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Rwamutonga evictions: Court rules in victims’ favour, but they will not be returning to their homes yet

Some of the children in the make shift cap in Rwamutonga. (Photo: F. Mugerwa)

Some of the children in the make shift camp in Rwamutonga. (Photo: F. Mugerwa)

The Masindi High Court on Thursday delivered what may be the first set of good news that the more than 250 homeless families have received in over a year when it ruled that their eviction from their homes in Rwamutonga, Hoima, was illegal.

The families have endured a grueling court battle since they were brutally evicted from their homes on 25th August 2014, forcing them into a temporary camp.

“The Eviction was unlawful and should not have happened in the first place because at the time of the execution of the warrant of vacant possession, there was an ongoing suit to determine true ownership of the land,” ruled Justice Simon Byabakama.

Court went ahead to award costs of the application to the residents, but declined to restore them on the land for now.  “What if the respondents have already carried out developments on the land? What if the main suit is determined against the applicants?” Justice Byabakama questioned as he read the ruling.

Nevertheless, the ruling was received with excitement by the applicants.  “So far we have achieved 90% of what we wanted from Court ,”Nelson Atichi, the Katanga Parish Chairman who has been coordinating the case told Oil in Uganda. “Now that our eviction was illegal, we shall proceed to file for compensation.”

Bashir Twesigye, a lawyer and Executive Director of Civic Response for Environment and Development (CRED), a local NGO that attached a lawyer to be part of the residents’ legal team, described the ruling as positive. “It also opens a window for compensation, in the event that the applicants opt for that,” he added.

The families were evicted in August last year after the ‘owner’ of the land, Joshua Tibangwa, leased it to an American-based waste management firm, McAlester, to set up an oil waste treatment plant. The residents turned to court in an attempt to repossess their land, but have had to endure persistent delays by the Court as well as inhumane living conditions in the temporary camp. They lack food and medicine and their make-shift shelters are not strong enough to shield them from the heavy rains and biting cold at night.

Report by our Hoima correspondent