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………Special Report; Abridged testimony……. Militarized land administration is promoting violence against poor landowners; an experience of one of the tortured defenders.

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From extreme right, Bakaleke Joseph the former Kiryandongo Police commander together with other police officers during a visit on a contested land.

By witnessradio.org Team

A quiet and peaceful mood defines what used to be a busy community of smallholder farmers whose entire lifestyle depended on farming fields. During the rainy season, the entire family coupled with young, youths and the old would spend the entire time in the garden and they would return when it turns dark. Tea, lunch, and supper meals would be cooked and taken from there as a family targets to plant more acre of land using ordinary farm tools (hand-hoes) for a big harvest.

What used to be grazing fields for animals, gardens of cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, bananas, or burial grounds, among others, are now sugar plantation farms and some shrubs that have almost closed what used to be the feeder roads.

The village is called Kikungulu, Kitwara Sub-County, and 40 km deep in Kiryandongo district, which is bordered by Nwoya District to the north side, Oyam District to the northeast, Apac District to the eastern side, and Masindi District to the south and western side.

With almost all roads closed and the available ones being bushy, thorny, and impassable, it is easier for one to assume no families live in the village.

Deep down in the village is the home of Atyaluk David Richard a land rights defender trapped in the middle of a large sugarcane plantation owned by a multinational company, Kiryandongo sugar limited.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is one of the many companies owned by the Rai Group of Mauritius. The dynasty owns several other companies in DR Congo, Kenya and Malawi, and Uganda. They own companies such as West Kenya Sugar (which owns Kabras Sugar), Timsales Limited, Menengai Oil Refineries, RaiPly, and Webuye Panpaper.

In Uganda, the Rai Group of Mauritius owns Nile Ply limited, Kinyara Sugar Limited, and Masindi Sugar Limited among others.

Atyaluk’s problems stem from 2017 when he “refused” to surrender his land to the company. His actions attracted severe torment from the company and its agents to give way to large-scale sugarcane projects.

Then came a role of mobilizing and empowering his community to resist land grabs by the same multinational company. The latter brought real-life threats including torture and abductions that almost led to death. A selfless defender has faced more than 4 times of arbitrary arrests and torture for his work.

Before the violent eviction in 2017, Atyaluk and over 35000 villagers lived and cultivated peacefully on the land their parents and relatives occupied since the 1930s.

Out of his 50 acres of land he owned, Atyaluk now farms on less than an acre. The rest were forcefully grabbed by the sugar company at a gunpoint.

He is currently leading some families that have resisted surrendering their land also have withstood all the violent actions of the company being guarded by soldiers from the 4th Division of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF).

UPDF is a national army whose constitutional obligations to the people living in Uganda is to; Article 209 (a) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda mentions four functions of UPDF namely;

(a) to preserve and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uganda;
(b) to cooperate with the civilian authority in emergency situations and in cases of natural disasters;
(c) to foster harmony and understanding between the defense forces and civilians; and

(d) to engage in productive activities for the development of Uganda.

However, the narrative that the force depicts is different. One of the most recent violent attacks on the defender was on 25 March 2020 when company workers, accompanied by four soldiers of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), entered his property with a tractor and plowed his maize fields. When he tried to stop the tractor from destroying his crops, the soldiers grabbed him, and was severely assaulted

According to Atyaluk, he was alerted by his neighbor that his maize farm was being destroyed, he rushed to talk to them but instead he was arbitrary arrested and taken to an unknown detention center and tortured.

He claims he was able to identify one of the soldiers as Captain Omoro, who was one of the commandants at the military detach where he was held incommunicado and tortured…” When they took me inside, Captain Omoro came and shouted at me, said they are trained to kill, that whoever disturbs them he/she will not like the repercussions, he vowed to torture me until I leave the land,” Said Atyaluk

Omoro’s statements were also reechoed by a 52-year-old and a mother of 11, Janet Akiru. She said similar threats and intimidatory statements led her and the family to painfully leaving their land as precaution measures.

According to Akiru, she relocated to her relatives in Bugiri District, the Eastern part of Uganda.

“When soldiers kidnapped Atyaluk, my husband abandoned me and my family. All our gardens got destroyed and houses demolished and I couldn’t take care of my family. These are the people who could come to our home, without explanation, beat up everyone. Because of fear of our dear lives, we had to abandon the invaluable heritage,” Said Akiru.

In a description of the Ndoi military detach where Atyaluk was illegally kept, the place is fenced with barbed wires and polls. It has many small houses and a slightly bigger house where villagers are illegally detained and tortured. According to Atyaluk, soldiers can only stop torturing upon seeing blood fussing from one’s body, which soldiers call a lesson to villagers that can be shared with others.

For Atyaluk, after being tortured, he was taken to Kiryandongo district Central Police Station, without any treatment and he was detained for seven days before being charged with criminal trespass and released on police bond.

