[For immediate release]
15th June 2012
Kampala: INTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER ONEK DEMANDS APOLOGY
“…Finally, if you do not abide, then know your legal permission to operate will be terminated.”
The Minster for Internal Affairs Hillary Onek, has instructed the Uganda Land Alliance to make a public apology to him over what he termed as “ridicule of government authority and its institutions.” The instruction is contained in a May 31st 2012 letter, Ref. ADM 87/228/1, which among others reiterates that in the event that ULA does not effect the apology and retract the report on land grabbing internationally, its legal permission to operate will be terminated.
The Minister’s recent demands were apparently fuelled by ULA’s Press Statement of April 30th 2012, which states that government had asked ULA to apologise or face closure. Uganda Land Alliance has since apologised for any misinterpretations or misconceptions that could have arisen out of its press statement
The Uganda Land Alliance Statement in question was in reaction to a damning investigation report by the Ministry of Internal Affairs into her operations, notably the question of land grabbing. The Government report had among other recommendations, a requirement of ULA to recall the research findings in the Global report indicating that over 20,000 people had been unfairly evicted to pave the way for a British Firm, the New Forests Company (NFC), to plant trees for commercial purposes; and to make a public apology to the President, less of which ULA would be shut down.
The Minister in his latest missive says that he has offered ULA a platform to resolve the matter, but the recommendations have not been heeded to. “Indeed the Minister has offered a platform, which ULA believes should be a platform for an amicable resolution of the matter. “The Uganda Land Alliance works towards the promotion of fair land laws and policies. Our struggle to ensure that the injustices that come with large scale investments in land often resulting into land grabs be dealt with in policy and law is only beginning. We remain committed to working on this subject until the small holder farmers and all those whose livelihoods depend on the land are guaranteed human rights; the right to a livelihood, food security and the right to a clean and healthy environment… until investments on land make the livelihoods of Ugandans better off.,” says Esther Obaikol, ULA Executive Director.
ULA understands that the Minister for Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba indeed provided information particularly on the Mubende and Kiboga case while speaking to the Press on November 4th 2011. Hon. Mutagamba rightly admitted that thousands of people had been evicted from the Luwunga and Namwasa forest reserves. ULA maintains that the question of land rights of those evicted can only be resolved by the courts of law as the communities themselves had filed suits in the High Court of Uganda.
Uganda recently signed to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure Security, and must therefore respect the provisions therein by guaranteeing the land rights of her own citizens. According to a FAO statement, “While the guidelines acknowledge that responsible investments by the public and private sectors are essential for improving food security, they also recommend that safeguards be put in place to protect tenure rights of local people from risks that could arise from large-scale land acquisitions, and also to protect human rights, livelihoods, food security and the environment.” The Uganda Land Alliance implores Government to heed to its commitments.
The Global Report on Land Grabbing was launched on September 22nd 2011, highlighting cases from various countries including Uganda. The report critically indicates a land rush by foreign governments and international companies often to produce food for their citizens back home and other lucrative non-food investments. An estimated 227 Million hectares have so far been either leased or sold in a cross section of developing countries. Other countries profiled in the report include Honduras, Southern Sudan, Guatemala and, Indonesia. The report recommended that concerned governments and companies pay attention to the grievances of affected communities, ensure equitable access and usage of land, transparency in land deals and that if people must be evicted anyway, their human rights be respected. (http://www.oxfam.org/grow/policy/land-and-power).
The affected communities in Mubende and Kiboga have since petitioned the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). The CAO, an independent body, has consequently determined that the issues raised by the affected communities pertain to its mandate to address the environmental and social impacts of IFC investments. A mediation process between the NFC and the affected communities is on-going facilitated by the CAO.
Subsequent to the launch of the report on land grabbing, government started investigations into the activities of Uganda Land Alliance. On April 25th, 2012, the Minister for Internal Affairs summoned ULA to appear before him the following day to answer concerns contained in the Uganda case study in the Global Report. ULA asked for two weeks to study the Government’s Investigation Report and make a formal response as its position had not been sought. Following the response, a meeting was convened at the NGO Board on June 4th 2012, attended by all the concerned parties; and just when the parties appeared to have agreed on a common ground, the Minister has now written another letter, this time requiring an apology to him, and reiterating a retraction of the research findings of in the report on the evictions in Mubende and Kiboga or else her permission to operate shall be terminated.
Media contact for interviews:
Uganda Land Alliance Communications Officer- Tumusiime K. Deo- 0785783554