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Masindi high court finally fixes court dates for Kiryandongo land grab victims



In 2017, all hell broke loose when thousands of families in Kiryandongo district, Western Uganda started fleeing their homes for their dear lives. The move was triggered by the unabated brutal and forceful evictions orchestrated by multinational companies who acquired the interests in the said land for large-scale agriculture.

The eviction had far-reaching consequences on the community. It left broken homes and shattered dreams. Rape and defilement were among the underhand tools employed to break the resistance put up by the smallholder farmers. At all times, arrests, detentions and prosecution defined and still define the relationship between the evicted community and the multinational companies. Not even their lawyers were spared; they too were arrested and detained.

On 30th June 2020 in Busaana-Kimogola village, Kakooko parish, Mutunda Sub County, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) arrested seven lawyers and 6 land rights defenders while collecting evidence to support ongoing human rights enforcement cases against the multinationals: Kiryandongo Sugar limited, Agilis Partners Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited. The brutal and chilling accounts of the state’s excesses against its own citizens were detailed in a report, “Land Grabs at Gunpoint” by AFSA, GRAIN and Witness Radio – Uganda.

“UPDF Soldiers and police officers under the command of the former Kiryandongo District Police Commander Mr. Joseph Bakaleke and his predecessors. They caught us unaware and nobody expected this. We had never been consulted nor compensated. The area was cut off right from the main road and no car would access the eviction premises. No media or human rights defenders were allowed to access the entire villages. The inhuman actions were devastating”. said Joseph Walekula, one of the victims.

Despite a shocking report by three civil societies that revealed gross human rights abuses and violations in Kiryandongo by multinationals, the companies continue to violate the rights of the evictees unabated.

According to the report, more than 35,000 have been evicted by the companies. However, rights activists and land rights defenders claim the numbers are increasing due to the unending evictions. The 2020 report called for independent investigations into the matter and compensation for the affected families. To date, the demands have not been addressed!

But the shocking revelations persist. On 28th February, three armed Field Force Unit officers guarding Agilis partners plantations, led by Byaruhanga Francis, attacked 20-year old Talemwa Eliot in the wee hours of the morning and ordered him to vacate his land. He says he was questioned why he is still living in the company land.

“They came at around 2:00 am, they banged on my door and threatened to set it on fire if I do not open or come out. I opened it but they were armed with a gun and big sticks. I think they wanted to take my life. It was terrible. I had to fight one who had a stick and then ran. I managed to escape but still, they ran over me and hit me with a big stick,” Talemwa added.

He added that all his belongings including 200,000 Ugandan shillings (USD56.7) were taken, and mattresses, clothes, and other household items were thrown outside.

“They failed to catch me and decided to come back for my property at home. I found all of them out while the money had been taken.” he further said in an interview.

The attack on Talemwa happened barely 10 hours after terrible violence was committed at his parent’s home.

According to eyewitnesses, Mr. William Katusime and Namuganza Esther, both parents to Talemwa were violently evicted from their land by a group of 18 people consisting of 8 armed policemen, 7 security guards, and 3 soldiers. Their cassava plantation of 4 acres was destroyed.

“They came with a tractor registration number UAR 643K at around 4:45 pm on Saturday and destroyed everything. I had over 150 acres of land.” Katusime narrated.

These and other atrocities committed forced Walekula, Katusime, and other residents affected by the three companies’ forced evictions to petition the High Court of Uganda at Masindi to seek, among others, compensation for the violations of their human rights and the destroyed properties, and to halt the forced evictions.

Witness Radio Uganda through M/s Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates, helped the communities to file the applications seeking justice and and the return of their grabbed lands.

“We cannot sit while the companies are grabbing our land. We have been here for decades. Our families are broken. We are broke. People are dying. We have no food to eat because we are restricted from using our land. This is why we ran to court for our rescue in getting justice,” explains Mr. Otyaluk Ben Wilson, one of the affected residents in Nyamutende.

According to the lawyers, all the cases have been fixed for hearing at the High Court. The Masindi High Court fixed 20th April 2022 for hearing of Miscellaneous cause number 11 of 2020 of Joseph Mangfu and 11 others vs. Agilis Partners, 21st April for hearing case Miscellaneous Cause Number 12 of 2020 of Otyaluk Ben Wilson and 8 others vs. Kiryandongo sugar Company and 30th of May 2022 for hearing the application for Ssebisolo Godfrey, Miscellaneous cause Number 007 of 2020 vs. great seasons SMC limited company.

“This means a lot to us. We are happy for the success we have so far achieved. We thank our representatives for the support,” Joseph said.

Meanwhile, the Kiryandongo women affected by the forced evictions community have written to the US ambassador to Uganda, Ambassador Natalie E Brown, seeking a remedy and redress on the forced, violent, and inhuman evictions orchestrated by the Agilis Company that is funded by the US.

Represented by Akiteng Stella, the affected communities including Kisaranda, Kanani, Gologosa, kololo, Kamison, Kamigora, Techwa, Ndoi, Nyamuntende Sub- Counties: Mutunda and Kitwara claim they have extremely suffered as a result of the company’s excesses.

