By Fred Kiva
The National Forestry Authority (NFA) and the Attorney General of Uganda have been jointly dragged to court over forest evictions in Bunyoro Sub-region.
The government’s forestry body is sued by the Banyoro community organization, Bunyoro Kitara Reparations Agency (BUKITAREPA) in the High Court of Uganda at Masindi miscellaneous cause no.007 of 2017.
Through their lawyers D&G Associated Advocates, the applicants are seeking a permanent injunction against the respondents restraining them and their employees, agents or servants from evicting or threatening to evict the indigenous people inhabiting forest reserves in Bunyoro sub-region.
The applicants also demand that NFA be restrained from issuing leases and licenses in the forest reserves of Ruzaire, Kasongoire, Bujaawe, Ngobya and Kandanda. “An order for compensation is sought to over one thousand affected individuals who have suffered unlawful arrest and detention, assault, loss of property and inconvenience as a result of the respondents’ servants/agents’ actions,” the applicants demand in their suit filed on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.
The applicants also demand cancellation of all leases and licenses granted by the respondents to various persons out of the forest reserves in Bunyoro sub-region. Court is yet to set a date for hearing the application.
Doviko Batwale, the Coordinator Bunyoro Kitara Reparations Agency and also the lead petitioner accuses National Forestry Authority of granting timber licenses for forest trees that have existed over 100years, long before NFA came into being in 2004.
The court case comes at the time National Forestry Authority is battling encroachers in Kasongoire Forestry Reserve in Hoima and Masindi districts and also Kagomba forest in Kibaale district. Several other forest encroachers have in recent years been evicted from Bugoma, Bujaawe, Ruzaire and other central forest reserves in Bunyoro.
The petitioners argue that during evictions crop gardens are slashed, valuable property lost and sometimes members of the communities severely assaulted. The applicants say this “amounts to infringement of their fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the constitution of Uganda”.
Stewart Maniraguha, the NFA Budongo System Range Manager said he had not been served by the applicant. He however emphasized that NFA is mandated by law to protect and manage central forest reserves in the country. Maniraguha argued that whatever they do is in line with the laws of Uganda.