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Uganda: A decade of land grabs with impunity



A farmer displays banana plants that were cutdown by company workers.
It is now a decade down the road since thousands of people fled their homes in fear for their dear lives. It was a nadir in their lives – the land grab was the lowest moment for the peasant communities. Arrests, charges, malicious prosecutions, convictions, and imprisonment followed.  Amidst all these, incarceration was inevitable for the poor and unrepresented accused to pave way for the tree planting company owned by Chinese “investors.”
Despite the forceful and violent evictions of their peers, some of the smallholder farmers have stayed put. Though the fear of an inhumane eviction still lurks around, they are not vacating their land, and are not ready to go down without a fight.
The year 2011 still lingers in the memories of the smallholder farmers albeit being traumatizing. With its violence and forceful evictions of smallholder farmers by a foreign company under the protection of Mubende police came. As we write, the onslaught has “gifted” it with 2590 hectares of forcefully grabbed land that was once a source of livelihood to the poor native communities.
Since then, more than 2000 people have been evicted in more than 12 villages. They include; Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Namagadi, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, Ngabano, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties, Mubende district. Thousands are still being threatened.
Civic groups, rights activists, and the victims have continuously complained over the company’s long forced evictions nothing has materialized. A clear message from their government is that it does not speak for peasants, a batch of third-class citizens.  With government backing, the company has chosen to apply both insidious and overt means to further alienate land from the poor.
As day follows night, the company continues to grow more powerful, and probably, more than the state. Its influence has eaten up the criminal justice system. They follow a carefully crafted script to aid in the land grab. After stripping the smallholder farmers of their source of livelihood – the company militarized land grab and criminalized farming activities of poor peasants.  Land defenders were arrested, detained, arraigned before court, and charged with trumped-up charges. Up-to-date they have never been released.
According to Mr. Konyenza Sakali, land conflicts between the smallholder farmers and the company led to the arrest and imprisonment of his father, Mr. Kaberuka Fenehansi for 15 years since 2018 and now fears that the company is targeting him.
“I have always resisted but what they do is to kidnap, arrest and charge you to weaken you and grab your land. My father is now 71 years but because he resisted giving them his land, he is now in jail. He was slapped with unscrupulous charges,” he revealed.
Mr. Kaberuka Fenehansi is one of the seven community land rights defenders that the Mubende High Court sentenced 34 and 15 years in jail respectively. This arose from the unending wrangles and the company’s continued violence and land grabbing that allegedly led to the death of the then Formosa farm manager.
Witness Radio – Uganda appealed against the conviction and the sentence on behalf of the imprisoned community land rights defenders. The hearing date of the appeal is yet to be fixed.
The prosecution alleged that on 17th of July 2018, Ssemombwe Richard, Ategeka Esau, Bukenya Godfrey, Ssebanenya Yona, Sinamenya Paula, Kaberuka Fenehansi, and Sserugo Sam at Butolo village, Maduddu Sub County in Mubende district, unlawfully caused the death of one Tumwine Stephen who was a manager of Formosa Forest Company.
“I have continued to receive reports of forceful eviction of my people on their land without compensation. Days ago, I called the Farm Manager asking him why these actions are continuous but he had no answer. One time I found the Formosa workers uprooting and slashing crops of the residents. When they saw me they took off,” Mr. Ngenda Paul, the Local Council Chairperson of Butolo, one of the affected villages narrated.
Residents said the company either bullyrags them to sell their land or evicts them without fair, prompt, and adequate compensation or resettlement. Through this method, the company has grabbed more land.
“What they do is to coerce some people to sell land to them, when they do it, they then grab the neighboring pieces of land. The next day you find them planting trees on land they claim to have purchased,” Mr. Mukonyeza Sakali, one of the affected residents said.
“What kind of land purchased is that without signatures of the local council leaders? How do you prove that you have bought it when neighbors are not around, what if someone cons you?” the Chairperson asked.
Part of Mr. Mukonyeza’s land was grabbed by the company after forcefully purchased his neighbor’s land. He said he was never consulted or informed when the purchase took place. The father of 10 added that his crops were all slashed, and the following day he watched helplessly as the company’s workers began planting trees.
“They said they shall use all the tactics to evict us from our land which they claim is theirs. Even when we grow crops, they are always destroyed or uprooted by the workers of the company. When we ask why they tell us we have no land. But how can a company which has just come into our country say we have no land. I am 46, and I was born on the land,” he added.
Annet Nannyonjo and a mother of 11 and a wife to Ssalongo Ssemombwe Richard, one of those that were sentenced to 34 years said the company grabbed their land shortly after the husband was imprisoned. She said workers have destroyed her garden of beans.
“We cannot eat trees. They do not want us to cultivate on our land. They steal the little food we grow on a small piece of land left. We used to grow our crops but now we can’t. Ever since my husband was arrested and imprisoned, I am struggling to feed my family,” she added.
Other affected residents added that they are holding grudges over the unending pain caused by the tree planting company.
 “Our defenders were jailed and we were left helpless. People who had land continue to wander everywhere. They have nowhere to stay with their families. They have nothing to eat. You imagine what kind of life we are being pushed in,” residents said
But the Formosa farm manager, Mr. Asiimwe Nicholas denied the allegations. He added that the company has never evicted any residents which the villagers oppose.
Original Source: Farm Land Grab


