"We feel if environmental related crimes are brought to the environmental courts, they will be addressed there and then.
PIC:The Chairman Parliament Committee Natural Resource Hon Alex Byarugaba (Left) and the Lecturer from Makerere University Prof Julius Kiiza (Right) interacting during the stakeholder’s dialogue on natural resource conflicts in Albertine region held at hotel Africana on Tuesday, 22 02, 2017. Photo by Shamim Saad.
The National Forestry Authority (NFA) has appealed to the Government to set up a special court to handle environmental crimes.
The NFA executive director, Michael Mugisa, said there is urgent need to establish special courts to handle the escalating environmental crimes across the country.
Speaking during stakeholders' dialogue on natural resource conflicts in the Albertine held at Hotel Africana in Kampala on Wednesday, Mugisa revealed that there are currently about 250 unresolved environmental crimes due to absence of special courts to handle them.
The dialogue was organized by World Voices Uganda, a local NGO, to disseminate findings of its studies in the Albertine graben on the potential sources of conflict arising from natural resources like oil and gas which was discovered in the region over ten years ago.
"We want a specialized court to deal with environment crimes because the stage where the country has reached with high levels of destruction of the wetlands, forests and climate change, a solution ought to be found," Mugisa said.
He explained that the ordinary courts are unable to deal with the environmental crimes because they are overwhelmed by a huge backlog of civil matters, and that they do not have capacity and expertise to handle environment related crimes.
"We feel if environmental related crimes are brought to the environmental courts, they will be addressed there and then. We have all these injunctions, but they take long because apart from judges being few, they are also busy," he said
Mugisa was responding to comments by the Kibaale Resident District Commissioner, Samuel Kisembo Araali, that environmental enforcement authorities should engage and build synergies with the judiciary so that ‘unnecessary’ court orders are eliminated.
A professional from Makerere University, Julius Kiiza, said there are several potential sources of conflict arising from access to natural resources that people tend to ignore.
“We have gender related conflicts arising from harnessing natural resources, especially in families,” he added.
He stated that the Government ought to listen to the voices of people in resource rich areas and places where huge chunks of land were converted into National Parks like Bunyoro.
“A big part of land in Bunyoro was given to Buganda by colonialists and more land was converted into National Parks. There are new land questions in Bunyoro now and they need to be urgently addressed,” Kiiza said.
The country’s extractive elite, he stated, has acquired land in resource-rich areas for speculative reasons, taking advantage of the poor and illiterate.
The World Voices executive director, Benda Guard, said some of the new sources of conflicts identified during the studies are wetlands and forests claimed by some communities.
“Some indigenous communities in the region are saying they protected forests but the people from other parts have settled in those forests and wetlands and nothing has been done. They are also encroaching on the forests,” he added.