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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

More women are going to be sexually abused and forced to lose their land to the rich/investors as Uganda goes into a semi lockdown of 42 days

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Opondo entering with a bicycle in her muddy thatched house.

By witnessradio.org Team

Opondo Cathy, (not real name due to the sensitivity of the matter), has never owned even a small radio in her entire life. This is a clear indication that the villager may not be aware of critical developments in the country. And this does not come as a shock, since the first time she heard the news of the COVID-19 in Uganda was when she visited her neighbor who’s 500 meters away from her home, barely a month after Uganda had even registered a first case COVID-19.

Little did she know that land grabbers would take advantage of the lockdown to sexually abuse and humiliate, subdue demolish her house and grab her land.

Before COVID-19 misfortune struck, Opondo lived peacefully on her 6-acre piece of land, where she used to grow crops like banana, cassava, beans, and maize for both home consumption and sale. And experienced a happy life in her muddy structured house with her four children.

She could properly feed her family, and offer basic needs, but now, she rents in a nearby village, working like Trojans to find ends meet.

There were many violent attempts to evict her and others on their land but they would always resist. This time around, the grabbers resorted to sexually abuse her because she’s a woman as a tool to weaken the poor lady and force her to leave the only source of income.

According to her, a dozen of women and young girls have been sexually abused and harassed in their area, because they resisted surrendering their land to the company.

“We withstood all their beatings, destruction of our property, arrests, but the rape thing was intolerable,” she adds while weeping.

On the fateful day of 18th August 2020, Opondo had gone to pick her pieces of stuff at a nearby Bweyale town. While returning home at about 8:00 pm, she was attacked and sexually abused by a private security guard attached to one of the multinational companies involved in large-scale agribusinesses. The rapist attacker her from behind and tried to strangle her neck and grabbed her mouth, and hit her to the ground.

“I struggled with him, but he overpowered me, he put me down and raped me. I yelled louder for my rescue, but the neighbors were far. As soon as the rapist had them coming, he ran away,” she adds.

“The louder yelling brought those nearby to come to my rescue, they did not even bother to ask me what had happened, because I already looked victimized. They decided to look for the rapist. Whereas I had a walking disability after the horrific incident, we went to the company offices where I always used to see him but unfortunately, he was not there,” she further reveals.

During the first lockdown, public transport had been banned, which made it hard to reach out to a police post for help since it was distant.

After two days, Opondo managed to get to the area police to report the incident. In her own words, the officer on duty (a policeman) asked her if she had evidence and if that was not assaulted. When she asked for a police medical form to be examined, she was referred to a nearby Health Centre Three (III) with a small chit of a paper indicating that she was assaulted not raped. On meeting the medical officer, she handed over the chit and was examined on grounds of assault, not rape.

“I could hardly walk and had severe pain in my genital organs, which even a blind person could see, but because the police work with the multinational companies to evict us, they said I was only assaulted not raped, the mother of four adds.

According to Opondo, she had already received several threats and warnings from the agents of her evictors (Agilis Partners Limited). “They used to tell me, if I don’t leave the land I should not regret what will happen to me. Indeed I now regret,” she reveals.

Despite being raped is not even enough, her house was later torched by agents of Agilis Partners who claimed that she had illegally occupied their land. On that day they (her family) slept in cold and exposed to vagrancies of nature.

Agilis Partners Limited is among the three multinational companies that have violently and illegally evicted the poor communities off their land in Kiryandongo district without a court order or following due processes.

Other multinationals include Great Seasons SMC Limited, solely owned by a Sudanese investor based in Dubai, and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited owned by RAI Dynasty.

In the same village, Opondo and others, close to 100 were evicted to pave way for large-scale grain and oilseeds farming business. The company claimed it had lawfully acquired the land.

“I am an emotional wreck, my life was ruined, if I can’t afford to provide for my family, do I have any meaning?” she angrily asks.

“I always burned the candle at both ends to be able to provide for my family, but all their dreams were shuttered, they no longer attend school. I had no money to feed them and had to transfer them to the village, they currently live with their 78 aged grandmas somewhere in northern Uganda”, she adds.

Although the kids were transferred, they face a lot of destitutions due because of the grandmother who can hardly meet their basic needs.

“Even when they went to the village I still the caretaker of the family. I do distasteful works that I don’t want them to know,” she reveals.

While Uganda starts its 42 days semi- COVID-19 lockdown, it is notably clear that a significant number of Ugandans will be sharing the same eviction stories as Opondo’s.

