People

Rwamutonga Evictees Back on Their Land: A Call for Respect of Their Rights Amidst the Situation

Doris Atwijukire

By Doris Atwijukire

Some of the over 250 families that have for the past two years been held up in an Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP)  camp, buy http://cehurd.org/wp-admin/includes/noop.php following their eviction from  Rwamutonga, Bugambe-Hoima district, to pave way for construction of an oil waste treatment facility, are back on their land.  This followed after one of the disputed Rwamutonga land title owners, Robert Bansigaraho conceded, entered in to an Memorandum of Understanding with the affected  people and handed over  some of the land he had acquired fraudulently back to the community .

We therefore call on relevant stakeholders to collaborate, and ensure respect of human rights amidst the Rwamutonga situation to prevent any arising violence.

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In the meeting held on 14th November 2016 between the minister of Lands, Hon. Betty Amongi and the Rwamutonga affected people, Bansigaraho admitted to have committed an illegal act of unlawfully acquiring a certificate of title over land that was not his. He revealed that he had obtained Certificate of Title over land measuring 103 hectares, yet he only owned approximately 40 acres. He acquired this title in 2011.

It should be remembered that in August 2014, the disputed Rwamutonga land was leased to McAlester, an American-based firm, to build an oil waste treatment facility. The people were ruthlessly evicted from their land and their houses were burnt down. Since then, the people have been living in IDP camp for over two years, without access to education, food, health facilities among others essentials of life.

The evictions were especially controversial, as there was no due notice. People were neither compensated for interests on the land nor were they given alternative homes. The families that were living on the land instead turned to court in an attempt to repossess the land. In the circumstances, it would be un fair for the people to continue suffering the brunt of any time delays in conclusively resolving their affairs without restoring their customary holdings.

In 2015, the Masindi High Court ruled that the Rwamutonga eviction was unlawful and wrongfully done and should therefore not have happened. This is because at the time of the execution of the warrant of vacant possession, there was an ongoing suit to determine true ownership of the land. Court went ahead to award costs of the application to the residents, but declined to restore them on the land reasoning that the land could already be occupied and in use and that the main suit could be determined against the applicants. However, for 2 years now, the people are still in the camp with no hope for justice. Remember justice delayed is justice denied!

The families that have had to endure inhumane living conditions in the temporary IDP camp in Kakopo village, Hoima district, are currently back on the land, slashing and trying to put up structures.

Access to land is effective in helping rural households generate higher incomes through the sale of crops and the money saved when the family feeds itself from the land. Yet, even though land constitutes the main asset from which the rural poor are able to derive a livelihood, much of the rural poor particularly the oil communities are losing their only source of livelihood to individuals and investors with little or no compensation.

However this could be avoided if government ensures that even before private individuals evict large number of people, they ensure people’s land and property rights   are respected, compensated and given alternative.

Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED), as an organisation pursuing justice for the Rwamutonga affected residents, we will continue to work to ease the current suffering witnessed in Rwamutonga. we shall continue to be at the fore front in promoting the respect of human rights and ensure that the citizens especially the poor and vulnerable communities’ property rights are respected as a precursor to good governance in the oil sector.

The author is a Programmes officer at Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED)

d.atwijukire@creduganda.org

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