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Oxfam Report 2011: When Indigenous communities named Rwanda nationals by investor to run away from corporate accountability

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By witnessradio.org Team as extracted from Author’s report…

A very different story was told by the New Forest company sent to audit NFC for the FSC certification of its Namwasa plantation in Mubende.

The auditors noted the ongoing land dispute when they visited the area in February 2010: ‘in excess of 540 households (mostly from Rwanda) have recently illegally settled on Namwasa FMU. They have erected a large number of structures and started cultivating agricultural fields.’ According to the auditors, the government had made repeated attempts to persuade the people to leave. To facilitate this process, they said, the company offered to pay compensation, but the government declined this as it would set ‘an unacceptable national precedent.’

When the auditors returned later that year to check on progress, they were reassured that, ‘Encroachers were allowed to harvest their annual crops and remove their structures and other portable properties. By 1 March 2010, the company surveyed the land and found that all illegal settlers on the plantation had voluntarily vacated the reserve… There were no incidences of injury to the encroachers or forceful eviction reported during this process.’

The FSC certifies forestry investments that adhere to best operating practices regarding labour, social, and environmental issues. While the FSC’s Principles and Criteria require the protection of local rights of ownership, use, or access, the certification of operations sometimes falls short of this requirement. Oxfam believes this is the case for the FSC certification of NFC’s plantation in Mubende, as the nature of the evictions appears to constitute a disregard for these rights. For instance, FSC Principle 2 on tenure and use rights and responsibilities requires that ‘appropriate mechanisms shall be employed to resolve disputes over tenure claims and use rights’ and that ‘disputes of substantial magnitude involving a significant number of interests will normally disqualify an operation from being certified.’ Principle 4, on community relations and worker’s rights, requires appropriate mechanisms ‘for providing fair compensation in the case of loss or damage affecting the legal or customary rights, property, resources, or livelihoods of local peoples.’ NFC cited, in a letter to Oxfam, a surveillance audit report conducted by the FSC in June 2010, which concluded that ‘the company has followed peaceful means and acted responsibly to resolve the issue of encroachment and currently there are no tenure and/or use right disputes of substantial magnitude to affect the activities of the company.’ However, in light of the pending court cases, involving significant numbers of claimants, as well as the communities’ reports that no compensation was provided for losses of property and livelihoods, Oxfam does not see how FSC Principles 2 and 4 can have been adhered to.

The IFC has Performance Standards relating to the rights of local people facing ‘involuntary resettlement’ similar to those of the FSC. The IFC reviewed NFC’s Namwasa operation as part of the due diligence for its $7m equity investment in Agri-Vie, a private equity agribusiness fund whose portfolio includes NFC. On the one hand, the IFC concluded that NFC had been unable to comprehensively apply the principles guiding resettlement in IFC’s Performance Standard on land acquisition and involuntary resettlement. This standard recognises that project-related land acquisition and restrictions on land use can have an adverse impact on communities using the land and therefore requires that affected communities are provided with compensation, resettlement, and livelihood restoration.69 Yet, because this was a case of government- led settlement and because NFC had demonstrated, in IFC’s view, ‘all possible efforts to engage and collaborate with the Government agency,’ the IFC was satisfied that NFC demonstrated compliance with the standard ‘to the extent allowed by the Government.’ The IFC assessment does not cover NFC’s Kiboga operations.

The EIB also has Environmental and Social Principles and Standards for the projects that it finances. The EIB funded the expansion of NFC’s Namwasa operation through a €5m loan, together with a €650,000 subsidy grant to finance the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) work. Like the IFC, the EIB also supports NFC indirectly via a $12m investment in Agri-Vie. The EIB says it was aware of land disputes between communities and the NFC and the risk this posed to the project. It says that, irrespective of the outcome of the ongoing legal procedures, it is satisfied by the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment, and that it believes NFC to have acted within its rights. The EIB says it considers the project to be fully in line with its Environmental and Social Principles and Standards. These include a standard on involuntary resettlement that requires that ‘people whose livelihoods are negatively affected by a project should have their livelihoods improved or at minimum restored and/or adequately compensated for any losses incurred.’ Again the EIB does not appear to have assessed the social impacts of NFC’s Kiboga operations.

