Resolving Land Disputes in Post-Conflict Situations

resolving-land-disputes-in-post-conflict-situationsWhere there is land, there will be conflicts over who owns it, who can use it and who will inherit it. The height of conflict over land varies from place to place but the risk of these conflicts becoming violent is higher in places where there has been war. A good example of such a situation is in Northern Uganda, which area has notably high levels of land conflict and border disputes among the communities that have returned from the Internally Displaced Camps. This is mostly as a result of the prolonged internal displacement of communities that happened during the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. The war led to the death of leaders knowledgeable about land boundaries, while the displacement led to a loss of boundary landmarks.

A survey launched by UNDP in 2013 conducted in Northern Uganda found that 94% of cases before local council courts were related directly to land. And although the people respect both the constitutional and traditional courts, they also found some problems when people tried to access the courts:

  • The legal status of local council courts was ambiguous.
  • Considerable confusion existed concerning procedures, courts and institutional bodies responsible for land.
  • There were significant disparities in costs associated with accessing justice, such as for court fees and site visits.
  • There was little knowledge amongst the community of statutory and customary land laws.

Mediation and resolving of disputes has worked best in our areas of intervention. Mr. Charles Kinyera, a farmer in Paicho Sub county, Gulu district can testify. Kinyera faced a dispute over land he inherited from his late father in the early 1980s. His land bordered that of Charles Oola. The pieces of land were separated by a stream. During the LRA war, Kinyera’s land which was closer to the stream, and safer to access, by community members, was used for crop farming despite the fact that it was originally gazetted for communal grazing. After the war, Kinyera restored his land for its original purpose, grazing but a dispute arose when Oola claimed that Kinyera’s land should only be used for farming. Kinyera and his family rejected this claim because that was not the original purpose of the land; they also feared that the grazing animals would destroy the crops which would create conflict.

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Left: Elders sitting in a mediation meeting Right: Elders with Ben and the widow demarcating the land

Mr. Oola reported the issue to the LCII court which to his disappointment ruled in favour of Mr. Kinyera. Dissatisfied, he took the matter further to the sub county court and later to the High Court which dismissed his case and advised the two parties to settle the matter at a community level. It was at this point that Mr. Oola approached Africa Community Development Network (ACODEN) for mediation in May 2015. Three meetings which involved the conflicting parties and their families, ACODEN mediators, community members and the cultural elders (named Kal kwaro in the local language) were held. During the mediation exercise, members present agreed that the land in dispute belonged to Kinyera and would be used for grazing and the other part across the stream would be used for farming like it was originally practiced, to allow both families grow their crops and graze their animals peacefully. A written agreement was developed and signed by the two conflicting parties and the dispute resolved.

“I am happy and grateful that this conflict was resolved peacefully. I can now sleep without worrying about people attacking me,” Kinyera said.

The ACODEN legal officer, Sarah Apio says they asked Kinyera to get the ownership of his land formalised.

“… We also advised Mr. Kinyera not to stop at just the mediation agreement but also move on to demarcate and get proper documentation for his land through the area land committee of Paicho Sub County in order to avoid such conflicts in the future,” he said. This example shows what needs to be done in order to resolve land conflicts.

In addition, it shows why record-keeping is important. One of the reasons disputes occur is because of the way record-keeping is done, if at all.

Another story in Northern Uganda shows how women affected by land conflict in post war situation have been supported by IDF partner Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G)  In Paicho Sub-County, Kal ali Parish, Tee olam Village a widow called Lamara aged 59 years has been a victim of land conflict for over 9 years. With 3 children to fend for with food, education and clothing, she was denied her land by Ben who is a nephew to her husband and she was left with no option but to let her children fend for themselves through doing petty jobs since land was her only source of income.

The story began when this widow moved with her children during the war but when peace returned, she wanted to resettle back to her marital home. On returning, she found when Ben had taken all her gardens and sold off 7 acres of land that belonged to her family without consulting her.  He faked their grandmother’s name and signature yet by the time of the sale, his grandmother had passed on 2 years earlier. When she tried to ask Ben, he became aggressive, threatened her and he continued using her home remaining backyard to plant food for himself.

This left Lamara with nowhere to farm and the small garden she was left with could not support her to feed her family as well as make some money from farming. She thus faced difficulties in paying fees for her children thus 2 of her children dropped out of school while the one remaining in school was struggling all alone, doing petty jobs to continue with school.

She had reported the case to the elders and clan leaders who on several attempts to resolve the case tried to call Ben, but he had never attended any of the meetings, ignoring invitation letters.