According to Atyaluk’s medical reports from Kiryandongo hospital, the defender sustained severe injuries on one of his legs,  libs, and back.

While on police bond, early this year, Atyaluk was attacked again, because he was constructing a house on his small piece of land left for him by the company.

He reports that with no explanations he was kidnapped from his home at around 8:00 am local time on 12th March 2021.

“We saw three armed soldiers in full army uniform coming to our home. As soon as they got into our compound, they announced that we’re taking him. We asked them who, they replied that Atyaluk. He was immediately arrested and ordered to sit down. A few minutes, later, Atyaluk was ordered to get up and walk. The soldiers walked with him up to Ndoi village, where he was ordered to enter into a car labeled with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) banners, car registration No. UAW 796Z” Said Olupot James, a brother to Atyaluk.

According to Olupot, upon Atyaluk’s abduction, he followed the car until it was seen entering a military detach at Kamusenene village where he was severely beaten and flogged by Uganda People Defense Forces soldiers.

“While in there I was badly beaten before police intervention. A police pick-up double cabin car registration number UP 7684 with 8 police officers commanded by the Kiryandongo district police commander, SP Odonga Tonny came and picked me from the military camp at 3:00 pm local time on the day of kidnap. I was later taken to the Kiryandongo Central Police Station,” Said Atyaluk.

Atyaluk,  41, and breadwinner of 8 children, was illegally detained at Kiryandongo for five (5) days before he was charged with setting fire to the crops and released on bond.

In this and countless other cases, soldiers resorted to arbitrary arrest, and torture as methods to intimidate those who amplify voices for the communities in resistance to violent land grabs.

What hurts the defender and other residents is that attempts to open up charges against the multinational company workers, guards, and individual security officers for their violent acts are curtailed.

“We are not accepted to register complaints of locals against the multinational companies, why, these are orders from above,” Said a police officer at Deyle police post who preferred anonymity.

However the Kiryandongo district police commander SP Odonga Tonny, said no actions of violence against the defenders and the project-affected persons have been reported.

“Some residents are arrested for being violent but have not been tortured. If there allegations of abductions and torture, I and my team will investigate the matter,” he added.

However, he denied allegations of providing security to Kiryandongo Sugar Limited and other multinationals to arbitrary arrest and harm defenders.

But the Kiryandongo sugar limited maintains it never evicted any person on the land and denies the allegations of torture, and arbitrary arrests against the locals in the area where they are operating. They rather claim that they worked with community leaders to develop a humanitarian compensation and resettlement plan for all of the illegal occupants.

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Natives and Businesses

The lives and properties of community activists and land rights defenders continue to be targeted as harmful investments are getting rooted in the Kiryandongo district.

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By Witness Radio Team.

As land grabs spike in Uganda, community land rights defenders continue to pay the price for protecting land for vulnerable and poor people.

In areas affected by forced evictions, land rights defenders mobilize and organize local communities to resist the forced evictions. But their work gets appreciated by arrests, detention, and prosecution on trumped-up charges.

The main target of the grabbers is to eliminate the few people that amplify the voices of the communities to ease the forced eviction processes. In this instance, forms of human rights violations/abuses include arbitrary arrests, kidnaps, illegal detentions, and tortures, among others with the intent to instill fear among community members.

One of the most targeted community land rights defenders is Mr. Otyaluk Ben Wilson. At first, land grabbers targeted his life but, he could bow down and now, tactics changed to his garden, which is a source of food for him and his family. At the beginning of 2022, Otyaluk planted 6 acres of Maize and intercropped it with Sorghum but the company workers of Kiryandongo Sugar Company limited came with a tractor and plowed it down.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, owned by the Rai dynasty is one of the multinationals that practice violence in name of making profits.  For over 5 years, the company has targeted community activists and land rights defenders speaking against harmful investment.

The company is one of the three multinational companies that have evicted over 35000 residents in the Kiryandongo district since 2017. The other companies are Great seasons SMC Limited and Agilis Partners Limited.

On several occasions, particulars of tractors and agents behind forced evictions have been written down and reported to the police but, nothing changes. According to eyewitnesses, the company tractor with registered number plate UBE 600U came at around 15:00 hours (E.A.T) on the 30th of April and razed down Otyaluk’s 6 acres of maize and sorghum with impunity whereby after, company agents directed him (Otyaluk) vacate his land with out compensation.

Before the above incident, on the 13th and 29th of April, 16 acres of maize that belonged to Otyaluk, 06 acres belonging to Mr. Amanyi Tom and 03 acres of maize belonging to Mr. Tusabe Emmanuel were razed down by the same company workers using tractors whose numbers were written down namely UAM 823L and UBA 737A. He was never compensated and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited does not allow him to use his land to date, which situation is causing suffering and poverty to his family of 8. Anywar is the

According to Anywar David, the area Local Council One (1) Chairperson, he wrote a letter as an elected leader of the area to the Kapundu area police Officer in Charge to intervene but in vain.

