Government dragged to East African Court over Bugoma forest giveaway

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Bugoma forest in Kyangwali Sub-county, Kikuube District.

The government of Uganda has been dragged to the East African Court of Justice for giving away part of Bugoma forest reserve to Hoima Sugar Ltd to grow sugarcane in Kyangwali Sub-county, Kikuube District.

In the suit filed by Human Rights defender, Mr John Robert Turyakira together with a climate change organisation- Environmental Shield Organisation, the petitioners argue that the move will negatively impact the natural environment by contaminating water bodies.

Through their lawyers of Kiiza & Mugisha Co. Advocates, the applicants say it was illicit for the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to issue a Certificate of Approval of the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) to Hoima Sugar Ltd giving it a green light to grow sugarcane on the forest land.

According to the documents before the regional court, the petitioners state that on August 14, 2020, government through NEMA granted Hoima Sugar Ltd a Certificate of Approval to use 9.24 square miles of the forest land to grow sugarcane and other related developments.

“The project area neighbours Bugoma central forest reserve which was gazetted in 1932, a tropical forest and home to over 600 chimpanzees and is part of its ecosystem. Sugarcane growing has adverse environmental and climate change impacts including pollution of water bodies, rivers and streams soiling water quality,” the court documents read.

The petitioners continue that prior to the endorsement of the project; NEMA deliberately ignored the climate change impact assessment as necessitated by the dictate of contemporary environment governance pursuant to the constitution of Uganda.

The duo also argue that the environment ombudsman never considered environmental costs connected with the potential deterioration of natural assets on top of never carrying out consultations with the communities surrounding the forest.

“NEMA made the project approval without transparent, maximum and effective community or public participation or hearings in breach of the foundational principles of good governance, accountability, democracy, rule of law, transparency and universal human rights standards. The approval, therefore, threatens the area’s individuals’, community’s and public’s universal human rights standards,” they said.

The two are now seeking court to compel the government to cancel the Certificate of Approval of the ESIA granted to Hoima Sugar Ltd and a declaration that the project of approval constitutes a threat, breach and infringement of Articles 6 (d), 7 (2) and 8 (1) of the East African Treaty as amended.

The court has now ordered government to file its defence within 45 days or failure to do so; the court will move to determine the said suit without government defence.

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