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THE WITNESS

Victims of human rights violations in Uganda still waiting for redress

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Progress achieved in addressing the situation of the 4000 evictees in Mubende will again be under review, at the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural and Social Rights.

For the first time compliance with economic, social and cultural human rights in Uganda will be reviewed by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), on 10th -11th June. FIAN International and the evicted community of Kaweri Coffee Plantation in Mubende,Uganda, will advocate for the CESCR to issue recommendations to stop impunity concerning their case, as well as  to hold accountable those who are responsible for the severe human rights violations. Peter Kayiira, the spokesperson of the evictees expresses the community’s hopes: ”We  are convinced that all what is needed is the Committee to recommend the Government of Uganda to adopt measures that bring justice to us, the affected, especially through the restitution of our ancestral land”.

In August 2001,     approximately 4,000 peasants were forcefully evicted from their lands by the Ugandan army to pave way for Kaweri Coffee Plantation, a 100% subsidiary of the German based coffee company Neumann Kaffee Gruppe (NKG). In the course of that eviction all houses and crops were destroyed and the evictees were left without shelter and any source of livelihood. To date, due to lack of access to land and any other sufficient source of income, the evictees still face severe hunger and malnutrition among other violations of their economic, social and cultural rights.

Despite having won their case against the Government of Uganda and Kaweri Coffee Plantation in the High Court, and the international advocacy support, the victims still wait for restitution of their ancestral land and compensation.  Supported by an international advocacy campaign, coordinated by FIAN International, the evictees still struggle for their rights. “We will relentlessly continue the struggle to end the impunity, no matter how long it takes,“ Mr Kayira confirms.

FIAN International recalls that the State of Uganda has ratified the     International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which implies the obligation of the government to guarantee the rights listed therein. With the conducted eviction in the case of Kaweri Coffee Plantation, a long list of rights have been violated, including the right to food, water, housing, education, as well as health, amongst others.

On this note, FIAN International calls on the CESCR to recommend the fulfillment of the demands by the evictees, including restitution of their lands, compensation for all damages and suffering; stopping Kaweri Coffee Plantation from activities until the case is settled; ensuring independence of the judiciary and timely judicial processes; and holding accountable those responsible.

For more information about the case and demands of the evictees, please consult the following documents:
–     CESCR, List of issues in relation to the initial report of Uganda.
–     FIAN’s Parallel report to the CESCR on the Kaweri case.
–     Oral Statement by FIAN International during the Pre-Session.

For any media enquiries, please contact:
Dr. Ana Maria Suarez Franco, FIAN International
E-Mail:     suarez-franco(at)fian.org, Mobile: +41 787 96 22 54

THE WITNESS

Judging a child soldier, squaring the circle

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12 February is the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as “red hand day”. The  verdict issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Dominic Ongwen last week reminds us that this plague also hit Uganda during the darkest years of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. The mixed feelings his conviction triggered among the population highlights the moral and legal dilemma of judging a child …even when he’s grown up. The time is now ripe to embrace reconciliation as it is key to the healing process in northern Uganda.

If international days mostly remain incognito, the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers is particularly important in Uganda, especially a few days after the conviction of Dominic Ongwen. This former LRA top commander, has been found guilty of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including the forced conscription of children during armed conflict. No need to run through the long list of his gruesome misdeeds to imagine their cruelty and the pain of the victims and their families.

He is the first ever Ugandan standing trial before the International Criminal Court. His case was brought before this Court in The Hague by the Ugandan authorities in 2004 to help them bring justice for the crimes of the LRA war. This conviction represents a breakthrough for international justice in Uganda and the world. It also represents an important milestone for international law as it sets a precedent on how a former child soldier can be tried.

Victims ‘expectations

Many victims and their families had been waiting for this judgement for years. Most of them have welcomed the decision with great relief.

This trial and this long awaited judgement is of paramount importance for the victims who have suffered his crimes first-hand. His conviction can’t be considered as an end, but should rather be seen as a first step to recognize their pain.

We can’t turn a blind eye on what is still needed towards reconciliation in the region. The international justice principles are based on accountability and criminal sanctions, which is quite different from the values of the traditional Acholi justice system (Mato Oput) based on forgiveness and social restoration. Moreover, the ICC being based far away in The Hague makes its justice little tangible for the victims. Some victims associations are of the view that neither an international court such as the ICC, nor a national court such as the International Crime Division of the High Court, where another LRA warlord, Thomas Kwoyelo, is being tried at the moment, or even the Ugandan Amnesty Commission should try LRA crimes on behalf of the affected communities.