Residing on Ranch 20/21 in Kiryandongo, the community says their land was forcefully grabbed by the Agilis partners in 2017 and has since evicted them without following the necessary due process.

According to the letter, residents have been greatly disturbed and negatively affected by the projects they established in their community. It reads:

“…First and foremost, the company hires men who come from wherever and these men are busy raping my fellow women and, since most of them are not married, they end up satisfying their sexual [urges] by raping our women thus infecting them with sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS, Gonorrhea and Syphilis among others. Some of our young girls are raped and they end up becoming pregnant thus being forced to drop out of school.

They demolished our schools, hospitals, churches and destroyed our gardens too so we have no land for farming, and yet agriculture was a source of income.

After evicting us from the land, some of our husbands abandoned us with our children so without land for farming it’s really hard for us to be in a position to sustain our families.
Our water sources like wells were destroyed which has caused water shortage and those that are left are far and the path that leads us to the water sources are inaccessible and are risky because they are surrounded by plantations and the rapists usually use that opportunity to rape our women…”
…We are requesting you to give us audience so that we can air out our issues on how Agilis coming to our community has caused us a lot of suffering as a community, infringed on our human rights, greatly affected our lively hood and increased poverty to mention but a few yet we believe these projects are meant to better our lives. We also request you to carry out investigations on the company whose projects you’re funding because it is not exhibiting American values. Is this company whose employees’ rape and defile American?”

Brief background about the multinational companies.

Agilis partners.

Agilis Partners is owned by twin brothers from the US, Phillip Prinz, and Benjamin Prinz. In 2013 the brothers established Joseph Initiative, a maize trading company that sources from a network of out-grower farmers in Masindi District who were previously doing contract production for British American Tobacco.

The Joseph Initiative has received financial support from several sources. In 2013, it received a US$1.5 million equity investment from the Dutch billionaire De Rijcke family, via its registered charity in the UK, Dutch OakTree Foundation, and DOB Equity (DOB Foundation), a private equity vehicle that manages the “charitable” investments of the De Rijcke family.

In 2017, Dutch Oak Tree sold its minority shares in Joseph Initiative to Agilis Partners but remains involved in the company through a loan that is due in 2022.

In 2013, Joseph Initiative also received a $500,000 loan from the United Nation’s Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), via the Dutch Trust Fund arrangement set up by the Netherlands Ministry for Development Cooperation to support CFC projects with co-financing contributions.10 And in 2014, the UK DFID funded Food Trade program granted Joseph Initiative £981,311(US$1280, 59), under a 3-year project.

Kiryandongo Sugar

Kiryandongo Sugar is owned by members of the powerful Rai family, a Kenyan-based business group that owns numerous plantation, food, metals, and timber companies in east and southern Africa. Over the past decade and a half, the Rai Group has become one of the continent’s largest players in the production and import of sugar. Several of its sugar companies are involved in land conflicts, including the displacement of 5,000 people by Hoima Sugar Limited in Kijayo, Uganda.

Great Seasons SMC Limited

Great Seasons SMC Limited, owned by Sudan’s investor based in Dubai. Company records indicate only that it is owned by one Yasir Adam Ahmedai Abdalla.

Original source: Ugandan Land Defenders Via Farm Land Grab


Breaking: A missing community environmental defender was found dumped by the roadside.



By Witness Radio team.

An environmental human rights defender abducted five days ago while in Kampala has been found abandoned on a roadside in Kyenjonjo district, Witness Radio has confirmed.

Speaking to Witness Radio, a member at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI) revealed that Stephen Kwikiriza was discovered at around 8:30 pm yesterday, abandoned on the roadside in Kyenjojo District. He added that the defender was severely beaten and is currently receiving medical attention at one of the hospitals in the country.

“We learned from his wife, whom he called, that he had been dumped in Kyenjojo. She informed one of our colleagues. We, therefore, had to find a means of rescuing him. He, however, was badly beaten and is not in good health,” he added.

Stephen Kwikiriza, a member of the King Fisher Project Affected Community, also working with the EGI, was abducted in Kampala by plain-clothed men, believed to be from Uganda Peoples Defense forces (UPDF) on 4th of June 2024 Tuesday morning.

According to sources, upon his (Stephen) abduction, he managed to send a text message to one of his colleagues at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI), a local organization supporting project-affected persons, which reported a missing person.

The Kingfisher project is an oil project in western Uganda on the shores of Lake Albert, developed by the Chinese company China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), of which TotalEnergiesis the main shareholder. The project will extract oil and be transported by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

According to a statement from the Stop EACOP Coalition members, Stephen had been receiving various threats from UPDF officers deployed in the Kingfisher area. The coalition members believe these threats are retaliation for being outspoken against human rights abuses and the threats to his community’s livelihood posed by the Kingfisher oil project.

His abduction comes barely a few weeks after the forceful arrests of the seven environment activists namely Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha.