“This has become a serious headache and a norm in my area of jurisdiction, I herein forward them to you for further assistance,” a letter seen by Witness Radio – Uganda reads in part.

Another incident happened on 25 March 2020, at Nyamuntende village. Agents of Kiryandongo Sugar Limited in the company of four government soldiers from Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), entered the property of the defender with a tractor and plowed down his maize garden. When he (Otyaluk) tried to stop the tractor from destroying his crops, the soldiers roughed him up, took him to a kangaroo detention center, and he was badly beaten. He was later taken to a facility located on the sugarcane plantation. At the company facility, he (Otyaluk) alleges that he was tortured before being transferred to the Kiryandongo district Police headquarter where he was illegally held for seven days before being charged with an abusive criminal charge of trespass. Later, he was released on bond.

Similarly, on Friday 12th March 2021, Otyaluk was assaulted and picked from his home at gunpoint by armed soldiers guarding Kiryandongo Sugar Limited’s sugarcane plantation and tortured. He was later transferred to Kiryandongo Central Police station and charged with setting fire to crops. https://witnessradio.org/violence-escalation-land-right-defender-is-picked-from-his-home-on-a-gunpoint/

On 21st October, the defender was picked from his garden, arrested, and charged with criminal trespass. https://www.farmlandgrab.org/post/view/30575-uganda-militarized-corporate-agriculture-companies-are-resorting-to-reprisals-to-grab-land

Since 12th August 2021, the Kiryandongo Sugar Limited workers under the protection of the army have repeatedly parked their tractors in front of people’s houses to instill fear among community members.

He added that this work has not spared his family since he is not allowed to cultivate on his land.

“I am being harassed because of my work of defending the land for the poor and vulnerable communities, which I must defend jealously from grabbers. My family land is being targeted and we have no food to eat, ever since COVID lockdown was lifted my children no longer go to school because of the company.” a weeping Otyaluk revealed.

 

 

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food

Gov’t body evicts hundreds, orders the remaining families on the land to de-molish their houses…

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By Witness Radio

A forest body in Uganda, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) is displacing over 700 poor families that have lawfully settled and cultivated their land since the 1920s. The targeted land is needed to plant monoculture trees.

The National Forestry Authority is a semi-autonomous statutory body established by c National Forestry and Tree Planting Act of 2003 and it’s charged with the responsibility to manage and control the country’s forests.

The land measuring about 2900 acres is located at Yandwe village, Butuntumula Sub County in Luweero district in Buganda region, in Uganda.

The forest authority is responsible for causing loss of properties and committing human rights violations/abuses against local and indigenous communities as land belonging to them is leased out to investors to plant trees for carbon offsets without following due processes.

According to Global Forest Watch (GFW), in 2010, Uganda had a tree cover of 6.93 Mha, extending over 29% of its land area. However as of 2020 the GFW latest data presented a tree cover loss of 76.3 kha in Uganda. In the same year, Luwero district was named with the most tree cover loss. It lost 9.10kha of tree cover, equivalent to 4.48Mt of CO₂ emissions.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration asserts that ‘environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens. This principle is seen to be in reverse in Uganda’s practice.

Before forced evictions which started in 2015, families used the land for subsistence farming to raise money to meet basic needs and grow food for feeding, burial grounds and constructed permanent houses that have earned them a sense of belonging for generations but NFA has since destroyed 70% of their heritage.

Since 2015, the families have been forcefully evicted without court orders, prior consultation, and consent to give away their land. “There has not been any single document that permitted them to evict us since 2015. They came with graders, armed police, and soldiers to terrorize the whole village and enforce their evictions. We were not informed, consulted, and neither did we consent to give them our land.” The local council chairman, Mr. Buule Cossy, also one of the affected said in an interview with Witness Radio – Uganda.

According to documents seen by Witness Radio – Uganda, ownership of land by the indigenous community is traced between the 1910s and early 1920s. Some locals have receipts indicating payments made to the then colonial matters while others have presented sale agreements.

On a fateful night, 18th March 2019, the entire village of Yandwe woke up to face the wrath of armed police, soldiers, and armed workers of NFA. Victims narrated that armed groups burnt their houses, razed gardens, and looted their properties at gunpoint before the majority of community members fled their homes.

The violence orchestrated by different armed groups left one villager identified as Ntalo Simon shot and badly wounded.

“We had one incident in which our community member Ntale was shot in the process of eviction and the victim was badly wounded while others were beaten, houses demolished and crops were cut down,” Buule confirmed.