Research findings from Witness Radio show more than 50,000 people across Uganda were subjected to sexual and gender based violence, illegally evicted off their land during the first COVID-19 lockdown, further more women and girls suffered most.

Shortly after Uganda went into a total lockdown on March, 18th 2020, the government through the ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development halted all land evictions throughout the lockdown to comply with the president’s directive of staying at home, but, the evictions suddenly increased as the pandemic gave a total advantage to the opportunists to easily access millions of hectares with the backing of the government and other influential politicians in the country. The first lockdown was later relaxed in mid-August, the same year.

Now, Uganda announced a second semi-lockdown on 6th, June 2021 for 42 days where schools, Worshipping places and inter-district public transport have been burned.

President of Uganda Mr. Yoweri Museveni on a televised address announced 40 new measures to curb the second wave of the pandemic. Among them include, the closure of schools, ban of communal prayers, and public gatherings/workshops all for 42 days, inter-district travel banned for 14 days, private vehicles limited to just 3 people including the driver, and many other measures.

Currently, Uganda has 53,961 COVID-19 confirmed cases, 383 deaths and 47,760 have recovered from the disease.

According to witness radio, evictions will not only live many Ugandans landless but also puts them at higher chances of being sexually abused by people who are supposed to protect them.

Experts say that in a pandemic, an eviction is particularly dangerous, leading a person to double up with friends and family in a crowded housing situation that easily accelerates the virus’ speed.

With no guidelines at the moment to protect indigenous and poor people, it is evident that tens of thousands of Ugandans will be affected by the ruthless actions of the land grabbers.

“If the grabbers managed to disregard the previous guidelines and continued to carry out their dubious schemes, what will happen to people now when there are no political heads of ministries including Land? Says, Witness Radio.

In the meantime, earlier today, the Chief Justice of Uganda, Alfonse Owiny Dollo also suspended court hearings and appearances for 42 days as a measure to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The Chief Justice said the move is in line with President Museveni’s directives on prevention and mitigation of the virus.

Whereas the closing of courtrooms makes sense for public health reasons, the delays are likely to create an overwhelming backlog of cases and have legal ramifications, since defendants are guaranteed a speedy and fair trial under the Constitution.

Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Breaking: Mwanga II Court grants bail to two defenders and a Project Affected Person (PAP).

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By Witness Radio team

A Magistrate court sitting at Mwanga II road in Kampala has granted a cash bail to two community land rights defenders and a project-affected person after spending 24 and 21 days on remand respectively.

Defenders; Kabugo Michael and Kasozi Paul Ssengendo and a project-affected person, Charles Sserugo, were charged with conspiracy and obtaining money by pretense before being sent to Luzira prison.

Before being charged and remanded to prison, Kabugo and Kasozi, on several occasions, had been in and out of Old Kampala Police on orders of the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (D/RCC) in charge of Lubaga Division in Kampala Kampala.  RCC is a title given to the president’s representative at either district or division levels.

Both defenders have been mobilizing project affected community in Kawaala, Zone II, to resist forced evictions orchestrated by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and demand justice for all project-affected persons. The project is implemented with funding from the World Bank.

KCCA acquired a loan of over USD 175 from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) in 2015 for the second Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP-2) project. Part of this money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) is to construct the Lubigi Drainage Channel.

Before granting them bail, the court gave stringent conditions namely; each of the accused had to pay paid cash of two million Uganda Shillings (equivalent to 535.06 US Dollars); attend court whenever summoned; directed them not to leave the country; and keep off the prosecution’s investigations.

Section 309 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120 states that the charge of conspiracy takes three (3) years imprisonment on conviction while the maximum sentence of obtaining money by pretense, according to Section 305 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, is a punishment of five years imprisonment on conviction.

His Worship, Byaruhanga Adam, relied on the submissions filed by the defense lawyers, which included presenting substantial sureties. Their sureties were conditioned with 50 Million Uganda Shillings (equivalent to 13,376.50 US Dollars) non-cash.

The Court will resume on the 4th of April 2023 at 10: 00 am East African standard time.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

The ruling of bail applications for the two community defenders and a project-affected person of Kawaala zone is happening today.

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By Witness Radio team.

Mwanga II Magistrate Court in Mengo, in Kampala is hearing bail applications for the two community land rights defenders and a project-affected person (PAP) of Kawaala zone II, in Rubaga division who have been on remand for 14 and 11 days respectively, this morning.

Mwanga II Grade I one Court charged the two community defenders, Mr. Kabugo Micheal and Kasozi Paul Ssengendo, and a project-affected person Mr. Sserugo Charles with conspiracy and obtaining money by pretense and remanded them to Luzira Government prison.

