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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Police in Mityana district arrests 10 land rights defenders, local council leaders

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By witnessradio.org Team

10 land rights defenders and local council leaders have been arrested and interrogated by Mityana district police for blocking a “landlord” from fencing off their homes and gardens without adhering to legal land acquisition procedures including compensation.

 

Uganda’s land Act of 1998 section 29 (2) states that a “Bona fide occupant” means a person who before the coming into force of the Constitution— (a) had occupied and utilized or developed any land unchallenged by the registered owner or agent of the registered owner for twelve years or more; or (b) had been settled on land by the Government or an agent of Government, which may include a local authority.

 

According to land rights defenders and local leaders, they have lawfully occupied and cultivated the land for over three decades and some were born on the land.

 

Since 2015 and without a court order, one Baijuka Moses claiming to be a land lord hired casual laborers to fence off people’s homes and plantations without prior notice or holding a meeting, which natives have been blocking.    

 

Those arrested and recorded statements at Mityana police station include Nakatembe village  local council one (1) Katwere Moses and a councillor to Bulera sub county Myalo Dirisa. Other land rights defenders arrested include; Nakitandwe Rose, Bongole Richard, Kigula Ronald, Mmeeme Lawrence Kiyaga Kasim and Sserunjoji John Bosco among others.

 

Natives accuse Mityana police of being one sided and refusing to execute cases reported by them rather prioritizing cases reported by the “landlord”.  

 

They were charged with three counts including malicious damage to property and criminal trespass and released on police bond until February 28th.

DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Uganda: Judicial harassment of environmental and human rights activist Desire Nkurunziza

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UGA 001 / 0923 / OBS 037
Arbitrary detention /
Release /
Judicial harassment
Uganda
September 5, 2023The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Uganda.

Description of the situation:The Observatory has been informed of the arrest and subsequent release of Desire Nkurunziza, an environmental and human rights activist and the elected leader of Nyairongo village, Kikuube district, mid-western region of Uganda. As a member of the Save the Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) community task force, Mr Nkurunziza has been calling out the local and central government authorities about the deforestation of the Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, which has been leased to the Hoima Sugar Limited company, mainly for sugarcane cultivation, by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, South-West region of Uganda. This project is not only affecting the biodiversity of the forest but also the local community, which has been subjected to extortion by land grabbers associated to Hoima Sugar Limited and/or its agents.

On July 16, 2023, two cars came to Desire Nkurunziza’s home in Nyairongo trading center, one of them belonging to a supervisor of Hoima Sugar Ltd and the other to an associate of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner, both known by Mr Nkurunziza. The two men informed him that two of his village members were arrested in the forest, now a sugar cane plantation, and he agreed to go with them to help his constituents. Upon reaching the plantation, he was handed over to armed Hoima Sugar Ltd personnel, who started beating him and then recorded a video accusing him of illegally cutting down sugar cane. He was then taken to the Kikuube police station by the same Hoima Sugar Ltd car, where he was arrested on the grounds of “incitement of violence” and “criminal trespass” under Section 51 and 302 of the Penal Code Act, respectively, and detained there by the police for two days. He requested temporary release from police bond – custody -, but his request was denied.

On July 18, 2023, he applied for Court bail, which was denied even though he fulfilled all the requirements set by the Court and no reason was provided. He was then remanded to Kiryatete prison.

After reporting back to court on July 24, Desire Nkurunziza was released on Court bail. He had to pay a cash bail of 300,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately 74 Euros) in addition to satisfying all the conditions for release, with the obligation to report back on August 31, 2023, to the Chief Magistrates Court of Hoima, which is handling the matter. During his audience, the magistrate informed him that he would need to report back once again to the Court on November 2, 2023, without providing any reasons.

The Observatory recalls that the Bugoma Forest is the second biggest natural forest reserve in Uganda. In recent years, it has been claimed by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Western Uganda, which obtained a land title through irregular ways before it leased it to sugar manufacturer Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane cultivation, to establish an urban centre, develop eco-tourism, and restore a portion of the forest reserve. Before leasing the land to Hoima Sugar Limited, an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) certificate was issued by the National Environment Management Authority, in circumstances that have been contested by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) in courts of Law. The contestation is based on the allegations that the assessment was made without consulting the local community, even though this issue clearly concerns them. A trial which aims to annul the ESIA certificate is ongoing in front of the Court of appeal.

The Observatory further recalls that this is not the first time that defenders of the Bugoma Forest are targetted for their legitimate human rights activities. In September 2020, nine environmental rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested for defending the Bugoma Forest, including Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, respectively team leader and Head of Programmes of Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), who were first arrested on their way to a radio talk show to discuss the dangers of sugar cane cultivation in the Bugoma Forest and call on peaceful protests, as well as Sandra Atusinguza, member of AFIEGO who went to the police station to negotiate their release and got arrested herself. These various acts of harassment against environmental and human rights defenders, in addition to the numerous arrests of local residents defending their right to access their own land, show the will of the local and national governments to intimidate and silence them.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Desire Nkurunziza, as well as the other above mentioned human rights defenders, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

Source: fidh.org

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Uganda: Targeting community land and environmental defenders with criminal offenses is rising as two community land rights defenders arrested in a hotspot district of forced land evictions.

