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‘Make natural forests untouchable’

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Last November, Attilio Pacifici, the head of the EU Delegation in Uganda led seven other ambassadors from France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Austria on a mission to western and northern Uganda to have firsthand experience of the level of pressure Uganda’s natural resource assets such as Bugoma forest (Hoima District) and Zoka forest (Adjumani District) are currently facing. In an email interview, Pacifici told The Independent’s Ronald Musoke why the mission was important.

What were your impressions when you visited some of these forests during your expedition?  

This visit was a joint mission to the west and north of Uganda where we had the chance to visit iconic forests like Bugoma and Zoka but also national parks like Murchison Falls. During this mission, we were honoured with the participation of high-level government officials and we had the opportunity to jointly exchange with very committed civil society actors on the ground.

The visit demonstrated the risks faced by some of the last protected forests in Uganda and the need to step up efforts to protect them and preserve the ecosystem services they provide. Our main message was and remains that development can and needs to go hand in hand with environmental conservation.

Conservation has a strong economic value, which needs to be promoted, and we are here to support this agenda. That is why in all our engagement, we have stressed the importance of striking the right balance between environmental protection and economic development.

I know you are aware from what you saw that deforestation is happening at an alarming rate across the country, even when the country has robust laws governing forests. What, in your opinion, will it take to control this problem?

Tackling the challenge of deforestation will require a holistic approach and high level of commitment from governments, development partners, private sector, civil society organisations, the media, ordinary citizens; all of us.  I am sure you know that already Uganda’s forest cover has plummeted from 24% of its area in 1990 to about 12.5% today.

This is a big challenge that requires collective action. It is also important that government should provide strong, consistent and broad support to the forest management authorities and the law enforcement agencies. For one, we have to make the natural forests untouchable in every sense of the word.

We have to make the traditional sources of biomass energy very expensive while ensuring that alternative sources of clean energy are made available and cheaper to meet the most basic household needs. Once degraded, the cost of restoring a natural forest is colossal. It is not as easy as planting a couple of trees because as you know in Uganda the natural forests have historically had vast and varied species unlike in Europe where the species are limited.

At a regional level, a formal mechanism should be established, to regulate cross-border trade and movement of forest products in the regionThe problem of unregulated trans-boundary forest management and trade has resulted into forest products illegally acquired from one country being a legal import in the receiving country. This makes it difficult to regulate trade in forest products.

The EU has been supporting a project called the SPGS as one of the possible mechanisms to grow back and also conserve Uganda’s forests. Looking at the rate of deforestation that has been inflicted on the country’s forests over the last 16 years (since 2004 when this scheme began) vis a vis the trees that have been planted, how would you rate the success of this project?

The Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) has been implemented in Uganda over the last 16 years supporting the establishment of over 80,000 hectares of quality commercial plantations and woodlots across the country. In terms of contribution to the forest cover vis-avis deforestation, SPGS contribution remains limited.

However, the main objective of the SPGS project is to promote quality wood products and ensure that plantations are managed to provide saw logs for timber, building and utility poles, and fuel wood. Providing alternative sources of wood from fast growing tree plantations is a way of reducing pressure on natural forests on both private land and Central Forest Reserves (CFR) but it is not an end in itself.

Our support has been fundamental in creating a critical mass of plantations that provide valuable raw materials for industries and generate rural jobs. The plantations have been established in deforested areas complying with international sustainability practices. SPGS is now a model which is being replicated in many other countries such as Rwanda and the DR Congo.

Today, most of the industrial wood used in Uganda is sourced from plantations – and this has played a leading role in reducing the pressure from natural forests. But this is not enough. Protection of natural forests cannot be substituted with establishing commercial plantations of a few tree species, as is currently the case. We have to make sure that the natural forests—what is left of them—is untouchable.

What is your opinion in regards to some conservation experts who think monocropped forests are a defective idea of forest restoration?

My personal view is that this is an inevitable evil. However, monocultures as such need not be a problem – provided that they are not large contiguous areas and are part of carefully designed sustainable landscapes that include areas for conservation of biodiversity. Even at large-scale, the plantations can be fine when they are established in a mosaic manner with ecological corridors improving the conservation function.

