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Uganda: Court of Appeal starts hearing an appeal case challenging the High Court’s decision of not canceling the ESIA certificate that allowed the cutting down of Bugoma Forest.

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By the Witness Radio Team,

The Court of Appeal in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, has started hearing an appeal case challenging the High Court’s decision not to cancel the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) certificate.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) issued Hoima Sugar Limited with an ESIA certificate of approval for the company’s Kyangwali Mixed Land Use project in August 2020 to cut down a natural forest, Bugoma central forest reserve to grow sugarcane, set up an urban center, and engage in other activities degrading the forest. Kyangwali Mixed Land Use project is a facility owned by Hoima Sugar Limited.

Bugoma forest reserve is 155 miles (250km) long, northwest of Kampala, and covers more than 40,000 hectares. It is the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine rift valley. It is home to 38 species of mammals, of which four are threatened according to global reports, and nine are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list. Some 600 chimpanzees, classified as endangered and of global conservation concern, live in this stretch of tropical rainforest.

The appeal arose from a case filed in the high court in Kampala in 2020 demanding for cancellation of HSL’s ESIA certificate. The partners argued that Hoima Sugar Limited violated Regulation 10 of the 1998 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations which provides for an environmental impact study and shall be conducted following the terms of reference (ToR) developed by the developer in consultation with NEMA and the lead agency.

The High court case filed by the Save Bugoma Forest Campaigners (SBFC) included the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), and the Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), and others.

The petitioners further urged that Regulation 12 was violated too which also requires developers to publicize the intended project, its anticipated effects, and benefits through the mass media in a language understood by the affected communities for not less than fourteen days and others.

In May 2021, the High Court in Kampala ruled against the SBFC and did not cancel HSL’s ESIA certificate. In the ruling, Justice Musa Ssekaana referred the applicant’s case an attempt to suppress the real facts by exaggerating that the entire forest is being cleared for sugarcane planting and winning public sympathy.

SBFC in their appeal, argues that the judge failed to address the violations by NEMA and Hoima Sugar Ltd. For instance, the judge’s view that it was okay for the developer not to consult institutions like National Forest Authority (NFA), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Kikuube district local government, and others while the developer was undertaking the ESIA study is terrible.

During the first hearing, the registrar of the Court of Appeal, Lilian Bucyana gave both parties timelines to file conferencing notes. The conferencing notes which are supposed to be filed before the next hearing on October 6, 2023, will contain the brief facts of the case as it will be argued by the parties and will also include the issues to be determined by court thereafter.

“We are happy that the court has commenced processes to enable the hearing of our case. However, the court delayed hearing the case and Hoima Sugar wantonly destroyed the Bugoma forest. It is unfortunate. We hope that the court will prioritize this and other environmental cases to protect Uganda’s last few remaining tropical rainforests.” Dickens Kamugisha, the SBFC chairperson, said,

Frank Muramuzi of NAPE added, “Before Hoima Sugar was illegally allowed to destroy Bugoma, the forest was home to about 11.4% of Uganda’s chimpanzees. Reports indicate that the number of chimpanzees in the forest has reduced. Why would Uganda allow to lose its important biodiversity for sugarcane? We hope that the court of appeal will stop this destruction.”

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How Kiryandongo land conflict has affected children

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Parents affected by the seven-year-old land conflict in Kiryandongo District have said hundreds of their children are facing hunger and lack of education.

The children have been forced out of school since 2017 and their parents, who derived livelihood mainly from cultivation, are now struggling to put food on the table since their land is now occupied by a ranch.

Currently, the farming families are now trapped in the middle of farms belonging to Agilis Partners, Great Season SMC Limited, and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, who have set up ranches measuring about 9,300 acres in Mutunda and Kiryandongo sub-counties.

The ranch land had for long been occupied and farmed by more than 35,000 families who came to the area after they fled war and natural calamities from other districts in Uganda, according to Witness Radio, a non- governmental organisation.

Ms Esther Namuganza, a resident of Kimogoro Village, Mutunda Sub-county, lives with her five children in an area known as Ranch 20.

She recalls that on November 23, 2017, agents of Agilis Partners told the people living within Ranch 20 and 21 that it had acquired the land and that they would have to vacate.

“The first eviction took place on November 23, 2017. It was a Thursday. We grew big-headed and refused to vacate the ranches because we are the citizens of Uganda, we have nowhere to go,” she says.

Her family is one of a few that still remain on the land but with nowhere to grow food.

“We eat one meal a day and even at times we just take porridge. We don’t eat during the day to save for tomorrow. If you say I’m going to have lunch and supper, what about tomorrow?” Ms Namuganza wonders.

Annet Muganyizi, a former Senior Four student who dropped out of school in 2017, says all the schools, health facilities and water sources on the land have all been destroyed.

Mr John Byaruhanga of Nyamutende Village in Kiryandongo Sub-county said agriculture used to be their only source of livelihood in the ranches.

“When Agilis Partners came, everything changed for the worse. We were beaten, tortured and evicted at gunpoint. When we ask those armed men where they want us to go with our children and cattle, they just tell us to vacate. When you try to resist, they arrest you. I am one of those who have been arrested twice,” he says.

However, the spokesperson of Agilis Partners, Mr Emmanuel Onyango, earlier dismissed the allegations of unending forceful evictions.

“To be honest, I don’t know why people keep on accusing us of evictions yet we still have people residing on Ranch 20 and 21,” Mr Onyango said . He explained that if indeed they were evicting people, “there wouldn’t be anyone left on the land.”