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By Witness Radio team

As land and environmental rights defenders strive to better their areas, they continue to bear the brunt of defending communities’ land rights from negative impacts brought by the development projects.

In Kiryandongo District, multinationals have increasingly chosen to adopt a strategy of criminalizing activities of community defenders who are working tirelessly to protect communities’ farming fields.

This criminalization method has captured area police units and use it to cause arbitrary arrest and detention, and prefer various offenses against community land and environmental defenders. Commonly used charges include criminal trespassing on a piece of land communities have cultivated for generations and causing damage to their own property. These actions have weakened the activism charisma of defenders and deter them from continuing with pushing back against illegal and forced land evictions. These tactics do not only undermine the legitimate work of community land and environmental rights defenders but also create an environment of fear and intimidation among those who dare to resist land grabbing and environmental degradation.

On the 22nd of August 2023, two community land rights defenders were rounded up for the seventh time in a period of two (2) years by police officers attached to Kiryandongo district police, and three workers from Great Seasons SMC Limited company Limited arbitrarily arrested and dumped in the Kiryandongo district police cells.

The defenders Barumangabo Sepriano and Ramu Ndahimana rounded -up and arbitrarily arrested from their farming fields preparing for the upcoming planting season, handicapped, and subsequently taken away.

“In the early morning hours, we were suddenly confronted by a group of armed people comprised of Kiryandongo district police personnel and individuals representing the company. Swiftly and forcefully, we were pushed into a white land cruiser bearing the registration number UBF 417C, which was later identified as the property of the evictors. Initially, the captors asserted that one of the grounds for our apprehension was our alleged trespassing on the company’s land.

However, upon arrival at the police station, the officers altered their claims and stated that we had supposedly posed threats to the company’s workers, a charge we vehemently denied. Shortly after a short period of time, another accusation of malicious damage was leveled against us. Astonishingly, we were informed that we were being held accountable for purportedly setting a structure ablaze.” One of the defenders narrated when visited by Witness Radio team at police.

The two defenders are among a group of community land and environmental rights defenders who have been on the forefront advocating for land, social and economic justice of communities in Kiryandongo district whose land is targeted for large-scale farming by multinationals.

Great Seasons SMC Limited, planting coffee on a large scale, is one of the multinational companies in the Kiryandongo district that have violently deprived communities of their rights to own land, and homes, demolished community schools, cut down food crops owned community members/families, destroyed water sources, and privately-owned health centers.

Over 35000 residents have lost their family lands after violent and forceful land evictions to pave the way for industrial agriculture. In addition to the Great Seasons SMC Limited, there are other multinationals implicated in land-grabbing activities, such as Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, Agilis Partners Limited, and Somdiam Limited.

Kiryandongo district police has preferred threatening violence, criminal trespass and malicious damage to property charges against the two (2) defenders.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Criminal trial for seven community defenders opposed to EACOP/Tilenga project forced land eviction has been fixed.

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By Witness Radio team

The Magistrate court in Hoima City has announced that the trial for seven community environmental rights defenders will kick off on the 3rd and 4th of October, 2023, respectively. The defenders are part of a larger community of 2500 locals negatively impacted by the East Africa Crude Oil Project (EACOP)/ Tilenga project. The victim community lost its land, properties, food and livestock, livelihood, and people’s rights were grossly violated/abused, and its identity through a violent and forceful land eviction without a court order or an alternative settlement.

The displacement occurred immediately after the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of victim defenders.
Over 3500 hectares that were lawfully occupied and cultivated by the local community were earmarked for the oil EACOP/Tilenga project several years ago before the imprisonment of defenders and forced land eviction.

The Tilenga feeder pipeline corridor is approximately 95 km long originates from the Tilenga Project Central Processing Facility (CPF), about 8 km northeast of Buliisa town in Buliisa District and 5 km south of the Albert Nile.

The purpose and the need for the Tilenga feeder pipeline, according to Total Energies, is to deliver crude oil to the planned refinery in Kabaale and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
Those facing trial include Kataza Samuel, Mulega Eria, Mbombo Steven, Rubyogo David, Karongo Edward, Karongo Stephen, and Rangira Stephen.

The seven face different charges shown in tables below;

File No. 1

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 237 of 2023 Malicious damage to property
Mulega Eria 237 of 2023 Criminal trespass
Karongo Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Rangira Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Karongo Edward 237 of 2023 Theft

File No.2

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Mulega Eria 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Karongo Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Rangira Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle

File No. 3

Name Court File Number Charge
Karongo Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault
Karongo Edward 238 of 2023 Assault
Rangira Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault

File No.4

Name Court File Number Charge
Rubyogo David 241 of 2023 Threatening violence

File No. 5

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 60 of 2023 Malicious Damage to property

File No. 6

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 64 of 23 Threatening violence

On 15th and 16th August 2023, the court ordered the state prosecutor’s office in Hoima City to disclose to the defense as soon as possible for preparation ahead of the trial.

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