Court of Appeal of Uganda Saves Central Forest Reserve
In 2013, people (plaintiffs) from Buhungiro-Tooro claiming to be lawful customary owners of the suit land, sued National Forestry Authority (NFA) for unlawfully evicting them. They claimed that the central forest reserve does not extend to the land they own and the central forest reserve is distinct from their land. That their grandparents bequeathed the land to them and that they have settled, occupied, developed, utilized and possess the same with various seasonal and permanent crops for a very long time. The claimants also stated that UPDF and LDU officers unlawfully and brutally evicted them from the land in 2011. The High Court judge relying on the findings of the surveyor that they plaintiffs land was excess land not forming part of Buhungiro forest reserve, ruled in favor of the claimants, that their land didn’t form part of the forest reserve. NFA appealed in 2018 arguing that the suit land was a forest reserve and that when Buhungiro central forest reserve was gazetted, all the occupants vacated voluntarily.
On Tuesday, 21st July 2020, Justice Kenneth Kakuru of Court of Appeal giving the lead judgment(in National Forestry Authority V Omuhereza Basaliza William Civil Appeal No.15 of 2019), ruled in favor of NFA stating that there was no evidence that the claimants were customary owners. That the technical team arrived erroneously at a conclusion that the disparity of 427.86ha between the physical survey records and the gazette was excess land . He stated that this was a land grabbing scheme by the 1st and 5th respondents and that Buhungiro Forest was categorized as a central forest reserve by the 1995 Constitution and the Land Act 1998, SI no.63/1998.He therefore ordered the schedule to SI 63 in respect of KA/1, Buhungiro, Kabarole series sheet and 732 D.O.S map sheet be amended in the last column by deleting therefrom 1,020 hectares and substituting the same with 1,4447.86 hectares.
Justice Madrama Izama, concurred with justice Kakuru that the right of the NFA to evict the claimants was based exclusively on the proposition that the area in dispute was within a forest reserve and within its mandate to keep. He added that even if there was excess land, such a finding could not in the circumstances determine on which part of the forest reserve, such an excess land on a basis of measurements alone could not lead automatically to a finding for the respondents. He also agreed with Justice Kakuru that there is no excess land on record and that the evidence produced in the trial court shows that the surveyed forest reserve comprises of 1447.86 ha not 1020ha.
Justice Stephen Musoota agreed with the judgment and orders of Justice Kenneth Kakuru
This is a milestone in the fight for forestry protection, environment conservation and we look forward to more of this.