations were destroyed, and several farmers were severely beaten with intentions of forcing them off their land.

“When we reached Mubende police, we were all arrested and interrogated for almost an hour before recording statements on malicious damage charges. The company reported that we cut its trees and had photos as evidence which we did not do.” Mr. Kabuka Levi told Witness Radio in an interview.

In the meantime, the same company in 2017 caused the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of 5 community land rights defenders for 15 years and 35 years on murder and other charges. The five include; Paul Sinamenya, Richard Ssemombwe, Fenehansi Kaberuka, Esau Hategeka, Godfrey Bukenya, Yonnah Ssebanenya, and Sserugo Sam Ssemigo.

Witness Radio appealed against the conviction of 5 defenders for review and is waiting on the appellant court to set the hearing date of the case.

Since 2011, Formasa company under the protection of private security guards and the police has grabbed 2590 hectares that were a source of livelihood for hundreds of poor communities.

The land grabbing has affected over ten (10) villages including Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties in Mubende district.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Community land rights defenders that have been on trial since 2020; are set to return to court this January.

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By Witness Radio Team.

The criminal trial of eight (8) Community land rights defenders on charges of threatening violence is to resume on the 23rd of January 2022, with the state producing its final witness.

The defense lawyers are preparing a submission of no case to answer upon closure of the prosecution’s case because of the insufficiency of the case.

So far, the prosecution has presented two witnesses before the court since 2020, whose trial sessions have been marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of hearing magistrates.

The eight community land rights defenders include; Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha were charged with threatening violence, a charge that attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight and others, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

In November 2020, the prosecution disclosed to defense lawyers and informed the court that investigations were closed and the prosecutor’s chambers were ready to proceed to trial.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local people and later criminalized activities of smallholder farmers that have resisted illegal evictions in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The trial will start at 10 am East African Time.

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