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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

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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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

State fails to produce a key witness, prematurely closes its prosecution in the trial of the eight land rights defenders

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By the Witness Radio team,

The state prematurely closed its prosecution in the trial of the eight community land rights defenders after it failed to produce its last witness, the Investigating Officer (IO).

Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha are facing a charge of threatening violence, which attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

Upon closure of the prosecution, the defense lawyers applied for the dismissal of the case for want of prosecution, adding the evidence before the court too weak to sustain a conviction

The court has directed the defense to file its written submission and serve the prosecution by 10th February 2022.

Since 2020, the prosecution has only presented two witnesses, which resulted in the trial being marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of trial magistrates.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight community rights defenders, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local farmers and criminalized activities of community land rights defenders for resisting illegal and forceful evictions of poor communities in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The court will rule on the application to dismiss the case on the 20th of March 2022

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Mubende police arrest and charge farmers that workers of a tree-planting company attacked.

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By Witness Radio team

Five smallholder farmers have been arrested and charged with malicious damage by Mubende police, Witness Radio Uganda has learned.

The victim farmers include; Kabuka Levi, Lubwama Robert, Bulegeya Erisa, Byakatonda David, and Byamukama Yuda are among the victims of the company attacks. Upon arrest, they (victims) recorded statements and later were released on police bond.

Before their arrest, the farmers had opened several cases against their tormentors (company workers) for attacking and destroying their properties worth millions of Shillings. Several files were opened including SD.ref/09/07/12/2022 and SD.ref/12/07/12/2022 against company workers. However, to their surprise, the police made a U-turn and got them arrested.

On December 7th, 2022, in the wee hours of that day, a group of over 20 casual workers linked to Formosa limited, a tree planting company based in Mubende district attacked several families, properties like houses and food crop plantations were destroyed, and several farmers were severely beaten with intentions of forcing them off their land.

“When we reached Mubende police, we were all arrested and interrogated for almost an hour before recording statements on malicious damage charges. The company reported that we cut its trees and had photos as evidence which we did not do.” Mr. Kabuka Levi told Witness Radio in an interview.

In the meantime, the same company in 2017 caused the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of 5 community land rights defenders for 15 years and 35 years on murder and other charges. The five include; Paul Sinamenya, Richard Ssemombwe, Fenehansi Kaberuka, Esau Hategeka, Godfrey Bukenya, Yonnah Ssebanenya, and Sserugo Sam Ssemigo.

Witness Radio appealed against the conviction of 5 defenders for review and is waiting on the appellant court to set the hearing date of the case.

Since 2011, Formasa company under the protection of private security guards and the police has grabbed 2590 hectares that were a source of livelihood for hundreds of poor communities.

The land grabbing has affected over ten (10) villages including Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties in Mubende district.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Community land rights defenders that have been on trial since 2020; are set to return to court this January.

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By Witness Radio Team.

The criminal trial of eight (8) Community land rights defenders on charges of threatening violence is to resume on the 23rd of January 2022, with the state producing its final witness.

The defense lawyers are preparing a submission of no case to answer upon closure of the prosecution’s case because of the insufficiency of the case.

So far, the prosecution has presented two witnesses before the court since 2020, whose trial sessions have been marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of hearing magistrates.

The eight community land rights defenders include; Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha were charged with threatening violence, a charge that attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight and others, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

In November 2020, the prosecution disclosed to defense lawyers and informed the court that investigations were closed and the prosecutor’s chambers were ready to proceed to trial.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local people and later criminalized activities of smallholder farmers that have resisted illegal evictions in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The trial will start at 10 am East African Time.

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