By Jeff Andrew Lule
POLICE has blamed magistrates, lawyers and Local Council Courts and lawyers on the escalating illegal land evictions and land grabbing in the country.
The Land Protection Police Unit (LPPU) stressed that many magistrates issue eviction orders in favor of the purported land owners without going to the ground to ascertain the gist of the problem as required.
In his paper on “Customary Land Tenure System in Uganda” a senior legal officer from LPPU, Julius Twinomujuni said offences like malicious damage to property, arson, and criminal trespass are partly the new tricks used by landlords to frustrate lawful bonafide occupants’ land rights.
Mujuni said landowners with their lawyers always try to comprise magistrates from visiting the scene using their documents which are sometimes forged.
“Even court bailiffs mislead magistrates into unknowingly granting illegal court documents, for example where there no valid court judgments. We want stringent measures on such culprits,” he added.
He said even some court judgments are enforced without the knowledge of the Police and the affected people report when the status quo has greatly changed especially where there is demolition of buildings.
Mujuni noted that some lawyers and court bailiffs have already been sighted in forging court documents thus misleading law enforcement agencies to come to their protection.
“They exploit the ignorance of law enforcement agencies to use lawful orders for unlawful purposes (interim orders to carry out evictions) but we are trying to fight that,” he noted.
Police is to deploy legal officers in every region to help in interpreting and ascertaining the authenticity of several court documents before any eviction is done.
They have also embarked on training officers in short courses in land laws and enforcement of court orders.
“Because of the booming real estate business, the price of land has tremendously increased and many people have fallen victims of illegal evictions,” Mujuni noted.
Rampant land evictions are common in Wakiso, Kiboga, Mpigi, Masaka, Rakai, Lyantonde, Kisoro, Mubende, Luwero and Nagalama districts.
The common cases reported are: forgery, forcible detainer, intermeddling with estates of the deceased persons, fraudulent acquisition of land, making false declarations, obtaining registration by false pretences and criminal tress pass taking the lead as a result of sour relationship between the landlord ands and tenants by occupancy.
Mujuni said some criminal files opened during the existing civil suit, or where civil proceedings are instituted later, are not heard in time as parties prefer to follow the civil proceedings rather than criminal proceedings, thus forced to put away the file on the DPP’s advise as the complainant seems to have lost the interest in the case.
They also want the current LC committees to stop handling land matters until fresh elections are held.
“The current LC system is not fully constituted to handle cases. Even people do not trust them. We want government to organize fresh elections for them to be operational on neutral grounds to help solve land matters at lower levels,” the spokesperson of the unit, Emilian Kayima noted.
Mujuni noted that Local Council Act empowers LC courts to deliver judgments in certain cases but they continue to receive purported court orders for implementation from other institutions other than court of judicature and LC courts.
The executive director of Land Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU), Judy Adoko said law enforcement agencies must work with the local communities in their areas of operation to understand their customs and culture to easily promote customary land rights.
Adoko said land grabbing needs to be criminalized with its penalties to protect the voiceless.
“Majority Ugandans live on customary land and every region has its traditional laws on land issues. Before these laws are understood, Police will not solve anything,” he added.
He said people need to be sensitized on the importance of securing land titles, demarcating their land or to draw sketch maps of their land fight land grabbing.
They called for a proper records system at the land desk in different regional to easily help follow up the cases.
The workshop was aimed at discussing the roles of different stakeholders in resolving land disputes, sharing experiences about land disputes.