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  • Ronald Bagaga

Enhancing Access to Justice Through Alternative Dispute Resolution

Global demand for farmlands, pastures, and forest resources has increased over time, leading to increased agricultural investment by private sector actors, international development, and finance agencies. While some of these investments and finance-backed projects have created new economic opportunities for local communities, others have imposed significant costs: local small-scale farmers have lost control over and access to land, have experienced human rights violations, and have suffered environmental and other social harms.

These community conflicts in the face of commercial investments are synonymous with poor land governance and administration systems, a failure to comply with Responsible Agriculture Investment Frameworks, and a violation of the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (IFPIC) protocols. Failure to identify and address these conflicts in a timely and popular manner is leading to larger conflicts. These larger conflicts are wreaking havoc on communities, particularly on vulnerable groups like women, youth, and elderly small-scale farmers. This includes the consequences for local livelihoods, which are heavily reliant on land and natural resources. Unresolved escalating land disputes are causing investment delays, increased operational, labor, and legal costs, supply chain issues, property damage, security concerns, and reputational harm on the commercial side.

To avoid or mitigate harm, ESAFF Uganda in partnership with GIZ under the “Responsible Governance of Investments in Land” (RGIL) project in Uganda conducted a series of awareness-raising, monitoring, dialogue and alternative dispute resolution mechanism particularly mediation activities between affected communities and local investors, all guided by the ‘Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests’ and the ‘Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment’ of the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security (CFS), commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and co-funded by the European Union (EU).

With the growing number of grievances between affected communities and local investors, ESAFF Uganda established pro-community structures for affected communities and local investors to access critical justice through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, particularly mediation. A group of 20 male and female community members were formed to profile land and investment disputes and become legal rights workers, known as "paralegals," as well as 48 members of sub county mediation committees in the sub counties of Bulera and Butayunja in Mityana district, Kiganda and Myanzi in Kassanda, and Kiyuni and Madudu in Mubende district. After the institutionalization of the structures, ESAFF Uganda realized that structures were typically not well trained in grievance profiling or mediating cases. To address this gap, ESAFF Uganda developed a training Toolkit to serve as a resource for empowering the structures. The toolkit addresses various issues including profiling of conflicts, human rights; women’s rights; land tenure systems in Uganda; local land administration; and dispute resolution mechanisms particularly mediation.

These legal rights workers are profiling land and investment grievances between affected small-scale farmers and local investors in Mubende, Kassanda and Mityana districts’ communities. They are also providing mediation services to minor grievances, and education on other land rights issues to people in their communities. In face of challenging community disputes, the paralegals are referring the cases to the second Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) structure at the sub county level for mediation. The sub county mediation committees are comprised of maximumly 7 members (LC3 Chairperson, Sub County Chief (SAS), Community Development Officer (CDO), Area Land Committee Chairperson, Religious leader, opinion leader and the paralegal from the parish level. In mediating grievances, the paralegal refers the profiled case to the committee. The committee chairperson writes to the aggrieved parties inviting them for mediation at a specific location within the community at the stipulated date. The committee members all move to the agreed location mediation takes place. In the spell of 3 months, 39 grievances between affected land users and local investors were mediated successfully.

For improved documentation, ESAFF Uganda developed a dispute tracking and monitoring tool. The monitoring tool is used by the paralegal to profile community grievances. The form captures key information pertaining to paralegals’ client cases. Types of data collected in the forms include the nature of cases, grievance geography, aggrieved parties, types of grievances, and status among others. The paralegals were fully trained to use the tool and continued to provide technical assistance to the structures.

“As a member of this community, a leader, and an advocate for just practices within communities, I would like to thank GIZ and ESAFF Uganda for taking up this dispute, which had been dragging on for over 7 years. We as a community had been rendered hopeless because no one would listen to our complaints about the investor. Our lands have been trampled, water sources have been fenced off, and our livelihoods have been jeopardized. Some of us were determined to serve our communities, but the LCI committee found this case difficult’’. Nabaterega Hariet, Vice Chairperson, Madudu S/C, Mubende district.

In the shortest amount of time possible, the ADR structures were able to document and mediate 60 percent of the land and investment grievances in the operational areas of Kassanda, Mityana and Mubende districts. This means that affected small-scale farming communities and local investors value and trust the mediation mechanism for access to justice.



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