Mr. Kasozi and Sserugo were arrested on Wednesday, 15th February 2023, whereas Mr. Kabugo was arrested on Saturday 18th, 2023 in a morning raid.

Last week, the hearing of the bail applications that had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday, 22nd of February 2023 failed to take off due to the absence of the trial magistrate. Court said he (the trial magistrate) was nursing a sick person.

On the same day, all three appeared the second time before the Grade one Magistrate because the Magistrate His worship Byaruhanga Adam with jurisdiction to hear their case was attending to his sick mother.

According to their lawyers, they sought permission from the grade one magistrate to enter an oral bail application on record which he permitted but denied granting them bail. His Worship Magezi Amon said his Court does not have jurisdiction to grant bail to the accused and requested them to wait for a bail ruling when the trial magistrate returns. 

Section 309 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120 states that the charge of conspiracy takes three (3) years imprisonment on conviction while the maximum sentence of obtaining money by pretense, according to Section 305 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, is a punishment of five years imprisonment on conviction.

The two defenders have been facing reprisals for leading their community to push back a forced eviction by a World Bank Project implemented by KCCA.

All the three who are expected to appear in Court today, are residents of Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga Division, Kampala district, an area Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) intended to forcefully evict locals and construct a drainage channel, a project funded by the Word bank.

KCCA acquired a loan of over USD 175 from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) in 2015 for the second Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP-2) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was meant for construct the Lubigi Drainage Channel.

His Worship Byaruhanga Adam is expected to return this morning, 1st March 2023, Wednesday to deliver the ruling of bail applications.

 

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

A Court in Kiryandongo releases two community land rights defenders and eight farmers on bail.

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By Witness Radio team

The Magistrate Court in Kiryandongo District has granted bail to the two (2) community land rights defenders and eight (8) farmers of Nyamutende village, Kibeka Parish, Kiryandongo sub-county in Kiryandongo District who were charged with three counts of threatening violence.

All the ten accused were released on a non-cash bail of 500,000 UGX equivalent to 135.4 USD, while the sureties were conditioned with 2,000,000 Million Uganda shillings (541.6 USD) non-cash. The defense lawyers presented 12 sureties.

The two community defenders and eight farmers had spent 13 days on remand at Kigumba prison. On 8th February 2023, the District Police Commander (DPC) Muhangi Edson invaded homes in the wee hours and violently arrested two land rights defenders and ten farmers plus two minors. The minors were later released from Kiryandongo police cells.

Among the persons granted bail include Mulekwa David and Mulenga Jackson (community land rights defenders). At the same time, local farmers released are Kanunu Innocent, Musabe Steven, Munyankole Enock, Lokong Gabriel, Ntambala Geoffrey, Kagenyi Steven, Mukombozi Frank, and Kuzara Frank.

On 09th/02/2023, the ten (10) were charged by the Magistrate Court in Kiryandongo with three counts of threatening violence, and all entered a plea of not guilty. Threatening violence takes a punishment of four years imprisonment upon conviction.

The prosecution alleges that the victims on 01/02/2023 threatened to injure, assault, or kill Wakoko Robert, Kilenda David, and Kato Francis. The trio is a laborer of Somdium Limited, which is forcefully evicting locals off their land without compensation, and resettlement.

The prosecution led two other witnesses totaling five namely the investigative officer of Kiryandongo police Businge Patrick, and Balute Isaac, the Somdiam Company Limited manager.

Before the bail was granted, the prosecution first claimed that they were not served with documents of the sureties despite the defendants’ lawyers having proof. This forced the defendant’s lawyers to ask for leave of court to settle the matter.

The prosecution further told the Court, in their reply submission that the sureties were not substantial, asking for the court not to grant them bail.

The defendant’s lawyers submitted their rejoinder which was relied on by the magistrate to give the accused bail stating that the sureties are substantial and the case is bailable.

The imprisonment of the community defenders and farmers came after their continued resistance to leave their land which accommodates over 1000 homesteads.

According to information gathered by Witness Radio Uganda, Somdiam Company Limited was incorporated in Uganda in 2011 and deals in imports of assorted food commodities among these are rice, sugar, vegetable cooking oil, biscuits, salt, tomato paste, powdered milk, pasta & spaghetti and are well established with professional operations is interested in growing sugar canes in Kiryandongo district.

The Court was adjourned to the 21st of March 2023 at 9:00 am East African Standard time.

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