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WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES

Witnessradio.org Appears Before Land Inquiry Commission, Tables Evidence of Severe Torture, Destruction of Homes, and Loss of Livelihoods Meted against Poor Residents in Mubende

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By Witnessradio.org
Tens of thousands of poor families in Mubende district, have over the years lost numerous hectares of land to either companies or powerful individuals who carry out forceful evictions, witnessradio.org has reported to the commission of inquiry into land matters chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire.
Constituted in September 2016 by President Museveni, the commission’s role is to investigate and inquire into the law, process, and procedure by which land is administered and registered in Uganda.
“For years we have worked around land issues in several districts, Mubende in particular, we find it an epicenter of land evictions in Uganda,” Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Director, witnessradio.org informed the commission on August11, 2017 at Mubende during its public hearing.
“These evictions are perpetuated by politically and economically powerful individuals and companies who are using their financial muscle or their connections in some government departments and agencies to evict the population.” Ssebaggala added.
witnessradio.org, a non-partisan organization working towards an equitable land management through the use of technology has documented various forced land evictions that have had grave social and economic effects on natives.
On numerous occasions, it has reported incidents where the disputes have resulted into loss of poor peoples’ lives, loss of sense of belonging, arbitrary arrests and detention, use of tramped-up charges against community leaders opposing such evictions, and livelihoods, hence threatening the survival of entire communities and indigenous groups.
Indeed, witnessradio.org detailed to the Inquiry some of its findings when it comes to the chilling effects of land grabbing menace in Mubende district.
“This is against a background of a massively poor, rights unware and voiceless population who have become an easy target for all sorts of violations including torture, intimidation, unlawful arrests and detention, plus destruction of homes, crops, animals, dwellings, schools etc.” Ssebaggala said.
He added; “Apart from victims losing their livelihoods and sense of belonging, some have died or have been rendered disabled due to the severe torture that they are subjected to in the process of eviction(s).”
Ssebaggala explained that Mubende came to be an epicenter for land grabs because of being one of the districts that “hosts huge chunks of public land” with major land problems centered in sub-counties of; Butoloogo, Maduddu, Kitenga, Kitumbi, Manyogaseka and Kiganda which were found to be having majority of absent landlords.
Public Offices pinned on abetting Land Evictions
Both elected and technical officials occupying public offices have been immensely weakened by individuals either through corruption or other interests, thus enabling land grabbing in district, according to witnessradio.org findings.
Mubende Resident District Commissioner’s office, Uganda Police Force, Mubende District Land Board, Court of judicature, Director of Public Prosecutions and district chairperson’s office, were the offices witnessradio.org mentioned as the culprits as far as land grabbing is concerned.
In justification, witnessradio.org told the commission that the leadership has “failed to restrain investors from forceful eviction and destruction of people’s properties and crops,” which has resulted into communities’ starvation and causing anger, hatred and retaliation
Secondly, witnessradio.org spoke to the commission about impunity and retaliation to cause death, singling out attacks on helpless communities because of being unattended to by police and other authorities. For instance, Stephen Tumwine (RIP) the former manager of Formasa, a Chinese-tree planting company involved in massive evictions.
Before his hacking to death, Tumwine was caught red-handed cutting down crops in one of the residents’ garden in Butolo village to plant trees before compensating land owner, but the case had been reported to both area police and Mubende police to no avail.
Use of trumped-up charges to frustrate communities’ efforts to oppose unlawful evictions and their land rights, was the third justification witnessradio.org fronted.
Advocacy platform said that Mubende prisons are overcrowded due to either direct or indirectly linked land evictions. It’s a common practice in Mubende for anyone or a group of people leading a particular community to oppose unlawful eviction to be arrested and charged with capital offences.
But most interestingly, would be crucial offices in rescuing residents, public offices including the office of the RDC, were accused of protecting land grabbers. It was reported that, most of the cases mentioned above, police, the army and RDC’s office have been very active protecting land grabbers.
The unbecoming conduct and corrupt-oriented tendency of Mubende District Land Board while issuing freehold land titles also became an issue.
“We have noted with dismay the conduct of members of district land board sidelining communities’ efforts to attain full ownership of the land they have lived on for decades,” said witnessradio.org
Also, the board was also pinned on issuance of multiple land titles on one piece of land by the same advocacy platform.
It was against this background therefore, that witnessradio.org urged the commission to do the following;
• Issue a production warrant to prisoners on land-related matters to enable them an opportunity to testify in regards to their fate
• To order an immediate return of the evictees back to their land so as they can regain their sense of belonging, survival and livelihoods
• Critically look into the workings of Mubende police, RRDC’s office and District Land Board and individuals responsible to be held accountable to the suffering natives

PETITIONS

Complaint against unprofessional conduct of the DPC Kiryandongo district for aiding and abetting land grabbing in kiryandongo district.

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The Commandant,

Professional Standards Unit, Uganda Police-Kampala.

Dear Sir/Madam;

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

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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.

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WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES

Witness Radio Uganda wins the best CSO land rights defenders award at the National Land Forum Awards.

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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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