Government urged to investigate forest evictions in Uganda

22 September 2011 -  Kampala – Oxfam International and the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) today urged the government to investigate allegations that more than 20,000 people were involuntarily evicted from the Namwasa and Luwunga forest reserves in Mubende and Kiboga districts, to make way for a commercial tree plantation licensed to the UK-based New Forests Company (NFC).

Many of the people, who remain living on the outskirts of the plantations say they are now destitute and that no-one was compensated. The evictions in Mubende district concluded in February 2010 and those in Kiboga district finished five months later. People claim their homes and livelihoods were destroyed and some evictions were forcible.

Ownership of the land is disputed. Both areas are gazetted as forest reserves, but the people petitioned the High Court to test their own claims to ownership. Some say they have been living there for over 40 years, and have legal claims to the land. Despite the High Court injunctions, the evictions went ahead before the cases could be resolved.

NFC, which also operates in Tanzania, Rwanda and Mozambique, claims that the evictions were peaceful and voluntary, and that compensation is solely the government's responsibility.

Esther Obaikol, Executive Director of the Uganda Land Alliance, said: “If done well, foreign investment by companies like NFC can be positive for Uganda’s development and provide jobs, revenue, and goods and services. However, NFC is also responsible for protecting the rights of people affected by their projects – thousands of whom in this case say they have been left with nothing - and can no longer shift all the responsibility solely onto the government.”

Oxfam Country Director in Uganda, Ayman Omer, said: "Oxfam recognises the value of ethical investments in national development. NFC itself has major financial backers which insist that their investments are done ethically and responsibly. These should have ensured that poor people did not lose out as a result of NFC's projects. Nevertheless that's what appears to have happened.”

Oxfam and ULA are urging the government to review the case, and for its investigation to ensure that justice is provided to the affected communities.

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Media contact:

Uganda Land Alliance: Esther Obaikol, 0715324944

Oxfam: Francis Shanty Odokorach 0392714475