The Batwa people one of Uganda’s indigenous minority group have held celebrations over the landmark judgement that was issued last month by the Constitutional Court ordering government to take responsibility for their eviction from their ancestral land and have them compensated.
The Constitutional Court ruled that in 1990s, the Batwa people were evicted from their ancestral land in the areas of Bwindi, Mgahinga and Echuya which were turned into forest reserves without their consent and compensation.
Led by the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) and their Advocate Onyango Owor, the Batwa people have noted that the judgement is the most important stage in their long struggle for recognition of their constitutional rights.
Speaking from Kisoro, UOBDU Chairperson, YeremiahDusabe said that the judgement spells a beginning of the end to their community’s immense suffering and loss that has threatened the very survival of their culture.
Dusabe said that the case serves as a case study in how conservation must change to achieve a win-win between environmental protection and local communities’ rights.
Dusabe noted that the case should resonate strongly across Uganda where local communities are at the forefront of both the impacts of conservation and the increasing effects of climate change.
“I dearly hope this case serves as a wake-up call for the Government of Uganda to finally recognise that the Batwa are their best friends and allies in the continued conservation of Bwindi, Mgahinga and Echuya forests,” Dusabe said.
He added that, “The time has come for the Government to enter into partnership with the Batwa, to uphold the court’s judgement, and allow the Batwa home to their ancestral forests, and see that there is a win-win to be found that can protect those forest ecosystems and ensure the survival of the Batwa as a people and a culture, before it is too late.”
Jovanis Nyiragasigwa one of the petitioners in the case said that, “We can live in harmony with the forest, share it with the animals as our fathers, grandfathers and ancestors used to.”
The Counsel to the Petitioners, Onyango Owor has however expressed disappointment at the move by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to appeal the judgement.
“While we were happy that the decision of the Constitutional Court was in our favour, it has always been the Petitioners’ hope that the Government would change its approach and engage constructively with them in order to find a lasting solution that both protects the forest and guarantees a sustainable future for the Batwa,” Onyango said.
Onyango appealed to Government to see that a win-win solution is still within its grasp, which would save valuable time, costs, and avoid further suffering.