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Original Source: THE INDEPENDENT

DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels

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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.

Source: iisd.org

Download the statement: https://www.iisd.org/system/files/2023-09/ngo-statement-on-energy-sector-strategy-2024-2028.pdf

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STATEMENTS

Witness Radio Condemns Violent Gunfire Incidents during State Land Minister’s Visit.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Date: August 29, 2023.

Witness Radio, an advocate for land and environmental justice in Uganda, vehemently condemns the shocking and reprehensible act of gunfire that transpired during the visit of State Land Minister Sam Mayanja to the disputed land in Hoima district. The incident, which occurred on the evening of August 24, 2023, serves as grim evidence of the prevailing impunity surrounding land disputes in the country.

The events of that fateful evening in Rwabunyonyi village have laid bare the deeply unsettling reality of a land crisis that has engulfed the lives of countless innocent citizens. The State Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development, tasked with upholding the principles of justice and legality, was subjected to a perilous situation by a barrage of gunfire emanating from security personnel associated with Pyramid Private Security. These armed guards, aligned with the interests of businessman Fred Mugamba, unleashed a torrent of bullets into the air in a brazen attempt to deter the Minister from carrying out his official duties.

The backdrop to this horrific incident can be traced back to a series of harrowing events that commenced in 2022, causing upheaval in the Rwobunyonyi and Kirindasojo areas of the Buraru sub-county in Hoima district. A land dispute, centered around 810-hectare parcel of land, has ignited a firestorm of displacement and anguish, displacing more than 2000 residents and plunging them into a state of distress. The chief orchestrator of these violent evictions, businessman Fred Mugamba, has heartlessly disrupted the lives and livelihoods of these innocent families who claim ownership of land, that has been a home to many since the 1940s.

Throughout this agonizing saga, the affected communities have borne the brunt of a relentless campaign of intimidation and violence, orchestrated by casual laborers and armed security guards in the service of Mr. Mugamba. Tragically, the situation escalated to a point where two lives were lost. Furthermore, those brave enough to raise their voices against this land grab were met with unjust arrests, perpetuating an atmosphere of fear and tension.

In a bid to stem the escalating turmoil, the State Lands Minister, guided by a sense of responsibility to restore peace, intervened in this crisis. Accompanied by Deputy Resident District Commissioner Mr. Michael Kyakashari and District Police Commander (DPC) Jackson Bogere, the Minister embarked on a mission to engage both the affected residents and the purported landowner, Mr. Mugamba. However, the hunt for peace was thwarted by the menacing presence of private security guards, who callously obstructed the Minister’s path and resorted to gunfire, causing panic and chaos.

Witness Radio’s records have documented a disheartening pattern of eviction cases, where private security entities have consistently perpetrated violence against vulnerable communities. These entities have acted with impunity, leaving the marginalized with no means of defense except vacating their own land.

In the face of escalating violent evictions, a directive was issued in March 2023 by the Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development, Honorable Judith Nabakooba Nalule. This directive explicitly forbade armed groups from participating in evictions, emphasizing the government’s capacity to conduct lawful evictions through its security agencies. Regrettably, the distressing surge of violent evictions has displayed a blatant disregard for this directive, persisting at an alarming rate.

While a handful of suspects have been apprehended in connection to the Minister’s shooting incident, and charges of threatening violence have been imposed against them, these actions must set a precedent. The police must intensify efforts to enforce the recent ministerial order, presidential orders aimed at curbing the menace of armed thugs, and security guards committing unlawful evictions under the directives of land grabbers.

Witness Radio is deeply concerned with the distressing surge in unlawful land evictions, often executed with the complicity of government forces, armed individuals, and private security guards.

This concerning trend continues unabated, inflicting severe harm upon local communities. The incident involving gunfire during the Minister’s presence serves as a stark reminder of the undue influence wielded by land grabbers, who exploit their power to destabilize communities.

It is glaringly evident that these orchestrated land evictions are the handiwork of influential interests that openly defy legal mandates and employ violent means to advance their agendas. Such actions not only infringe upon the fundamental rights of citizens but also pose a dire threat to the security and stability of the communities affected.