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the Kiryandongo deputy RDC, said the Bunyoro land question cannot be sorted out without thinking about its history.

“We had 38 ranches here, which, on guidance of these international organisations, told the government to restructure the ranches. The ranches were restructured, people settled there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he said.

Source: Daily Monitor

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Chip in to take Bayer down!

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If the lawsuits keep on coming, it could finish off this brutal corporation – and send its bee-killing, cancer-linked chemicals into history.

But many of Bayer’s victims don’t have enough money to take them to court and get the justice they deserve. That’s where we come in.

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Can you chip in now to help take Bayer down?

Anything extra raised will power Ekō and our campaigns worldwide fighting for people and the planet.

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Oil project-affected persons express disappointment in Uganda judiciary

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The Tilenga and EACOP oil project-affected households have expressed deep disappointment over the failure of key stakeholders in Uganda’s judicial system to grant them audience to discuss their grievances stemming from a lawsuit filed against them by the government in December 2023.

In a press conference organized at Hotel Africana in Kampala, some members of the 42 of the families sued by the government claimed having travelled from Buliisa district to Kampala with the aim of meeting Norbert Mao, the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and the deputy chief justice.

They also intended to meet the principal judge, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and others. Additionally, the households wanted to meet Total Energies’ managing director. However, they were unable to meet any of them, stating that their refusal indicated lack of responsiveness and dialogue on critical issues affecting the rights and livelihoods of project-affected people in the oil region.

According to a one Bamutuleki, one of the affected members, they had written letters to various stakeholders, including the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the chief justice, deputy chief justice, principal judge, Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and Total Energies, seeking for a meeting to discuss their grievances. However, they were unable to meet any of them for a crucial discussion.

“This lack of interaction leaves us feeling neglected and unheard in our quest for justice and fair treatment in the face of potential evictions related to the oil projects,” Bamutuleki said.

Julius Asiimwe, another oil project-affected person, raised similar concerns about their failure to meet the key stakeholders in the judiciary to address their grievances.

“We are not happy with all these offices. We are aggrieved. We wrote them letters requesting for meetings on specific dates and none of them wrote back to us. Based on the reception we received at the offices we visited, we don’t think that the judiciary understands the implications of its actions on our families, and our children,” Asiimwe said.

The failure to meet any of the officials leaves the future of the affected households in uncertainty after the High court in Hoima gave the government a go-ahead to evict them from their land.

GENESIS

In December 2023, the government filed a lawsuit against the households affected by the Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects in Uganda. This was after the affected households had rejected the compensation offered by Total Energies, a French company, which was acquiring the land on behalf of the ministry of Energy, citing it as inadequate, unfair and low.

The affected people said the government valuation did not reflect the value of their land, and the impact of losing their property. They expressed their preference for land in exchange for their property rather than monetary compensation in order to maintain their livelihoods.

Additionally, they claimed it was a violation of Article 26 of the Ugandan Constitution, which protects property rights and ensures fair compensation. However, the rushed court processes led by Justice Jesse Byaruhanga of the High court in Hoima resulted in a judgment against the households within four days of the case being filed, which is arguably one of the fastest court cases to be resolved in Uganda in recent memory.

The court ruling stated that the people’s compensation could be deposited in court and the government could proceed and gain vacant possession of their land.

The affected households did not participate in the court hearing because some of them were even unaware that they had been sued.
According Bamutuleki, other project- affected persons could not travel to the court in Hoima, which was far away from Buliisa, due to the short notice provided for the hearing and their lack of financial resources to cover transportation costs.

“This lack of adequate notice and financial constraints hindered our ability to participate in the legal proceedings and defend our interests,” Bamutuleki pointed out.

Additionally, Bamutuleki stated that they were given a pile of legal documents by the court and no one was there to make the interpretation for them. Most of the project-affected persons are illiterate, a factor that made it harder for them to get a fair hearing.

UNCERTAINTY

Many families say their eviction from land for the Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects makes their future unknown given that land is their primary source of income.

While at the press conference, Jelousy Mugisha stated that their daily lives depend on the land for various aspects such as generating income, sending children to school, and accessing medical assistance.

“I have been using my land for many years now to take care of my family because I don’t earn any monthly salary. So, the government giving me money to leave my land and get a smaller one is completely unfair and unconstitutional,” he said.

The families highlighted that they weren’t fighting the government and its projects but only want a fair compensation for their land, which will restore them to their former positions. Mugisha stated that the money the government proposed in compensation for their land is completely low compared to the market prices of the land in the area.

“The size of my land that was acquired is 2.5 acres. The government wants to give me Shs 5 million per acre yet the market price for one acre is Shs 20 million in my area,” Mugisha said.

“If the government really wants the land, let it get us another land equivalent to what we had and we shall agree,” he said.

Dickens Kamugisha, the executive director of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), an organization that has been supporting the affected families for a long time, expressed deep concern over the plight of the poor families from the oil region who are facing injustices.

He emphasized the importance of all Ugandans to take a keen interest in their struggles, highlighting the broader implications of the government’s actions and court precedents that allow for the violation of constitutional rights and unfair treatment of landowners.

“As these poor families from the oil region suffer injustices today, all Ugandans should take a keen interest in their plight. With courts setting bad precedents that allow the government to violate Article 26 and other human rights provisions of the Ugandan Constitution, where affected landowners are forced to accept low, unfair, and inadequate compensation, and courts deny people fair hearings, any Ugandan could suffer the same fate,” he warned.

Despite facing legal battles, evictions, and disruptions to their livelihoods, these individuals remain resolute in their pursuit of a just resolution to their grievances.

Source: The Observer.

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