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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

State Power: Army Used Expired Mining license to Forcefully Evict 120,000 Families Off Gold-Rich Land

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By Witnessradio.org Team

“On August 4th 2017, at 8am, police and army surrounded the mines and started demolishing any standing structures including restaurants, shops, among others,” Robert Ssempewo, the chairperson of Mubende gold mining grounds recounted to witnessradio.org during a recent visit to the highly guarded 12-square mile land that hosts gold deposits.

The two-day operation under the command of Colonel Joseph Balikuddembe, the UPDF 1st Division commander, followed an order by Energy ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Stephen Isabalija who reportedly been ordered by president Museveni to kick-out of over 50,000 artisanal miners off gold mining land.

Three companies under the directorship of Gertrude Nanyunja Njuba, a state house director on land matters namely; M/S Gemstone International, A.U.C Mining Company, and Kamalenge Mining Company forcefully evicted people at a time when their mining license had expired.

In a recent interview with local media, Njuba said she has had gold mining interests in the area since 1987. In 1994, Njuba said that she obtained a mining lease for 207 square kilometers in an area which straddles two sub-counties namely; Bukuya and Kitumbi in Mubende district.

But according to available documents, Njuba’s mining license has been expiring, but get renewed under mysterious circumstances whose actions are inconsistent with the mining act, 2003.

An anonymous expert in the mining sector, contends that it’s difficult to know how Njuba’s license has been renewed on several occasions over the last 23 years yet technically, she has never complied with the mining act.

A review of the mining act 2003 by witnessradio.org, discovered that Section 47 (1) of the mining act stipulates that “the holder of a mining lease may apply to the Commissioner for the renewal of his or her lease in respect of all, or of part of the mining area not later than one year before the expiry of such lease.” The same law goes ahead to state that if the mining lease expires, the lease holder “relinquish at least 50 per cent of the land as they apply for a renewal” before submitting a renewal application.

Witnessradio.org findings reveal that by the time Njuba evicted the artisanal miners, her mining lease had expired two years prior to the eviction.

Ssempewo, also confirms that Njuba’s lease had expired. He said that “I have information that investor’s exploration license had expired and it’s in the law that if the license expires, you relinquish half of your exploration area.”

He added; “but for over 30 years now, this investor has been operating in the exploration area without relinquishing any part. According to what I know, this investor single-handedly operates the huge exploration area measuring 288 square kilometers.”

When it comes to making application for the mining license, the procedures are well laid down under article 42 (2) of the mining act, 2003.

“An application for a mining lease shall be advertised in the Gazette and copies of the accompanying plan shall be displayed at the relevant district and sub-county headquarters and such other place as the Commissioner may specify,” article 42 (2) states.

Clause (3) of the same article states that “the applicant shall show written proof that he or she has reached an agreement with the landowner of the area he or she intends to mine.”

To tame unreasonable greed, 43 (3) (a) of the mining act provides that “the area of land over which the lease is sought is not in excess of the area reasonably required to carry out the applicant’s programme of proposed mining operations.”

Recognizing the rules, above, Njuba who stretched her exploration area to evict artisanal miners from the neighboring mines flouted the law.

“We are not totally objectionable to the investor because she has her area, but we want our area to be returned because we are also Ugandans,” Ssempewo said, “we want our portion of just 5-square miles so that we can also restore our source of livelihoods.”

The experts asserted that “it is not clear how these mining leases have been renewed yet there is no clear demonstration of mining activities.”

According to this expert, Njuba’s practice is clear indicator of speculation that has dogged Uganda’s mining sector for decades.

During its July 2017 report titled; Uganda: Undermined, a London-based Global Witness revealed that pervasive corruption in Uganda’s mining sector allows crooked officials and investors they partner with to profit at the expense of country’s “economy and people.”

The report exposed the way how well connected individuals including those with close ties to president Museveni trade political influence for financial economy.

“…rather than fulfilling its mandate to work for the benefit of the Ugandan people, the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines [DGSM] is controlled by a hidden alternative power structure and decision making process or ‘shadow system’ which benefits predatory investors and politically powerful Ugandans,” the report reads in a part.

To achieve her aspiration, Njuba used both police and Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers to violently evict people which led to gross loss of property. To this date, the contested land is still under tight guard of armed security personnel who have vehemently denied the indigenous people an opportunity to rescue any of their belongings from the structures that are being razed down by graders.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.

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By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

A breaking alert! A community land rights defender is kidnapped from his home.

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Kassanda, Uganda: a community land rights defender is missing after unidentified men cladding Uganda police uniform raided his home at around 10 PM local time, his wife has revealed.

Julius Ndagize is one of the community land rights defenders in Kassanda district advocating for the compensation of over 10,000 people illegally evicted from their land by the New Forest Company (NFC) in 2008 to plant monoculture trees.

In early 2020, evictees rose again to revive their demands to repossess their land following NFC’s failure to resettle and compensate them for the human rights violations and damages.

Evictees further narrate that ever since NFC grabbed their land, they have experienced increased deaths among children due to malnutrition and hired out land to bury their relatives who have died. All children who were attending school at the time of eviction have dropped out of school, while others have gotten married at a tender age. Furthermore, many families of the evictees have since broken up, and the list of long-standing impacts goes on.

“Our home was raided by unidentified men in police uniform at 10 PM local time. When they reached home, they banged on the house door and demanded that I should open the door. Upon opening, they forcefully entered the house without identifying themselves, with no explanation. Instead, they asked the whereabouts of my husband. They searched while throwing house properties in every direction until they got him and took him to an unknown direction. Said Mrs. Ndagize

She accused Uganda police of stealing Uganda Shillings 350,000, which is equivalent to about USD 90, which they found in their bedroom. She said the money belonged to a local women’s savings association, of which Mrs. Ndagize is the treasurer.

Since 2011 NFC has benefitted financing from international banks and private equity funds, including the European Investment Bank (EIB) with five million Euros (almost US 6 million dollars) to expand one of its plantations in Uganda; The Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund, had invested US 6.7 million dollars; the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the UK bank HSBC with around US 10 million has caused unimaginable pain to hundreds of households and continued to suffer gross human rights abuses, mainly in Mubende district.

Lately, NFC has benefited from the carbon offset financing from several financiers, including the Dutch Development Bank (FMO).

Witness Radio has commissioned search for the lost person, but no success had been reached by the time of writing this article.

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