Breaking: A missing community environmental defender was found dumped by the roadside.



By Witness Radio team.

An environmental human rights defender abducted five days ago while in Kampala has been found abandoned on a roadside in Kyenjonjo district, Witness Radio has confirmed.

Speaking to Witness Radio, a member at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI) revealed that Stephen Kwikiriza was discovered at around 8:30 pm yesterday, abandoned on the roadside in Kyenjojo District. He added that the defender was severely beaten and is currently receiving medical attention at one of the hospitals in the country.

“We learned from his wife, whom he called, that he had been dumped in Kyenjojo. She informed one of our colleagues. We, therefore, had to find a means of rescuing him. He, however, was badly beaten and is not in good health,” he added.

Stephen Kwikiriza, a member of the King Fisher Project Affected Community, also working with the EGI, was abducted in Kampala by plain-clothed men, believed to be from Uganda Peoples Defense forces (UPDF) on 4th of June 2024 Tuesday morning.

According to sources, upon his (Stephen) abduction, he managed to send a text message to one of his colleagues at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI), a local organization supporting project-affected persons, which reported a missing person.

The Kingfisher project is an oil project in western Uganda on the shores of Lake Albert, developed by the Chinese company China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), of which TotalEnergiesis the main shareholder. The project will extract oil and be transported by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

According to a statement from the Stop EACOP Coalition members, Stephen had been receiving various threats from UPDF officers deployed in the Kingfisher area. The coalition members believe these threats are retaliation for being outspoken against human rights abuses and the threats to his community’s livelihood posed by the Kingfisher oil project.

His abduction comes barely a few weeks after the forceful arrests of the seven environment activists namely Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha.

On May 27th, 2024, the seven were arbitrarily rounded up by armed police in Kampala outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda while delivering a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On June 8, 2024, over 115 international civil society organizations wrote a statement in response to Kwikiriza’s abduction calling upon the Ugandan authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Stephen Kwikiriza.

In the statement signed by Both Ends, Bank Track, and SOMO among others, they called on Ugandan authorities to cease all forms of harassment of civil society organizations and community members living in and speaking out on the EACOP Kingfisher project and all other related oil projects, including the Tilenga project, and guarantee in all circumstances that they can carry out their legitimate human

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Seven Environmental activists against EACOP have been charged and released on police bond.



By Witness Radio team.

Jinja Road police have preferred a charge of unlawful assembly against the seven environmental activists brutally arrested on May 27th, 2024, by armed police in Kampala for protesting against the intended financing of the East African crude oil pipeline project (EACOP) by the Chinese gov’t.

Section 66 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, states that any person who takes part in an unlawful assembly commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year upon conviction.

