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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Uganda: Judicial harassment of environmental and human rights activist Desire Nkurunziza

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UGA 001 / 0923 / OBS 037
Arbitrary detention /
Release /
Judicial harassment
Uganda
September 5, 2023The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Uganda.

Description of the situation:The Observatory has been informed of the arrest and subsequent release of Desire Nkurunziza, an environmental and human rights activist and the elected leader of Nyairongo village, Kikuube district, mid-western region of Uganda. As a member of the Save the Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) community task force, Mr Nkurunziza has been calling out the local and central government authorities about the deforestation of the Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, which has been leased to the Hoima Sugar Limited company, mainly for sugarcane cultivation, by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, South-West region of Uganda. This project is not only affecting the biodiversity of the forest but also the local community, which has been subjected to extortion by land grabbers associated to Hoima Sugar Limited and/or its agents.

On July 16, 2023, two cars came to Desire Nkurunziza’s home in Nyairongo trading center, one of them belonging to a supervisor of Hoima Sugar Ltd and the other to an associate of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner, both known by Mr Nkurunziza. The two men informed him that two of his village members were arrested in the forest, now a sugar cane plantation, and he agreed to go with them to help his constituents. Upon reaching the plantation, he was handed over to armed Hoima Sugar Ltd personnel, who started beating him and then recorded a video accusing him of illegally cutting down sugar cane. He was then taken to the Kikuube police station by the same Hoima Sugar Ltd car, where he was arrested on the grounds of “incitement of violence” and “criminal trespass” under Section 51 and 302 of the Penal Code Act, respectively, and detained there by the police for two days. He requested temporary release from police bond – custody -, but his request was denied.

On July 18, 2023, he applied for Court bail, which was denied even though he fulfilled all the requirements set by the Court and no reason was provided. He was then remanded to Kiryatete prison.

After reporting back to court on July 24, Desire Nkurunziza was released on Court bail. He had to pay a cash bail of 300,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately 74 Euros) in addition to satisfying all the conditions for release, with the obligation to report back on August 31, 2023, to the Chief Magistrates Court of Hoima, which is handling the matter. During his audience, the magistrate informed him that he would need to report back once again to the Court on November 2, 2023, without providing any reasons.

The Observatory recalls that the Bugoma Forest is the second biggest natural forest reserve in Uganda. In recent years, it has been claimed by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Western Uganda, which obtained a land title through irregular ways before it leased it to sugar manufacturer Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane cultivation, to establish an urban centre, develop eco-tourism, and restore a portion of the forest reserve. Before leasing the land to Hoima Sugar Limited, an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) certificate was issued by the National Environment Management Authority, in circumstances that have been contested by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) in courts of Law. The contestation is based on the allegations that the assessment was made without consulting the local community, even though this issue clearly concerns them. A trial which aims to annul the ESIA certificate is ongoing in front of the Court of appeal.

The Observatory further recalls that this is not the first time that defenders of the Bugoma Forest are targetted for their legitimate human rights activities. In September 2020, nine environmental rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested for defending the Bugoma Forest, including Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, respectively team leader and Head of Programmes of Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), who were first arrested on their way to a radio talk show to discuss the dangers of sugar cane cultivation in the Bugoma Forest and call on peaceful protests, as well as Sandra Atusinguza, member of AFIEGO who went to the police station to negotiate their release and got arrested herself. These various acts of harassment against environmental and human rights defenders, in addition to the numerous arrests of local residents defending their right to access their own land, show the will of the local and national governments to intimidate and silence them.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Desire Nkurunziza, as well as the other above mentioned human rights defenders, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

Source: fidh.org

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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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