In light of these deeply distressing developments, we urgently beseech the President of Uganda, Mr. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni Tibuhaburwa, to take decisive and resolute action. We implore him to rein in the actions of individuals associated with land grabbers and to ensure the unwavering protection of citizens’ rights.

Accountability must prevail for those responsible for these heinous acts, and robust measures must be instituted to prevent further harm to vulnerable communities. Witness Radio stands steadily committed to the pursuit of justice and the safeguarding of the land and environmental rights of all Ugandans.

…………..END…………..

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STATEMENTS

EACJ TO GIVE A RULING ON THE PRELIMINARY OBJECTIONS RAISED IN THE EACOP CASE

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By Witness Radio, AFIEGO and Cefroht under the Hotpots program

June15, 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       Kampala, Uganda

EACJ TO GIVE A RULING ON THE PRELIMINARY OBJECTIONS RAISED IN THE EACOP CASE 

On April 5, 2023, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) First Instance Division at Arusha-Tanzania closed the hearing on the preliminary objections. The preliminary objection had been raised by the governments of Uganda, and Tanzania and the secretary general of the East African Community (EAC) in response to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) case filed by civil society groups from Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya who are challenging the construction of the EACOP.

The preliminary objection raised by the respondent sought to dismiss the case before the main hearing, claiming that the court does not have the power to hear the case because it lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the human rights violations.

The respondents also claim that the EACJ does not have the power to entertain the case since it was brought outside of two months contrary to the East African Community Treaty (EAC).

Lastly, the respondents also argued that the pleadings in the main case were not verified.

At the hearing, both parties were given chance to make summary oral submission. In response to the objections, the applicants (Natural Justice, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Centre for Strategic Litigation and the Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), CEFROHT, Natural Justice Kenya (NJ) and Center for strategic Litigation limited (CSL) presented evidence to show that the EACJ had jurisdiction to hear the case. They submitted that the case was filed in time and the question of limitation could not be entertained.

The applicants further asserted that the pleadings were verified and, in any case, there was no formality for verification of pleadings.

After the submissions by the parties, the court indicated that the ruling would be delivered on notice and at a later date.

“We are hopeful that the objections will be dismissed because the EACOP project is critical in terms of environmental, social, and economic survival for the people of East Africa and it would be unfortunate for a regional court to allow baseless objections to stop the main case from being heard on its merits. 

Nearly three years since filing, the case has not advanced beyond the preliminary stages. The affected community’s situation and the emerging science from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on worsening climate impacts on vulnerable countries, we hope the court will make a swift determination and consider this important case on its merits.” Dickens Kamugisha CEO at AFIEGO states.

In the main case which was filed in November 2020 by the applicants, there is sufficient evidence indicating that the EACOP project violates several provisions of the EAC Treaty and other national, regional, and international laws, treaties, and conventions. The project impacts critical ecosystems including forests, wetlands, national parks and game reserves, lakes and rivers, communities where families deliver their sustenance, and others.

The project is also a danger to climate change and its negative impacts far outweigh its project economic benefits.

Specifically, the main case seeks the following remedies:

  • A declaration that the sighing of the HGA and IGA by Uganda and Tanzania violates both national and international laws.
  • A declaration that the execution of the EACOP project in legally protected areas contravenes the EAC Treaty.
  • A permanent injunction against the respondents from constructing the pipeline in protected areas in Uganda and Tanzania.
  • An order that the respondents compensate all the project-affected persons (PAPs) for the loss already incurred due to the restrictions issued on their property by the EACOP project developers.

“Often, the push by CSOs to challenge their governments to refuse global north companies keen to invest in harmful projects is a David vs Goliath affair that can only find justice in courts. We, therefore, trust the litigation process to give the vulnerable communities an opportunity to be heard – give facts about why they’re opposed to this project, the potential harm to their biodiversity, and why it would be in everyone’s best interest to divest to renewable energy projects.” David Kabanda CEO at CERFROTH says.

*****************************ENDS******************************

For more information, contact:

Ms Diana Nabiruma
Senior Communications Officer, AFIEGO
dnabiruma@afiego.org
Mr. Lubega Jonathan
Programme Manager, CEFROHT
lubega@cefroht.og

Mr. Tonny Katende,
Research and Media, Witness Radio.
news@witnessradio.org

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