The NFA claims that residents are occupying the forest land illegally. According to residents, Mbale Forestry Reserve was gazetted in 1967 as a central forest reserve land, found their ancestors already on the land. They claim they are the lawful owners of the land and accuse the NFA of forcefully grabbing their land tactically.

Another victim, Katongole John said his grandparents settled on this land in 1915 and claimed that they were paying some dues to the colonial administrators then.

“Upon making payment, colonial matters would issue a certificate known as an occupational license to the payee. The documents would prove land ownership”. he claimed.

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Natives and Businesses

Hundreds of families affected by several dev’t projects in Kiryandongo turn up in big numbers as Masindi High Court attends to their cases filed in 2020.

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Some of the affected families turn up in big numbers at the Masindi High court for hearing of their cases.

By Witness Radio Team

Hundreds of families on Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st gathered at the Masindi High Court for the first hearing of the human rights suits filed against multinational companies. The families from Jerusalem, Kisalanda, Kapapula, Nyamutende, Kikungulu, Canani, Kamisoni, and Kololo villages, amongst others in the Kiryandongo District all affected by large-scale agriculture operations of multinational companies. Kiryandongo sugar Company Limited, Agilis Partners Limited, and Great Seasons SMC limited are implicated in human rights violations. Communities accuse multinationals of forced evictions and committing gross human rights violations and abuses that deprived them of their rights to property, food, education, and a good living.

The High Court had set Wednesday 20th April 2022 for a hearing of Miscellaneous Cause No. 11 of 2020 filed against Agilis Partners Limited and Thursday 21st April 2022 for a Miscellaneous Cause No. 007 of 2020 filed against Great Seasons SMC limited, but both cases were adjourned to the 20th of May, this year as some respondents on the case were not in court.

For the case against Agilis Partners Limited and others, the attorney general chambers and former Kiryandongo district police commander during 2017 and thereabout Byaruhanga Patrick were not in court while, for the case against Great Season SMC Limited and others, former Kiryandongo Police Commander during 2019 and thereabout Bakaleke Joseph neither did he attend court.

Court heard from applicants lawyers led by Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates that all former police commanders of Kiryandongo district could not be traced or located and get served as the duo have since been transferred from their known places of work and were re-deployed elsewhere. However, Masindi High Court extended the time of service for two weeks from the dates both suits were heard and guided the applicants’ lawyers to look for police officers.

Uganda Police Force is being held responsible for aiding multinationals and participating in committing violence and human rights violations while carrying out force evictions of local communities

48-year-old Mukangwizi Grace, a mother of five that was evicted by Agilis Partners Limited, boarded a Boda Boda to travel over 70 km distance from Kisalanda to Masindi town, where the High Court sits. “All my property on my 6 acres were destroyed including gardens and houses by the Agilis men at a gunpoint. I was not even given chance to pick my belongings,” she said in an interview with Witness Radio before the court session.

Currently, Grace rents land in the nearby Gasper center where she owns a makeshift structure covered with a tarpaulin as a roof. She said she borrows money from the Maize buyers and rents one acre of land at 150,000 Uganda Shillings (about 42 USD) each season to plant maize that she sells to pay back the borrowed money and the rest is milled for flour.  This is the same for all evictees.

The land in question was settled on by two groups; the residents displaced by the northern war insurgency and those under the Nyamalebe Landless Association, who were also permitted to settle on the land by the government of Uganda through the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development. But in 2017, their lives and dreams were shattered by the companies interested in large-scale commercial farming. Over 35,000 residents were evicted by the Kiryandongo-based multinationals with the assistance of state- agencies such as the police and the army.

The mother of five was one of those who braved the day to see the justice that they had long sought. “I needed to be in court to pin their abuses. These companies have disturbed us a lot. I had to borrow money from my relatives to cater for my transport. She was overwhelmed with happiness after the court started hearing their case and hopes for justice. We are only waiting for the court’s decision because these companies thought they are untouchables.” She said.

The Masindi High Court resident Judge, Justice Jesse Byaruhanga adjourned the two cases, to 20th May at 11 am. The victims’ lawyers said the Judge, for convenience and expeditious disposal of the matters, adjourned the two applications to the same date.

“We believe this time will be enough to serve the missing respondents though it has not been easier to trace these respondents.” Said Achak Carol Kay of M/s. Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates.

Mr. Wokulira Geoffrey Ssebaggala, on behalf of Witness Radio – Uganda which provides support to development-affected communities, said “we are happy that the court has finally allocated time to listen to the cries of poor local communities that have lost livelihood to ‘investors’. We want this to act as an example to other investors who do take the land of poor people for free and use violence as means to acquire land that your time is up”.

He said Ugandans deserve responsible investments that respect their land rights and bring real development.

Meanwhile Agilis Partners Limited continues to deny having forcefully evicted communities in the areas where they operate while the known contacts for Wycliffe Birungi, a lawyer for Great Season SMC Limited were switched off.

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