WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES
UGANDA: Returning LRA Hostages Face New Ordeal Over Land Conflicts
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.
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.
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,” 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.”
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.
Complaint against unprofessional conduct of the DPC Kiryandongo district for aiding and abetting land grabbing in kiryandongo district.
Professional Standards Unit, Uganda Police-Kampala.
RE: COMPLAINT AGAINST UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT OF THE DPC KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT FOR AIDING AND ABETTING LAND GRABBING IN NYAMUTENDE KITWARA PARISH KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT AND CARRYING OUT ILLEGAL ARRESTS AND DETENTION OF INNOCENT RESIDENTS/ BIBANJA OWNERS FOR PROTESTING AGAINST THE ILLEGAL EVICTION FROM THEIR LAND.
We act for and behalf of the Lawful and bonafide occupants of Land described as LRV MAS 2 FOLIO 8 BLOCK 8 PLOT 22 (FORMERLY KNOWN AS RANCH 22).
Our Clients are residents of Nyamutende Village, Kitwara Parish in Kiryandongo District where they have lived for more than 30 years and sometime in 2017, they applied for a lease of the said Land to Kiryandongo District Land Board through the Directorate of Land Matters State House.
As they were still awaiting their Application to be processed, they were shocked to establish that the said land had been instead leased to and registered in the names of Isingoma Julius, Mwesige Simon, John Musokota William, Tumusiime Gerald, Wabwire Messener Gabriel, Ocema Richard and Wilson Shikhama, some of whom were not known to the Complainants. A copy of the Search is attached hereto
Our clients protested the above action and appealed to relevant offices, but were shocked to discover that the above persons had gone ahead and sold the same to a one Maseruka Robert.
Aggrieved by these actions, the Complainants appealed to the RDC who advised them to institute proceedings against the said persons, and assigned them a one Mbabazi Samuel to assist them to that effect. The said Mbabazi accordingly filed Civil Suit Noa 46 of 2019 against tne said registered proprietors at Masindi High Court challenging the illegal and fraudulent registration, sale and transfer of the subject land to Maseruka Robert.
While awaiting the progress of the case mentioned hereinabove, the Complainants were surprised to find that the said Mbabazi, instead of assisting them, he went into a consent settling the said suit on their behalf without their knowledge or consent. A copy of the Consent is attached hereto.
Among the terms of the said consent Judgment was that the residents would be compensated without specifying how much and would in return vacate the Land.
As if that was not enough, Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel are going ahead to execute the said Consent Judgment by forcefully evicting the occupants without compensation which has prompted the complainants to challenge the said Consent by applying for its review and setting aside at Masindi High Court which is coming up for hearing on the 29th March 2023. A copy of the Application is attached hereto.
Sensing the imminent threat of eviction, we also filed an application for interim stay of execution of the said consent to avoid rendering their application for review nugatory but unfortunately the same could not be heard on the date it was fixed for hearing (6th February 2023). A copy of the Application is attached hereto
On Thursday last week, three tractors being operated by 6 workers of a one Mbabazi Samuel [the very person who had been entrusted to represent our Clients to secure their Land through Civil Suit No.46 of 2019] encroached close to 50 acres of our Clients’ land and started ploughing it but our Client’s protested and chased them away.
We have however been shocked to receive information from our Clients that on Sunday at Mid night, 3 police patrols invaded the community in the night and arrested community members; Mulenje Jack, Steven Kagyenji, Mulekwa David, Ntambala Geoffrey, Tumukunde Isaac 15 years, Kanunu Innocent, Mukombozi Frank, Kuzara, Rwamunyankole Enock, and took them to Kiryandongo Police Station where they are currently detained.
We strongly protest the illegal arrests and detention of our Clients as this is a carefully orchestrated land grabbing scheme by Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel who are receiving support from the DPC Kiryandongo.
The purpose of this Letter therefore is to request your good office to investigate the misconduct, abuse of office and unprofessionalism of the said DPC Kiryandongo District and all his involvement in the land grabbing schemes on land formerly known as Ranch 22.
Looking forward to your urgent intervention,
C.C The Head Police Land Protection Unit Police Head Quarters Naguru
CC The RDC Kiryandongo District
CC The Chairman LCVKityadongo District
CC The Regional Police CommanderAlbertine Region
WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES
The Executive Director of Witness Radio Uganda talks about the role played by Witness Radio in protecting communities affected by large-scale agribusinesses in Kiryandongo district in an interview with the ILC.
WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES
Witness Radio Uganda wins the best CSO land rights defenders award at the National Land Forum Awards.
By Witness Radio Team
Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog, Witness Radio has been awarded the best CSO land rights defender award 2022 in the recently concluded National Land Forum Awards held last week at Mestil hotel in Kampala.
Witness Radio’s executive Director, Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala attributed the award to the community land and environmental rights defenders who stand up against the intimidation and different forms of harassment from land grabbers (economically powerful and politically connected companies and individual investors).
“This is an award for defenders at a community level. They work in very deadly environments filled with harassment, torture, death threats, arrest, trumped-up charges, and kidnaps among others to advocate for community land and environment rights. This is happening at a spate where criminalization and silencing of community land rights defenders are at increase.” Jeff added.
The award has come at a time when hundreds of Ugandans in different parts of the country are accessing services provided by the organization ranging from legal service provisions, non-judicial mechanism engagements, empowerment to help them understand their rights, and using the same knowledge to use the same skills to push back against illegal and forced evictions
The chairman of the organizing committee of the second National Land Forum, Mr. Jimmy Ochom noted some progress on legislation in Uganda’s land Governance. He cited growing inequalities on land where the poor are more vulnerable.
During awards, the state minister for housing, Hon persis Namuganza revealed that the government approved the plan for 2018-2040 that maps the land use in the country.
According to the minister, the government had identified land for settlement, game reserves, wildlife, arable land for farming, and water bodies among others in the plan which she said was passed a few weeks ago.
The event was organized by Oxfam and partners and provided a platform for discussions by the different actors in the land sector on issues around land governance, including land rights, land administration, and land governance for improved collaboration, cooperation between the actors, and improved land service delivery for Ugandans under a theme “Taking stock of the National Land Policy in addressing Land inequality in addressing Land inequality in Uganda.”
Other categories of awards that were won by different organizations and individuals including Mr. Eddie Nsamba-Gayiiya for his contribution to research on land rights, Justice Centers Uganda for Promoting Access to Land Justice, and Mr. Henry Harrison Irumba for Championing Legal Reforms among others.
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