Few voices call for at least partial amnesty based on the fact that he was abducted as a young boy, forced into violence and brainwashed to become a uncompromising LRA warrior. Some also state that considering these extenuating circumstances might be a better way to contribute to the healing process. However, the judges dismissed these considerations mainly because he had refused to come clean once an adult. He had kept on committing these offences and his behaviour was reported to be extremely violent even with nobody watching over his shoulder. The Judges therefore ruled that there are no grounds that exclude the responsibility of Dominic Ongwen in the committed crimes.

No doubt these arguments will influence not only the sentence to be pronounced in the coming months but also the redress, reparations and compensations for the victims as well as the very sensitive question of the social reintegration of the former child soldiers who have been granted amnesty.

These diverging opinions among civil society, victims and experts raise many questions: What is the place of past inflictions in judging grown up child soldiers? Dominic Ongwen was abducted when he was 14 and then rose through the rebel ranks to become one of their warlords. Can a child, fallen into the hands of the rebels as a victim, be held accountable for these atrocities? How to deal with their guilt? How can one judicial trial balance conflicting claims of victimhood (that of Ongwen vs that of his victims)? This shows the complexity of judging a victim turned perpetrator, especially a child.

A much needed healing process 

The above questions may never be solved once and for all, but the answer most certainly has to do with expanding our definition of justice in order to encompass more than its prosecutorial form.

Today, it seems obvious to condemn the use of child soldiers in conflicts. This has not always been the case though and many victims are still living proof here in the country. Thousands of Ugandan former child soldiers have become adults now. Their scars are still deep, even after so many years. Dominic Ongwen and his fellow child soldiers are a stigma from the past in a post LRA Uganda. He is the face of this disturbing phenomenon of recruiting, training and using child soldiers during those violent years.

Thanks to civil society organisations, an important peace and reconciliation process has been initiated in northern Uganda. Organisations like ‘Avocats Sans Frontières’ (ASF), funded inter alia by the Belgian government, work on bringing justice closer to the victims. They do so by walking the victims and the population through the cumbersome procedures of national and international justice or simply by broadcasting the audiences of the trial on screens in the affected communities. Thanks to their victim-based approach, they help internally displaced populations during the conflict recover their land rights or help victims claim reparations for example. Other important actors in the healing process are  the ‘Centre for Children in Vulnerable Situation’ (CCVS), set up by 3 Belgian universities to promote psychosocial well-being by providing psychotherapeutic support services to war-affected children, youth, their families and communities living in vulnerable situations ; and WAPA, the ‘War-Affected People’s Association’, which fights against the use of children in armed conflicts and supports their reintegration into a stronger community.

In the same vein, the new National Transitional Justice Policy adopted by Uganda in 2019 has to be welcomed. In a nutshell, transitional justice is the response to systemic or widespread violations of human rights. It includes a range of processes and mechanisms aimed at ensuring accountability, serving justice and achieving reconciliation. It seeks recognition for victims and promotes possibilities for peace and democracy. All of these mechanisms are highly needed in post LRA Uganda.

As Nelson Mandela once said: “ True reconciliation does not consist in merely forgetting the past … reconciliation is a spiritual process which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people”. Post LRA Uganda is now at a crossroads: mature enough to have a wise and moderate look at its past, a new pioneer in terms of international law and engaged in transitional justice. May these conditions coincide to ensure a peaceful Uganda in the years to come.

H.E. Rudi Veestraeten

Ambassador of Belgium

On behalf of the European Union Heads of Mission in Uganda.

 

The author is the ambassador of Belgium on behalf of the European Union Heads of Mission in Uganda

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Natives and Businesses

Fresh violence in Kiryandongo as a project affected family head narrowly survived death

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kiryandongo – Uganda – families that lost their land to multinationals and currently trapped in the middle of the plantations have begun a year with fresh attacks from allegedly their evictors.

Batumbya Charles, 61, a resident of Kikungulu village, Kitwala parish in Kiryandongo district is the first victim of fresh violence since 2021 started.

Batumbya, a father of 15, whose land is in the middle of the sugarcane plantations owned by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited was attacked from his home on a previous Sunday at 8:00 PM by two unidentified plain-clothed men who were armed with pangas and batons.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited together with Agilis Partners Limited and Great Season SMC Limited are forcefully and violently evicting more than 35,000 inhabitants to give way for agribusiness projects.

