ACCESS TO REMEDY: EVICTED COMMUNITIES AROUND (TSNP) VICTIMIZED FOR SEEKING REMEDY IN UGANDAN COURTS
Communities seeking remedy should be supported but not disrupted from accessing remedy
For more than a decade, communities in Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Ntoroko and Kibaale districts have lived in conflict with Uganda Wildlife Authority over resources in and along Tooro Semuliki National Park (TSNP).
The Semuliki national game park is about 220 square km in size and an altitude of 670-760m above sea level. It was created in 1932 and upgraded to national park status in 1993, it’s a host hub for close to 441 bird and 51 mammal species. About four ethnic groups lived in and around the park originally, these were Bamba along the base of the Rwenzori, the Bakonjo along the slopes of the Rwenzori, Batuku cattle keepers on the plains, and Batwa pygmies, although to date due to migration and intermarriages the blend of other tribes was inevitable to include Batooro, Bakiga etc. The park’s major source of income is tourism which brings in a humongous sum of revenue from both foreign and local tourists annually.
The conservation body has been accused by neighbouring communities of grabbing their land. Communities claim their land was grabbed around 1998 when the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel invaded the area using the national park as hide out places. Upon the defeat of the ADF, communities found their land already occupied by the national park. Since 2016, communities have been struggling through various avenues to secure their land.
In 2018, our sister organization/partner, Twerwaneho Listeners Club supported communities with legal support to reclaim their land. The matter is before court. Facts in the rights of ownership may not be discussed in this report for justifiable grounds not to prejudice court processes.
Whereas National park management in Uganda is exclusively under UWA administration, with local governments required to provide support for the control of ‘vermin’ (non-threatened species which cause property damage), contestation over equitable resource use remains a key concern.
Conflict over access to utilize resources has escalated in to lost lives on both sides of community members and rangers.
Unlike communities around Tooro Semuliki Game park, in other parts of the country where Uganda Wildlife Authority operate, the body has developed a series of community conservation programmes, namely Revenue Sharing; Collaborative Management; Problem Animal Management; Wildlife Use Rights (sport hunting, wildlife trade, farming and ranching, general extraction) and Conservation Education and Awareness (UWA, 2012a).
Access to remedy for victims of business-related abuses remains a key concern.
“Already burdened with the threat of not being allowed to enter in to any form of agreement to access resources like water, herbs, dead wood, honey among other resources, our communities cannot ably cope with barriers”, states Mzee Africano Bitungwa the lead community petitioner.
Victims of human rights abuse have a right to effective remedies, as specified for example in articles 2.3 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. Yet victims of abuse involving companies are often unable to access effective judicial remedies
Other burrier include:
- cost of sustaining a court claim
- inadequate options for aggregating claims, such as class actions and group claims
- lack of resources and expertise among government prosecutors
Because our land was forcefully grabbed leading to our evictions, our communities have no option but defy to access these resources without permission. It is not our fault seeking justice in court nor being denied access to the resources like other communities, Mzee Africano Stated.
In the course of our investigation, Clouds Fm confirmed that the Conservation body does not have in place a mechanism to negotiate with communities that seek redress in courts of law. The body further cuts off any form of negotiations that would enable communities utilize any resources in the national park.
It appears this is a form of strategy to arm twist communities from seeking redress in court of law in return for community agreements that would enable communities utilize resources in the park in a regulated framework.
This strategy in itself discourages communities to seek justice nor utilize natural resources and undermines the basic principles of accountability and promotion of human rights.
Many communities suffer in silence as a result of, or compounded by, the frequent imbalances between the parties to business-related human rights claims, such as in their financial resources, access to information and expertise… Particular attention should be given to the rights and specific needs of [vulnerable and marginalised] groups or populations at each stage of the remedial process: access, procedures and outcome.”
In the past two months, communities along Tooro Semuliki Game Park have been advocating a Community-based natural resource management model that would allow a sustainable use of resources as the journey to access remedy is achieved.
Community-based natural resource management is, quite simply, (and as its name suggests) a term to describe the management of resources such as land, forests, wildlife and water by collective, local institutions for local benefit. Community agreements takes many different forms in different locations and different socio-political and bio-physical contexts.
Agreements may be based on domestic or commercial uses of natural resources, such as commercial bee keeping, or it may be based on primarily subsistence uses of resources such as Non-Timber Forest Products.
Community – Based Natural Resource Management is not a new phenomenon. Local groups of people have managed the land on which they live and the natural resources with which they are surrounded for millennia.
Indigenous African communities often developed elaborate resource management systems (Fabricius, 2004), as have local communities throughout the world (Ostrom, 1990; Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2004).
Today, local groups of pastoralists, farmers, and hunter-gatherers throughout Africa maintain many traditional systems of collective natural resource management which help to sustain the livelihoods and cultures of millions of people.
There is growing need for awareness of the importance of collective natural resource management practices and institutions, and a recognition of the ways that historic forces have disrupted local people’s ability to manage the lands and resources they depend upon.
A wide range of policy makers and development and conservation practitioners have supported efforts to revive or bolster local natural resource management institutions in response to various economic, social, environmental and political pressures.
Can Community Based Natural Resource Management Agreements be implemented during the course of litigation seeking redress?
The central assumption of Community Based Natural Resources Management is that local people will be able to manage lands and natural resources through locally devised rules and procedures, as communal property (Ostrom, 1990).
“The evidence is that communities can become effective institutions for sustainable resource management, but only if they are granted genuine proprietorship, that is, the right to use resources, determine the modes of usage, benefit fully from their use, determine the distribution of such benefits and determine rules of access. Any policy which excludes these components will frustrate the goal of making communities effective institutions for resource management.”
The answer to the above question is YES as this does not in any way interfere with the judicial process nor compromise communities’ effort to access justice. In the same manner, community agreements do not negate the mandate of the Conservation body but rather promote the purpose and intension to gazette national parks.
It is therefore difficult to justify Uganda Wildlife Authority’s decision to deny communities agreements seeking access to the parks for purposes that do not compromise conservation of national parks.
These Agreements only seek permission to access and sustainably use of resources (local herbs, water, fruits and dead wood) within the national park. as the process to determine the rightful owner through peaceful court means goes on.
TLC in partnership with local communities appeals to the conservation body to grant communities’ agreements that allow them access and utilize resources defined by the conservation body as appropriate for communities and conservation purposes.
For Further Information, Contact Twerwaneho Listeners Club
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