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UGANDA: Returning LRA Hostages Face New Ordeal Over Land Conflicts

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When Julius Peter was finally freed after seven years held hostage by Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, he and his family hoped their lives would finally return to normal.

Instead, it was the start of a whole new ordeal.

Two of Julius Peter’s children stand in front of a fire their father lit to clear land for farming near Lulung village. PICTURE: Sally Hayden/Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Peter and his family were hounded out of their community, victims of the suspicion that still dogs those held by the LRA and the rapid population growth putting pressure on land in Uganda.

“When I escaped captivity I came back home, but my neighbours disputed (my homecoming). They did not want me back,” Mr Peter told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Omokitunge village in northern Uganda’s Gulu district, where the family now lives.

“When I escaped captivity I came back home, but my neighbours disputed (my homecoming). They did not want me back.”

– Returnee Julius Peter

The LRA, led by reclusive warlord Joseph Kony, terrorised Ugandans for nearly two decades as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in the north of the country and across the border in what is now South Sudan.

The group was notorious for its brutality and for kidnapping children for use as fighters and sex slaves. Tens of thousands of adults were also abducted, according to research by the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative on Vulnerable Populations.

Since the LRA was driven out of Uganda by a military offensive around a decade ago, its former hostages in the country have slowly trickled back to their homes.

Many have found their land occupied by neighbours. Others who managed to reclaim a place to live and farm have had since their houses burned down.

Mr Peter, now 49 and a father of nine, was freed in 2009 when government troops attacked the camp where he was held.

“When Julius was in captivity there was no land conflict,” Mr Peter’s wife Betty Auma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But when he came back all the trouble started.”

After being forced out, the couple saved for four years to buy new land in Omokitunge village in Lalogi, around 330 kilometres north of Kampala.

The cassava, sorghum and beans he grows there allow Mr Peter to feed his family. But while he is now safe from attacks, the violence continues nearby.

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Julius Peter, 49, was abducted by the LRA as an adult and held for seven years. Photo taken in Omokitunge village, Lologi, northern Uganda on 25th February. PICTURE: Sally Hayden/Thomson Reuters Foundation

A short distance away from where he lives, a house belonging to a former LRA fighter was burned down in November with his wife and child still inside.

Witnesses told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the pair were shaken but escaped unharmed.

Emmanuela Adokwun, who works for a charity that supports victims of the war, believes the suspicions about what abductees did while they were with the LRA made conflict with their old communities inevitable.

“The community think they are trouble causers who did a lot of atrocities and shouldn’t have come back.”

– Emmanuela Adokwun

“The community think they are trouble causers who did a lot of atrocities and shouldn’t have come back,” said Ms Adokwun, a senior programme officer with Gulu Women Economic Development & Globalization (Gwed-G).

“They killed, therefore they do not deserve to be given land. The community members are angry with them.”

Spending years in camps for displaced people also made northern Ugandans keenly aware of the value of land, said Ms Adokwun.

Nearly two million Ugandans were driven from their homes during the conflict, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

In the north, more than 90 per cent of the population was displaced and hundreds of thousands forced into temporary camps as part of a government strategy to isolate the LRA.

Those who used to live on the land before the conflict had no documents to prove ownership because in northern Uganda most of it is held under customary tenure, controlled by groups of local people without formalised agreements.

“Elders who should have protected land for the people now protect it for themselves because of money,” Ms Adokwun told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“(There’s also a) population increase leading to scramble over land among family members.”

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Women carry out household chores in Awach, northern Uganda. Sally Hayden/Thomson Reuters Foundation

Uganda’s population is expanding by around three per cent per year, according to the United Nations, making it one of the world’s fastest growing.

Local council leader Okot Patrick said there were eight LRA-related land conflicts in his region alone and police offered little help.

“The police say they don’t deal with land conflict,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It’s up to elders and local leaders to resolve it.”

Gwed-G organises mediation and reconciliation sessions including “wang oo”, where communities sit around a fire to discuss issues of concern with elders.

One recent session resulted in the neighbours who burned down the house of the returning fighter agreeing to pay for a new building.

Although the flow of returns has slowed, former hostages and those displaced by the war are still going back to their communities, and some are finding happiness there.

Last month, 47-year-old Charles returned to his land in the small village of Awach in northern Uganda for the first time since he was driven out by the conflict in 2003.

Charles, who did not give his surname, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he was optimistic farming would help him earn enough to pay for his five children to go to school.

Prices were rising in the cities, he said, and the construction work that had been sustaining the family was becoming harder to get.

“It was too hard being away, I missed home,” he said as he surveying the community he left for so long.

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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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WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES

Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes

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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.

Source: www.monitor.co.ug

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels

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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.

Source: iisd.org

Download the statement: https://www.iisd.org/system/files/2023-09/ngo-statement-on-energy-sector-strategy-2024-2028.pdf

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