A report by Amnesty International documents several violent forced evictions in Uganda of the Benet indigenous people. Affected members of the community narrate details of the eviction from their ancestral land saying it took place without notice and they are asking the Ugandan government to compensate them.
More than a decade after being violently evicted from their ancestral forest lands in Mount Elgon, Amnesty says Uganda’s Indigenous Benet people continue to languish in deplorable conditions.
This includes living in ramshackle resettlement camps with little access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare for 13 years according to a report by Amnesty International.
The report titled, “13 Years in Limbo: Forced Evictions of the Benet in the Name of Conservation”, found that the Benet are still suffering disruption to their way of life and they remain at risk of physical harm from forest rangers despite repeated promises by the government to resettle them.
David Chemutai is an affected member of the Benet group. He says that through the different evictions, about 100 people have since lost their lives and many remain psychologically traumatized.
“The UWA officials came, they forced us to burn our own houses. They give you the matchbox and they have a gun and they tell you that, please burn your house. You have no alternative, the food is inside, the properties, they are inside. We had nowhere to go and we had to reside under the trees and in the caves,” he said.
Roland Ebole, a researcher at Amnesty International, says the evictions among a community of 18,000 people constitute a range of human rights violations including the right to housing and the rights of indigenous people.
Ebole says Amnesty found that the Benet are suffering as the government’s promises of protection and resettlement go unkept.
“The multiple inter-related and interconnected human rights violations that the indigenous people of the Benet have suffered, following violent forced evictions by the state, have deepened the poverty and disparities experienced by this community. Leaving them landless, marginalized and at risk of further human rights violations,” he said.
Amnesty International’s report says the Benet were first evicted from the forest by the National Forest Authority in 1983, and subsequently by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, UWA, in 1993 when the Ugandan government declared the forest a national park.
The report further notes that in 2008, the UWA forcefully evicted about 200 Benet families, this time targeting members of the community who the UWA claimed were still settled inside the national park despite the government’s allocation of land to them.
Amnesty is calling on the government to, among other things, recognize the Benet as indigenous people, recognize their right to their ancestral lands in Mount Elgon and to ensure that all Benet people who were subject to forcible evictions get remedy and reparations.
The organization also demands that all allegations against the UWA be investigated and responsible persons prosecuted.
Bashir Hangi, public relations officer for the Uganda Wildlife Authority describes the Amnesty report as baseless and pure speculation. According to Hangi, the Benet vacated their land for conservation voluntarily and are now going back on that.
“It Is also not true that UWA is involved in killing people. Why do we kill people? We are a government entity established to be responsible for all protected areas. In the process of taking care of a protected area, we don’t allow encroachers. We are not doing anything wrong. We are executing our mandate as per the law,” he said.
Hangi adds that they are working closely with communities neighboring all protected areas and the government aims to resettle displaced communities.
The Benet are a hunter-gatherer and pastoralist community who many Ugandans refer to as “the primitive people of the mountain.”
Their land issues date back to the colonial period when the British colonial government first declared the Mount Elgon moorlands and grasslands, home to their ancestors, as a forest reserve.
Source: Voice of America