HSBC bank has invested around $10m in NFC, has 20 per cent ownership in the company, and also has a seat on the NFC board. It made its investment in NFC conditional upon the company making adequate progress towards certification from the FSC.72 HSBC also has a number of sustainability policies for ‘sensitive sectors’, including a Forest Land and Forest Products Sector Policy, and says that NFC meets the Bank’s sustainability requirements for this the sector. However, HSBC’s policies (and those of other investors) rely heavily on assurances provided by the independent confirmation of external bodies, like FSC, and in Oxfam’s view this case highlights serious failures in those processes of independent assessment

The NFC denies any role in evicting local communities in Mubende and Kiboga, claiming that the government would be responsible for any evictions. The company says, ‘Evictions from government land – which go on in Uganda every day – are solely in the hands of the government and its designated authorities such as the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the National Forestry Authority, and the Ministry of Lands. We are expressly prohibited from dialogue and interaction from any illegal encroachers.’

Equally, the company says, ‘as licensees we are expressly prohibited from offering anyone on government land any compensation.’

The Ugandan government, at local and national levels, appears to have played a central role in the evictions in Mubende and Kiboga. International rights standards are clear that governments are the primary duty bearers for the respect, protection, and promotion of the rights of their citizens.

Until the mid-2000s, authorities had seemed to tolerate or even endorse local communities’ rights to the land in some instances. For example, in Mubende, descendants of war veterans were offered land with approval of the local government authority, and people’s applications to convert from customary to freehold or leasehold title, or to register public land for agricultural purchases, were being processed by authorities. In Kiboga, local councils and administrative structures representing the evictees were recognised by the government. The Minister of General Duties, wrote in 2004 of 20,000 people in Luwunga Forest, ‘these people have stayed in this place since the early 1970s.’ This attitude began to shift, however, particularly with the creation of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) in 2003, according to Ugandan NGO ACODE, which studied the role of the NFA towards ‘encroachers’.

To be continued…

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Business & Human Rights: Industrial Park Development in Buikwe is dispossessing hundreds of Native Families…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Buikwe – Uganda – Close to 1000 families in Namabere landing site, Buikwe District are forcefully being evicted off their land to give way for an industrial park, witnessradio.org has learned.

The industrial park which measures approximately 329.5 Ha, along the shores of Lake Victoria, is the brainchild of Magan Patel, the head of Nile Group of Companies. It is not clear whether the park authorities obtained the social and environmental impact assessment from environmental regulatory bodies as it is adjacent to the lake.

witnessradio.org findings indicate that so far the park has attracted about 26 companies amongst others include; Nile Agro Ltd; Nile Aluminum Ltd; Nile Batteries Ltd; Nile Wheat Ltd; Auro Meera Paper Ltd; Modern Distillers Ltd; Modern Laminates Ltd; Nile GM Plastics Ltd;  Modern Rubber Ltd; and Cable Ltd and many others.

According to the affected persons, GM Sugar Company one of the companies targeting their land, since November 2020 with the help of Buikwe police has been forcing natives to receive payment in form of transport on a gunpoint to vacate the land. The payment ranges from 100,000 – 200,000 Ugandan shillings to residents of the area to vacate their land.

“Imagine at a gunpoint, someone is paid Uganda Shillings 100,000, his/her properties get destroyed and your forced to vacate where you earn a living. How do you feel? Do you know how hard this is?” angrily asked a 45-year-old Bayati Kafuuko.

Bayati, a mother of six (6) said that she has nowhere to go and left with nothing to feed her family since all her property was destroyed by the armed men.

“What can that money do, it can’t even meet transport costs,” added Bayati.

Several affected persons revealed that before the eviction, there was neither consultation and concession to the project nor valuation and fair compensation of their property.

“Ever since the attack started we live in fear, we cannot sleep because most of our houses were pulled down. All our fish was taken by soldiers, we have nothing to eat,” said a 58-year-old Francis Obiire.

He added that he cannot accept being illegally evicted on land he has lived on since his birth.

“My father has lived on this land since 1950. I was born here in 1962. With this little money, which land do they expect me to buy,” Obiire added.

The chairman of Namabere village Mr. Ochen Peter said his people are being intimidated without due process is followed.

He further said that workers of the investors under the protection of police carry out daily patrolling of the area just to intimidate residents.

When witnessradio.org contacted Ssekamatte Musa, one of the GM Sugar company managers, he declined to speak.

“I am busy, I will call you,” he said.

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Two Witness Radio members, 26 others have been released on bail after spending close to 3 years in jail…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Mubende – Uganda – the High Court in Mubende has released two Witness Radio members and 26 others on bail after spending 28 months in prison. In late 2018, all the 28 were targeted and arrested because of their role in empowering the community to lawfully desist an illegal eviction, charged with 9 counts including murder and aggravated robbery, and remanded.

