The Constitutional Court in Kampala has ruled that government is responsible for the suffering of the Batwa after failing to compensate them for their land which was turned into central forest reserves and national parks in South Western Uganda.
The United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda(UOBDU) an NGO together with 11 others represented by Onyango Owor from Onyango & Company Advocates dragged the Attorney General, Uganda Wildlife Authority and National Forestry Authority to Court for being evicted from their ancestral areas that government later gazetted them as Echuya Central Forest Reserve, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
On Thursday, a panel of five judges; Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, Elizabeth Musoke, Cheborion Barishaki, Muzamiru Kibeedi and Irene Mulyagonja unanimously ruled that the Batwa have suffered because of their eviction from their ancestral land where they were not compensated by government.
“…..the Batwa have been left disadvantaged, owing to their eviction from the said land, and also due to the nonpayment to them of adequate compensation which would have facilitated their relocation to similar lands. This has rendered them landless and has severely affected not only their livelihoods but has destroyed their identity, dignity and self-worth as a people and as equal citizens with other Ugandans,” Justice Elizabeth Musoke ruled in the lead judgment.
According to the Constitutional Court, the marginalization of the Batwa has risen out of their eviction from the present day forest and game park lands without compensation which has seen them relegated to a lesser class citizens, inherently landless and fated to be encroachers on other people’s land.
“I reiterate that the Batwa are a group of individuals who have been marginalized on the basis of historical reasons following their eviction from the relevant lands without adequate compensation being paid to them. I find that no adequate compensation was paid to the Batwa despite the fact that some monies were paid in about 1991,” Justice Musoke observed.
The judge said that Article 32(1) requires that state to put in place measures aimed at ensuring marginalized persons or groups of persons, just like other citizens feel secure and confident that they are recognized in society as human beings.
In 2013, United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda(UOBDU ) and eleven individuals including Elias Habyarimana, Jovanis Nyiragasigwa, Christopher Kagundu, Night Isabela, Eric Tumuheirwe, Abel Kasumba, Abe Ruzuga, David Kakuru, Geoffrey Mahano, Alice Nyamihanda and Allen Musabyi through their lawyer Onyango Owor petitioned court over the fate of Batwa.
In their petition, the Batwa said they had lived in the forest and that the measures taken to remove them and create ‘environmentally protected’ areas saw limited access and use of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Echuya Central Forest Reserve and that this resulted in the violation of their property rights over their ancestral lands.
They argued that colonial protection of the forest started in the 1920s, most Batwa continued to live in the forest and to use its resources until the 1990s; when they were evicted, without consultation, adequate compensation or offer of alternative land.
As a result, they said the heart of their culture, traditions, beliefs and wealth were swept away and have since become squatters on other peoples’ land where they experience severe poverty, malnutrition and health problems. They are subjected to high levels of discrimination in Ugandan society and are not treated or perceived as equal citizens.