The cultural leader (Rwot Kweri) again invited Ben for a mediation meeting on the 12th/11/2015 after receiving the mediation training from GWED-G but he did not appear for the meeting. They together with the clan head, local leaders as well as sub-county land committee, agreed and wrote to the clan head and cultural leaders of Koch (Ben’s clan leaders as his father is a born of Koch Goma Sub-County, Nwoya district) and on the 24th/11/2015, the mediation meeting went on with Ben in attendance and a representative of his clan. Ben was counselled and advised, he agreed to leave the widows garden and made peace with the widow.

“I had lost hope for ever regaining my land. I thank GWED-G and the clan leaders who have made this possible” , said Lamara after regaining her land

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Lamara, living happily with her grandchildren and son who has constructed a new hut in the land

The cultural leaders then agreed to help and show Ben his mother’s boundaries. The 7 acres sold was also agreed that the clan meets to discuss how to pay back the buyer’s money as well as talk to the buyer.

 

Today Lamara has planned and used her land gainfully. In the

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Lamara weeding her cassava garden after regaining her land

first and second season she used 3 acres of her land to plant Groundnuts, although it was affected by the dry spell in the month of May, she managed to harvest and get 7 bags of groundnuts out of which she sold 4 bags at 95,000shs each and used one bag for seeds in the second season. She also planted an acre of beans and harvested 3 bags, where she sold 2 bags of 100 kilograms each at 2,300 shs per kilogram. This season, she has planted 4 acres of groundnuts, an acre of peas and cassava which she is eagerly looking forward to for a big harvest. She has managed to feed her family and pay school fees for four dependants that she is taking care of and 3 girls and a boy in primary six, five and four respectively. Her elder son Michael, has planted 3 acres of soya beans and 2 acres of maize and he projects to get more than 8 bags of soya beans and 10 bags of maize.

A reformed man:

Now the family is living peacefully in harmony with Ben (former perpetrator) and all their children are free and playing together. There is no threat nor fear between the 2 parties who share and visit each other normally. Ben as well, has progressed, he was incorporated in GWED-G program of working with Role model men and as an individual, going through the training on journeys of transformation to help men become agents of change in promoting women’s rights and well as men becoming partners to women has evidently brought positive behavioural changes to him. He has started fruit farming as well as vegetables farming to promote his household income, he respects his wife and takes good care of all his children as well as sharing roles in household chores

Bataka courts resolve land disputes enhances arbitration as part of the ADR mechanisms

 The ADR mechanisms come in different forms and the communities in which they work have particular names for them. The Bataka courts model is a community-based informal justice system that has been piloted and adopted by a number of communities funded by IDF. In Ruteete and Kyatereka sub counties in Kibaale district, the courts are operated by 7 panel of elders who are selected by the community members (Bataka) themselves. They preside over cases at community level and are similar to the system of administering justice that existed in traditional Africa. The courts are operated in an informal setting so as to erase the fears which people normally have when they attend formal court sessions, the elders do not ask for the court fees in order for cases to be heard, and are accessible to the people.

The success of Bataka courts is evident and since their operation in Ruteete and Kyaterekera sub-counties in 2010, two more sub-counties of Mpeefu and Bwikara were added.   The people appreciate their existence as they have so much helped in reducing the number of case backlog in local council courts as well as reducing crime rates in the area.

While speaking to the Ruteete   L.C.1   chairperson Mr. Mugisha Benard, he was quick to mention how helpful these courts have been to him in the execution of his duties as the L.C.1 chairperson. “Bataka court sessions have been so helpful in reducing the burden/backlog of cases in my area. They are facilitated by the elders of integrity, who were well trained and are experienced. They intervene in cases well and wherever they go, cases will be fully resolved. So as a result of their interventions, cases such as domestic violence and land conflicts which would be supposed to go to police or formal court you find when they have resolved them. We as local council officials fully support them to continue operating and we call for total support from WVU to them in order to widen their operation coverage”. Mugisha Benard noted. He further noted that “ my office now is very dry I  only get one case in two weeks which was not the case before where my office was always flooded, some people used to bombard my home to an extent of nearly sleeping there. Yes it has limited some facilitation but has reduced stress and now I can get time to concentrate on my work”.

Bernard says that they also make reports on all the cases they have solved and present it to World Voices Uganda an IDF funded project. “From the time we were brought on board and trained there has been a big change in the community; people know where to report and no longer carry out mob justice,” he says.

He adds that community members are invited to the open court and actively participate in the proceedings. The courts handle mostly civil cases and report more serious criminal cases to other authorities like the police. This year alone the Bataka courts solved up to 125 non-criminal cases in the communities they operate.

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Left: Bwambale Yowas (signs an agreement after Bataka a Bataka court session in front of a legal officer Right A man listens to the questions during cross examination in a court session