On May 27th, 2024, the seven were arbitrarily rounded up by armed police in Kampala outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda while delivering a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On June 8, 2024, over 115 international civil society organizations wrote a statement in response to Kwikiriza’s abduction calling upon the Ugandan authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Stephen Kwikiriza.

In the statement signed by Both Ends, Bank Track, and SOMO among others, they called on Ugandan authorities to cease all forms of harassment of civil society organizations and community members living in and speaking out on the EACOP Kingfisher project and all other related oil projects, including the Tilenga project, and guarantee in all circumstances that they can carry out their legitimate human

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Seven Environmental activists against EACOP have been charged and released on police bond.



By Witness Radio team.

Jinja Road police have preferred a charge of unlawful assembly against the seven environmental activists brutally arrested on May 27th, 2024, by armed police in Kampala for protesting against the intended financing of the East African crude oil pipeline project (EACOP) by the Chinese gov’t.

Section 66 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, states that any person who takes part in an unlawful assembly commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year upon conviction.

The seven include Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha. The group got arrested outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda in an attempt to deliver a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On May 27th, seven protesters chose to sit outside the embassy, vowing not to leave until embassy officials received their protest letter, which contained grievances and demands. However, this did not happen. Instead, the police swung into action, brutally rounding up the protesters before throwing them into a police patrol and taken to Jinja Road police. The arrest occurred before any embassy officials had engaged with the protesters.

According to activists, the EACOP project has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis.

The EACOP is a project spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

According to Uganda’s State House website, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Thursday, April 4th, 2024, received a letter from the President of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, expressing his unwavering support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP).

“Your Excellency, I received your letter, and I am very happy to let you know that I am in full support of EACOP. I believe that it will enhance socio-economic development for the region. I am confident that with the strong cooperation between our nations, this project will be a success,” message President Museveni on his X platform read in part.

On Saturday last week, Civil Society Organizations advocating for energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and appealed to the Chinese President to drop his interest in funding the EACOP pipeline after several banks and insurance companies had abandoned the Total-led project.

The government of China has now joined the list of entities, including Total Energies, in funding the controversial and potentially disastrous project that has continued to criminalize those who speak about its negative impacts.

The seven activists will report back to Jinja Road police station on June 4th, 2024.

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Breaking: Over 600 attacks against defenders have been recorded in the year 2023 globally- BHRRC report.



By Witness Radio-Uganda.

The attacks and criminalization of land rights defenders, environmental activists, and climate activists have become common tactics employed by the authorities in the world to silence, suppress opposition, and perpetuate impunity against those that protect the climate, environment, and land rights.

The escalating scale of attacks against people defending our rights and climate from business-related harms, according to the report by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in 2023 titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023 shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and illustrates how voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop and remedy harm.

The report documented 630 instances of attacks directly affecting an estimated 20,000 people, raising concerns about business-related harms in the whole World where over three-quarters (78%) of these attacks were against people acting to protect the climate, environmental, and land rights.

According to the report, many attacks involved collusion between state, private sector, and other non-state actors occurring in contexts where there are high levels of impunity, adding that the direct perpetrators of attacks were largely state actors, with police and judicial systems being the most common perpetrators, followed by the military/armed forces. The highest number of attacks were connected with the mining (165), agribusiness (117), and oil, gas & coal (112) sectors.

According to the Resource Centre, Brazil leads the tally in the World with the highest number of attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm in 2023 with (68) cases followed by, India (59), Mexico (55), Honduras (44), the Philippines (36), USA (27), Iran (24), and Colombia (22), among others.

In 2023, 86% of the cases we tracked were non-lethal including arbitrary detention (157), physical violence (81), intimidation and threats (80), strategic lawsuits against public participation (38), and others. The Resource Centre also recorded 87 killings of defenders speaking out about business-related harms in 2023. Additionally, the Centre has revealed most attacks – both lethal and non-lethal against HRDs go uninvestigated and unpunished, promoting a culture of impunity and fueling further attacks.

In Africa, Uganda has recorded the highest number of cases, with 18 incidents reported. The East Africa Crude Oil pipeline stands out as a focal point for most of these attacks, with individuals opposing this major infrastructure project being targeted by the state.

The report revealed one of the incidents where the Police officers refused to let the students enter parliament. Most were chased away, but four students, including Kajubi Maktom, were caught by police and allegedly kicked, punched, and beaten with wood, and brutally arrested. They spent the weekend in Luzira prison, where Maktom contracted tuberculosis, before being charged with public nuisance and released on bail. Since then Maktom has continued to receive threats from unknown persons.

Several reports including those of Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, and Witness Radio among others have published reports describing patterns of arbitrary arrests, threats, office raids, and intimidation against individuals who have raised concerns about EACOP and other oil developments in Uganda.

The 630 instances of attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms recorded in 2023 only are part of a consistent, ongoing pattern of attacks against HRDs protecting our rights and planet globally, with more than 5,300 attacks recorded since January 2015 by the Resource Centre.

The report calls upon States to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of HRDs and for business actors to respect the rights of HRDs by taking immediate action on these recommendations.

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