This was the second bail attempt after the 2019 bail for two Witness Radio members Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya was rejected by the then Mubende High Court resident Judge Justice Joseph Murangira on pretty flimsy excuses.

Before the arrest of Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya, the duo had used the media platforms local radio stations, and community meetings to call upon Mubende district authorities to intervene and stop an illegal and forceful eviction of 3500 inhabitants off five villages namely; Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana, Kanseera, and Lwensanga in East Division in Mubende municipality by one Kaweesi George.

Also in the line of fighting for the protection of the community’s land, Grace Nantubiro, Ronald Mugwabya, and some members of the press at one point were waylaid and kidnapped by laborers of the businessman. Mubende police rescued them but the perpetrators remained scot-free.

Due to public pressure, the situation was arrested by the then Mubende district police commander Martin Okoyo and other leaders, stopped the eviction, and ordered the withdraw of the businessman’s casual laborers from the community’s land until the land matter is resolved.

Shortly after the withdrawal, the laborers were secretly returned on the conflicted land in the wee hours in the following night and a fight ensued between businessman’s laborers and some locals. In a process, the life of one Yunusu Tabu was lost. Tabu was a manager of laborers.

The deadly scuffle introduced the criminalization of land rights defense and caused a random arrest that targeted Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya because of their work. Some of the activists namely; Mugisha Focus, Ssekamana Kaloli, Mwikirize Keleti, Ssewanyana Kizza John, Tumwine Moses, Bigirwa Gilbert, Mulindwa Tadeo, Kayesu Patrick, Kyalimpa Tobias, Mugisha Stephen, Mwesigye John, Kiiza John Bosco, Byakatonda Aroon, Manirikiza Elidefunce, Tabalamule William, Kobwemi Christopher,  Kiwanuka Emmanuel, Senkula Charles, Ssemombwe George, Musinguzi Paul, Biryomumisho Fred, Maniriho Forodis,  Habimana Ernest, Byaruhanga Emmanuel, Mwesigye Julius, and Kezaala Saul were severely beaten and tortured by Mubende police during the arrest and as result, some still have visible scars all over their bodies.

The ill-planned arrest and conduct by Mubende police facilitated a land grab of more than 322.5 hectares, registered on Block 168; Plots 19, 22, and 23 in Mubende Municipality, Mubende district.

While appearing before Mubende High Court Judge Justice Isaac Muwata, all the 28 were released on a cash bail of 100,000 Uganda Shillings (one hundred thousand shillings) equivalent to about US dollars 28 while sureties were conditioned UGX 2 million not cash.

Other conditions, the 28 are required to report to the Mubende High Court registrar’s chambers every first Monday of the month.

 

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The World Bank project affected persons have petitioned the court seeking to halt an illegal eviction by capital authority

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By witnessradio.org Team

 

Kampala – Uganda – more than 300 families at Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga Division in Kampala district have today, the 11th January 2021 petitioned the court seeking to restrain the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) from illegally evicting them off their land, which they have lawfully occupied and cultivated for decades.

 

The affected families through Witness Radio lawyers accuse KCCA of hiding under the Public Health Act to issue a demolition notice targeting all properties on the land to give way for construction of a multi-billion drainage channel, which is funded by the World Bank. KCCA is established by an act of Parliament and it’s responsible for the management and administration of the capital city.

 

Specifically, KCCA is using section 72(1) cap 281 of the Public Health Act, to force them off their land without consultation, sensitization, property valuation, and compensation claiming that they (residents) illegally constructed their houses in a wetland.

 

The court action follows Witness Radio and the affected attempted to engage KCCA over the irrational decision however efforts to hear from them were futile.

 

In 2015, KCCA acquired USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was earmarked to construct Lubigi Primary Channel and it’s being used to dispossess poor urban communities without consultation, sensitization, and infringed communities’ right to know and access to information.

 

The 2.58 Kilometers project expected to end later this year, stretches from Bwaise roundabout to Hoima road, southwest of Kampala.

 

The eviction is taking place at the time when the government of Uganda halted all land evictions during the COVID 19 pandemic and the determination of KCCA to forcefully evict the urban poor raises many legal questions.

 

The victims want the court to issue an interim order and temporary injunction to restrain KCCA from implementing the decisions that are being challenged.

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