When it comes to our global climate, few would argue that growing more trees is a bad thing. After all, forests naturally soak up greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and other industrial functions, pulling harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and recycling it to optimize Earth’s capacity to sustain life. Consistently, a decade ago, the Norway-based company Green Resources began planting forests on 2,670 hectares (6600 acres) of land in the government-owned Kachung Central Forest Reserve in northern Uganda under an international ‘carbon credit’ program where governments, industry or private individuals can compensate for the emissions they generate.
Here’s how it works. Companies like Green Resources acquire grassland and savanna in African nations and grow forests by selling carbon credits to entities like the Swedish Energy Agency looking to offset their own carbon pollution. In this fashion, the total emissions to our global atmosphere can be kept in check as countries like Sweden balance their own harmful industrial practices with proactive, healthier practices elsewhere.
Unfortunately, for struggling villagers who have long lived within the Kachung reserve, this ostensibly well-intentioned environmental effort has greatly damaged their own environment. Seventeen villages have been impacted as residents have been forced from their land, some violently, and their lack of access has restricted their ability to grow food, graze animals and engage in cultural practices. Local workers have been mistreated and underpaid. And the chemicals used by Green Resources in their forestry process has made the land more toxic and less able to sustain the small-scale subsistence farming and livestock herding these villagers depend on.
As a result of these inequitable practices — also referred to as “carbon violence” — and critical international attention from media and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), the Swedish Energy Agency halted payments to Green Resources in November 2015 and informed the company to recognize human rights and clean up its practices.
“Villagers were deprived of vital resources and experienced threats and violence, and there is a lack of clarity regarding ownership in the reserve,” an agency spokesperson told Development Today at the time. The extraordinary suspension of payments on this $4.1 million carbon deal running from 2012 to 2032 would only be lifted in 2018, the Swedish agency said, if Green Resources addressed concerns raised by local communities. They included initiating an effective communications and complaints process, enabling cattle grazing, producing a socioeconomic analysis and development plan, repairing local wells, and respecting local land rights given the villagers, despite the land’s federal status, have a legal claim based on longevity and common law.
“When Swedish Energy Agency suspended payments two years ago, it only acted after being publicly exposed in the media and growing pressure from NGOs,” said Frédéric Mousseau, policy director for the Oakland Institute, an independent think tank on international policy. “Prior to this exposure, the agency had decided to ignore the situation and the impact of the project on the people.”
Mousseau, whose organization issued the recent report, “Carbon Colonialism,” and works with on-the-ground researchers, monitors and villagers in Kachung, has seen some change since the suspension, but not for the better. “Things are worsening year after year for the people of Kachung, who receive almost no benefits from the plantation despite Green Resources’ claims of job opportunities and water wells,” revealed Mousseau. “Green Resources has failed to address the main problems faced by the local villagers such as hunger and loss of livelihood, a result of the company’s plantation on the land that was used by them for farming, grazing, gathering of firewood, medicinal plants, and other uses.”
In an attempt to show improvement and compliance, Green Resources commissioned an audit which was released in March 2017. While the company was labeled “noncompliant” on issues of food security for local communities, it was deemed “fully compliant” in addressing land issues and the associated displacement of residents. Skeptical of an audit ordered by the company itself, the Oakland Institute relied upon its own investigation.
“Our report reveals the bias of the auditors who have chosen to overlook the many flaws of the project and the continued failure of Green Resources in addressing the grievances of the communities,” said Mousseau, noting how the company places the full onus of the land evictions on the Uganda government despite the ongoing and disputed nature of the land claims. “The auditors allow Green Resources to shirk its own responsibilities, with outcomes that violate people’s basic human rights, undermine their livelihoods, and threaten their very survival.”
While a number of international entities have interpreted Ugandan pre-constitutional law to acknowledge “bona fide” land rights for local villagers, Green Resources has a different interpretation. “The Land Act states that ‘A person who, before the coming into force of the Constitution had occupied and utilized or developed any land unchallenged by the registered owner or agent of the registered owner for twelve years or more is a lawful occupant categorized as bona fide occupant,” wrote the company in an October 2016 statement. “This statement would fit only those who had been in the Forest Reserve since 1983. However, the former Forest Department had been frequently issuing eviction notices to “encroachers” and “boundaries were being re-opened which showed that the encroachers were not lawful occupants. These actions constitute a ‘challenge’ to the occupants, and as such, under Ugandan law, they do not have the ‘Bona Fide’ land rights claimed.”
The resolution to the land dispute, like the legality itself, remains unclear. Nonetheless, in its report, the Oakland Institute clearly outlined what needs to happen next in Kachung. Among its numerous recommendations is the cancellation of the carbon credit deal with Green Resources by the Swedish Energy Agency, the suspension of funding to Green Resources by its international financiers, and the development of higher international standards for “the recognition of common and customary land rights than just the legality of contracts and land leases.”
“We are calling on the Swedish Energy Agency to face the reality and listen to the villagers impacted by the tree plantation,” stressed Mousseau, noting, “It should be obvious to the agency that it should assume its responsibility, suspend any further payments and immediately cancel the deal with Green Resources.”
That said, Mousseau clarified that what’s ultimately at stake is much larger than the inequitable developments in the Kachung region of northern Uganda.
“Our report is called ‘Carbon Colonialism’ because it highlights an issue much broader than just the malpractices of an individual Norwegian company in Africa,” clarified Mousseau. “It is about rich nations and their international financial institutions developing a system that exploit the natural resources of African countries and impoverish local people under the guise of sustainable development and the fight against climate change.”
Mousseau added, “This fraud must stop.”
Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.
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.
Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.
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.
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.
Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes
The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.
Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.
Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”
She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.
The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting 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.
It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.
“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.
According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.
Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.
“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.
“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.
Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.
Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.
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