More than 300 families that were evicted by Hoima Sugar Ltd to pave the way for sugarcane growing in Kiziramfumbi Sub-county, Kikuube District eight years ago, are crying foul that they are being subjected to gross human rights violations.
The families involving children, women and men currently living in makeshifts at Kigyayo camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on Kigyayo Church of Uganda land are complaining against the workers of Hoima Sugar Ltd accusing them of alleged defilement, rape and elopement among others.
During a dialogue between Hoima Sugar Ltd, Kikuube district local government leaders and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), the Muziranduuru Village Chairman, Mr Edward Tumusiime, said that since this year began, his office has registered four cases of defilement and rape allegedly perpetrated by workers of Hoima Sugar Ltd.
He said efforts to have the offenders brought to book have turned out difficult since the victims and affected people can neither identify nor trace them as most of them are newcomers brought to the area to work in the sugar factory.
“Since January this year, my office has registered three cases of defilement and one case of rape perpetrated by workers of Hoima Sugar Ltd. When we report the matter to the police, we are told that the moment we see the culprits, we report them. But this is hard because the culprits waylay women and girls in the sugar plantations in the wee hours of the night when they can’t be identified easily. Our women and girls need protection from these pitiless people,” Mr Tumusiime said seeking justice for the 2014 evictees.
Ms Florence Buga, 56, told the meeting that her daughter-in-law was raped by suspected sugarcane workers in the sugarcane plantation on her way back home in 2021 but the case failed to proceed due to the victim’s inability to trace and identify the offenders.
“My daughter-in-law came back home bleeding and weak and told me that she had been raped. I went to the authorities but I was not helped much because I failed to trace the culprits. Hoima Sugar is not helping us to save our women and children,” Ms Buga told the meeting as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Mr John Kyosiimire another area resident revealed that his two daughters eloped with men suspected to be workers of Hoima Sugar Ltd adding that although he reported the matter to the authorities, he was also not assisted.
“My two daughters disappeared a year ago. One came back last month with a child while another is still missing. When I tried to call the person who took her, he threatened to bring her back dead if I kept on following him up. I don’t know what to do.” He said.
Representing the evictees, Mr Steven Buryahika, said access to the IDP camp is risky since the road passes through the thick sugarcane plantation threatening women and girls’ security.
“The only access roads to the camp go through sugarcane plantations which makes women and girls susceptible to rape and defilement.”
The Chief Administrative Officer Kikuube district local government, Ms Dorothy Ajwang, was surprised to hear the accusations and find the appalling living conditions in the camp, coercing her to demand for action.
“I am shocked by the situation I have found here. I am also disappointed that Hoima Sugar Limited is acting inhumanly towards the people they found here. Instead of advocating for peaceful co-existence, they are harassing them! We must have a leaders’ dialogue with the proprietors of Hoima Sugar Ltd to ensure that these issues are solved.” She said.
The Kikuube District Local Government Chairman, Mr Peter Banura, blamed the abuses meted on the evictees to specific corrupt district officials who are allegedly compromised by Hoima Sugar Ltd, thus, ending up being silenced with bribes.
“We have a challenge that employers of Hoima Sugar Ltd have become unruly because they only listen to a clique of district leaders and disrespect others. That’s why they failed to show up in this dialogue and just sent their Public Relations Officer,” said Mr Banura.
Responding to the issues, Mr Richard Basemera, the Assistant Public Relations Officer Hoima Sugar Ltd, promised to submit the concerns to the company management for a way forward.
Ms Joan Akiza, a NAPE Legal and Policy Officer – organisers of the dialogue, was not convinced by the promise the Hoima Sugar Ltd publicist made though she was impressed by the district leaders’ attendance and heard people’s grievances.
“But the Hoima Sugar representative’s reply was not so convincing. But we shall continue engaging both parties so that everybody gets justice. Notwithstanding, I am happy that the district leaders came on ground to see how the people of Kigyayo are suffering,” she said.