Investigation into Uganda “land grab” must be genuinely independent and transparent
Lucy Brinicombe Senior Press Officer
4th Oct 2011
Oxfam concern that company continues to dismiss people's allegations of abuse
Oxfam welcomes the World Bank's (1) call that UK-based New Forests Company (NFC) must open up to a full investigation into claims of bad practice in its Uganda forestry projects.
This follows a report by Oxfam and the Uganda Land Alliance on September 22 that said more than 20,000 people had been evicted without compensation or consent to make way for NFC plantations, in breach of international guidelines. Many of these people are now living in destitution. Some claim the evictions were violent.
NFC has stated it will investigate. However, Oxfam is concerned about the nature of the investigation because NFC continues to discredit people's allegations. It most recently described the claims as "fictitious" and "irresponsible and one-sided propaganda".
Oxfam's Chief Executive Barbara Stocking said: "The company's remarks and ongoing reference to 'peaceful and non-violent vacations' makes us sceptical about the type of investigation it is planning. It is crucial that it is genuinely independent, transparent and takes into account the experiences of the affected communities so that the situation can be resolved.
"Oxfam carried out extensive research and stands by it. We spoke with hundreds of people from the communities and with government authorities. We presented NFC's position accurately in our report. However, the company must not simply dismiss our findings before carrying out a thorough investigation because it disagrees with it.
"Many of those evicted can no longer feed their families or send their children to school. They are living in destitution. The World Bank and NFC must ensure that any investigation will be credible and meaningful so that we can resolve the situation as quickly as possible."
Oxfam says that:
- No-one was compensated for their loss of land, crops and belongings. Oxfam says that NFC operates under international guidelines designed to protect people's right to adequate compensation. NFC cannot dodge its responsibilities and blame solely the government.
- Many evictees describe violence during the evictions, of houses burnt and crops destroyed. A recent New York Times article quoted a woman who said her son died in a fire during the evictions.
- There are still two legal suits active today that describe the evictions as violent and that outline people's own legal claims to the land. The suits also seek compensation and damages.
NFC also claims that the International Finance Corporation (IFC, the commercial lending arm of the World Bank) and the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC, the gold standard of forestry certification) had both passed its projects as 'clean'. However Oxfam believes that neither organisation has provided sufficient evidence to support NFC's claims that the evictions were 'legal, voluntary and peaceful' (2).
Oxfam engaged with NFC for a number of months before publishing its report. In March, April and July Oxfam made several attempts to get the company's reaction but it refused to respond. Since August, Oxfam has engaged extensively with the company's management.
For more information contact Lucy Brinicombe on +44 (0)1865 472192 / +447786 110054 / email@example.com.
Notes to editors:
1) The World Bank has a financial interest in NFC via an equity investor. The World Bank insists that its investees must operate in a responsible manner and meet certain social standards.
2) Oxfam says that the IFC report was not an "audit" but was instead a field appraisal that only took place after the evictions. The IFC officer who undertook the appraisal did not talk to affected communities and only reviewed one of the two districts. Similarly, the FSC certification audit only reviewed one plantation, Mubende not Kiboga. And despite the legal suits and media coverage saying that there had been violence, the FSC said that disputes over tenure had been 'resolved' and that there were 'no reported incidents of violence'.