The seven include Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha. The group got arrested outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda in an attempt to deliver a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On May 27th, seven protesters chose to sit outside the embassy, vowing not to leave until embassy officials received their protest letter, which contained grievances and demands. However, this did not happen. Instead, the police swung into action, brutally rounding up the protesters before throwing them into a police patrol and taken to Jinja Road police. The arrest occurred before any embassy officials had engaged with the protesters.

According to activists, the EACOP project has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis.

The EACOP is a project spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

According to Uganda’s State House website, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Thursday, April 4th, 2024, received a letter from the President of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, expressing his unwavering support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP).

“Your Excellency, I received your letter, and I am very happy to let you know that I am in full support of EACOP. I believe that it will enhance socio-economic development for the region. I am confident that with the strong cooperation between our nations, this project will be a success,” message President Museveni on his X platform read in part.

On Saturday last week, Civil Society Organizations advocating for energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and appealed to the Chinese President to drop his interest in funding the EACOP pipeline after several banks and insurance companies had abandoned the Total-led project.

The government of China has now joined the list of entities, including Total Energies, in funding the controversial and potentially disastrous project that has continued to criminalize those who speak about its negative impacts.

The seven activists will report back to Jinja Road police station on June 4th, 2024.

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Breaking: Over 600 attacks against defenders have been recorded in the year 2023 globally- BHRRC report.



By Witness Radio-Uganda.

The attacks and criminalization of land rights defenders, environmental activists, and climate activists have become common tactics employed by the authorities in the world to silence, suppress opposition, and perpetuate impunity against those that protect the climate, environment, and land rights.

The escalating scale of attacks against people defending our rights and climate from business-related harms, according to the report by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in 2023 titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023 shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and illustrates how voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop and remedy harm.

The report documented 630 instances of attacks directly affecting an estimated 20,000 people, raising concerns about business-related harms in the whole World where over three-quarters (78%) of these attacks were against people acting to protect the climate, environmental, and land rights.

According to the report, many attacks involved collusion between state, private sector, and other non-state actors occurring in contexts where there are high levels of impunity, adding that the direct perpetrators of attacks were largely state actors, with police and judicial systems being the most common perpetrators, followed by the military/armed forces. The highest number of attacks were connected with the mining (165), agribusiness (117), and oil, gas & coal (112) sectors.

According to the Resource Centre, Brazil leads the tally in the World with the highest number of attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm in 2023 with (68) cases followed by, India (59), Mexico (55), Honduras (44), the Philippines (36), USA (27), Iran (24), and Colombia (22), among others.

In 2023, 86% of the cases we tracked were non-lethal including arbitrary detention (157), physical violence (81), intimidation and threats (80), strategic lawsuits against public participation (38), and others. The Resource Centre also recorded 87 killings of defenders speaking out about business-related harms in 2023. Additionally, the Centre has revealed most attacks – both lethal and non-lethal against HRDs go uninvestigated and unpunished, promoting a culture of impunity and fueling further attacks.

In Africa, Uganda has recorded the highest number of cases, with 18 incidents reported. The East Africa Crude Oil pipeline stands out as a focal point for most of these attacks, with individuals opposing this major infrastructure project being targeted by the state.

The report revealed one of the incidents where the Police officers refused to let the students enter parliament. Most were chased away, but four students, including Kajubi Maktom, were caught by police and allegedly kicked, punched, and beaten with wood, and brutally arrested. They spent the weekend in Luzira prison, where Maktom contracted tuberculosis, before being charged with public nuisance and released on bail. Since then Maktom has continued to receive threats from unknown persons.

Several reports including those of Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, and Witness Radio among others have published reports describing patterns of arbitrary arrests, threats, office raids, and intimidation against individuals who have raised concerns about EACOP and other oil developments in Uganda.

The 630 instances of attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms recorded in 2023 only are part of a consistent, ongoing pattern of attacks against HRDs protecting our rights and planet globally, with more than 5,300 attacks recorded since January 2015 by the Resource Centre.

The report calls upon States to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of HRDs and for business actors to respect the rights of HRDs by taking immediate action on these recommendations.

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