Since 2017 when the evictions started, communities have complained about acts of violence meted against them by multinational companies from sexual and gender-based violence against women, defilement, torture, beating, kidnap to illegal arrest and detention among others.

“I was at home alone after my wife traveled with all the children to my in-laws. In the evening I was inside my house and I heard the noise of someone who had fallen down. So, I rushed to open the door to check what was happening. As soon I opened the door, two men forced themselves into my house. I was arrested, pushed down and no sooner I fell down than the attackers started beating me” Narrated Batumbya.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Batumbya further said that in the process, he tried to defend himself but he got overpowered by the attackers and started cutting his body parts using a panga.

“I have since lost my four-finger of my right arm to the attackers and now nursing wounds,” said, Batumbya.

Families living in the middle of plantations said they are vulnerable to attacks from multinational companies as violence is the order of the day.

They accuse multinational companies of intimidation and forcing them to receive as little as Uganda Shillings 150,000 equivalent to US Dollar 40 as compensation and when one refuses, such conduct is deemed disrespectful by investors and attracts serious beating.

“We suspect investors are responsible for the attack of Batumbya since we are in the middle of the plantations. They have tried to evict us and we are resisting, no one else is torturing us apart from them”, said one Mesarch Kagina a resident of Kikungulu.

However, the newly deployed Kiryandongo District Police Commander, SP Odonga Tonny, pleased to work with all stakeholders including communities to end the violence.

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THE WITNESS

Court orders eviction of prison

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Court has ordered eviction of a government prison sitting on about 500 acres of land in Buliisa District over wrongful occupation.

Buliisa Prison at Kabolwa hosts a prison farm. It has a cotton plantation on about 200 acres while the rest of about 300 acres hosts staff quarters and trees whose worth could not be readily established  by presstime.

Chief Magistrate Deo John Ssejjemba ruled that the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) is a trespasser on the estate of the late Jackson Bikobo Mwanga.

“By way of removing the defendant …at Kabolwa – Buliisa District, each and every police officer of Uganda Police Force or other relevant authorities are hereby instructed to facilitate this bailiff in ensuring that the execution is done/carried out without delay or obstruction as ordered herein by court,” Mr Ssejjemba said in a decree issued on February 4.

Ms Winnie Bikobo Nalumu, the administrator of the late Mwanga’s estate, sued government in 2017 seeking repossession of the said land.

The court said the Attorney General, the government chief pleader, did not challenge the suit although he was served the hearing notice.

On December 16, 2020, the court ruled in favour of Ms Bikobo and awarded her Shs40m in general damages and legal costs.

“For a period of three years, the plaintiff has been prevented from using the land without any legitimate excuse on the part of UPS. The plaintiff is accordingly awarded Shs40m in general damages,” Mr Ssejjemba ruled.

The next day, Mr Ssejjemba issued a decree ordering UPS to vacate the land immediately or evicted by force at their own cost. “UPS are barred permanently from using in any way the plaintiff’s land described as Kabolwa Estate at Buliisa,” he decreed.

However, UPS did not vacate the land. Ms Bikobo ran back to court and sought a fresh order to evict UPS.

On February 4, the court issued another decree to Mr Denis Asiimwe, a court bailiff of Majimoto Auctioneers, who represented Ms Bikobo (plaintiff).

“Whereas the undermentioned property in the occupancy of the defendant has been decreed to the plaintiff in this suit. You are directed to put the plaintiff in possession of the land and you are authorised to remove any person bound by the decree who may refuse to vacate the same,” Mr Ssejjemba’s decree read in part.

Mr Asiimwe yesterday said they have served UPS the court order and eviction notice and informed the Attorney General and police to witness the eviction.

“We informed them to vacate peacefully and they have been unyielding. Court has given us powers to evict them. We have done with all the lawful procedures to remove them. We are waiting for police to agree on the date they will witness the eviction,” Mr Asiimwe said.

The spokesman of UPS, Mr Frank Baine, said there is contention on the said land, but declined to give further details, saying the Commissioner General of Prisons Dr Johnson Byabashaija is more authoritated to talk about the issue.

By press time, Dr Byabashaija had not responded to our calls and text messages sent to him.

Original Post: Dail Monitor

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