Residents of Uganda’s Mubende District have decried the lack of justice for their long suffering and oppression as a result of their brutal displacement from a vast tract of land that was converted into a plantation to supply coffee beans to the world’s top trader of the said commodity.
“This day marks the 20th year of our violent eviction and the perpetuation of injustice against us. As people around the world enjoy billions of cups of coffee every day, we continue bearing the brunt of this profit-driven coffee growing enterprise that made us taste tragedy and stripped us of all our rights to live with dignity,” said Peter Bareke Kayiira, the spokesperson of the evictees.
On August 17, 2001, the Ugandan army started to drive away Kayiira and approximately 4,000 other Mubende residents from their 2,524-hectare land in the villages of Kitemba, Luwunga, Kijunga and Kiryamakobe.
The forcible eviction was carried out by the state of Uganda to give way to the 99-year lease of the landholding to Kaweri Coffee Plantation Ltd., which is wholly owned by the Germany-based Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, the world's leading green coffee service and trading group with over 50 companies operating in 26 countries.
Rights continuously violated
The evictees suffered from violence and lost everything they had during the five-day eviction from August 17 to 21, 2001.
They were threatened and forced to leave their homes at gunpoint and many of them were beaten up in the process. Their houses were burned down, their movable properties looted, and their crops destroyed.
The villages’ clinic and churches were demolished, while their primary school was eventually turned into the plantation’s headquarters. Deaths and diseases ensued among the villagers after they were forced out of their land.
Until now, the evictees, mostly engaged in casual labor with meager incomes, continue to live in dire situation with their rights to food, water, nutrition, health, work, and education continuously violated.
Their right to enjoyment of cultural life and right to get timely justice and legal remedy are also being curtailed and disrespected.
This, despite the fact that all the said rights are guaranteed to the evictees and all citizens of Uganda through the state’s constitution and several international covenants and treaties that the country ratified, including the UN-adopted International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Covid-19 lockdown compounds problems caused by eviction
Compounding their predicament are the lockdown measures imposed in Uganda to contain the spread of Covid-19. With little or no land to carry out farming activities and movement restrictions that caused many of them to lose their already paltry income as casual workers, the problem of hunger became more intense among the evictees.
“Landlessness here in Uganda means lack of food. Rural families have to grow food for themselves. We have been having a lot of problems ever since the eviction, including food scarcity exacerbated by the onset of COVID-19. Hunger is on the rise and life is becoming more and more difficult,” said Kayiira.
Moreover, in a recent report, FIAN Uganda noted that the number of domestic violence cases had increased among the evicted women following the Kaweri Coffee Plantation Ltd.’s takeover of the land.
The organization linked the problem to the lack of necessary resources for women to prepare meals for their husbands and children (such as bananas, maize, potatoes, rice and beans) because they were deprived of their food crops and also water and firewood for cooking as a result of their eviction.
FIAN Uganda also said there was a rise in the number of pregnancies among female teenage evictees, who were said to have offered sex to men in exchange for food or money.
Pleas for justice fall on deaf ears
The Kaweri evictees have been seeking justice since 2002, the year they sued the Kaweri Coffee Plantation Ltd. and the Ugandan government before the country’s high court.
However, until today, they have neither been compensated for the loss of their property nor obtained the restitution of their land or any other land to restart their lives.
In 2019, the court ordered a mediation process towards an out of court settlement, which is still ongoing.
Some of the evictees agreed with the process despite not having any assurance of being fully compensated at some point. Others want to pursue a full trial so that justice can be fully served and those responsible for their plight can be held accountable.
A woman evictee, who was just seven years old when the eviction took place in 2001, is demanding full compensation from the Ugandan state but lamented that it evidently lacked the political will to do so.
“Some of us have died already. But up to now, we are still waiting for justice,” she said.
Governments of Uganda, Germany must not tolerate impunity
The evictees have also brought their case before international bodies to compel both the Ugandan and German governments to act on their pleas.
In 2015, the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) urged the Ugandan government to “take immediate measures to ensure that the rights of the Mubende community are restored as well as of all other forcibly evicted communities.”
The committee also told the state to “consider developing a legal framework on forced evictions, which includes provisions on effective and meaningful consultation, adequate legal remedies, and compensation.”
In 2017, the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recommended that the German government “introduce effective mechanisms to investigate complaints filed against” transnational companies, particularly large-scale agricultural firms registered or domiciled in the state party “with a mandate to, inter alia, receive complaints and conduct independent investigations.”
The committee also advised the German government to “adopt concrete measures, including a redress mechanism to facilitate access to justice for women victims of human rights violations…”
However, neither the state of Uganda nor the state of Germany has followed the recommendations from the CESCR and CEDAW.
Valentin Hategekimana, coordinator for Africa at FIAN International, urged the two governments to “end the injustice long suffered by the evictees.”
“They have suffered a lot. Unfortunately, until today there is pure impunity for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in this case. This situation cannot be endlessly tolerated,” he said.
For queries and additional information, contact Valentin Hategekimana, FIAN International Africa coordinator at email@example.com.