Apaa Residents Take Refuge At UN Offices In Gulu

3260 Views Gulu, Uganda

In short
The group was welcomed by UN employees who refused to speak to the press. The residents say they fled Apaa fearing the persistent threats of evictions and torture perpetrated by government which has failed to protect their rights to land.

At least 200 residents from disputed land in Apaa bordering Amuru and Adjumani districts have taken refuge at the United Nations Human Rights-UNHCR offices in Gulu Town.

The residents traveled aboard a lorry registration number UAA 756 C, which they hired to transport them from different areas in Apaa, some 100 Kilometers North West of Gulu town. They arrived at the UN Compound along Samuel Doe Road along Lower Churchill Road in Senior Quarters about 5am on Wednesday morning. They moved with fire wood, some food stuff and clothes for bedding. 
The group was welcomed by UN employees who refused to speak to the press. The residents say they fled Apaa fearing the persistent threats of evictions and torture perpetrated by government which has failed to protect their rights to land.

They are also seeking relief from the UN Agency following the destruction of crop gardens. Silvesto Odoki, the Acholi Ber Village Local Council one Chairperson and the leader of the group, says they decided to pitch camp in the UN Compound following a series of atrocities that have seen more than 800 houses destroyed and dozens of people maimed since 2017.

The residents presented a petition to the UN Human Rights High Commissioner; Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein proposing various ways they believe can lead to the permanent resolution of the Apaa land matter.

Silvestior Odoki read the petition to the Press shortly after arriving at the UN Compound.

//Cue in: "Since 2011…
Cue out:… documentation"//

Odoki says they are camping at the UN Compound until their plight and new demands are met by government.

//Cue in: "Having Exhausted all other…
Cue out: "…from two decades of war"//

According to Odoki, the affected residents want other governments and UN agencies involved in resolving the Apaa land question.

//Cue in: "We call on you…
Cue out: "…rights of the people of Apaa"//

The letter proposes five critical issues they want addressed including a complete and immediate suspension in attacks on homes and people in Apaa by state security and those mobilized by the state.

//Cue in: "Directly engage the…
Cue out…and Apaa Center"//

According to the residents, the permanent solution to Apaa land question involves degazetting the area for Human Settlement.

//Cue in: "Official degazetting of…
Cue out: "…instigators of abuse"//

Major Santos Okot Lapolo, the Gulu Resident District Commissioner, says they have convened a crisis meeting at the UN Human rights offices in Gulu to discuss the fate of the residents who have taken refuge there.
//Cue in: "No UPDF is not…
Cue out: "…deliver it to government"//

The dispute around Apaa township relates to its ownership, economic land use or wildlife conservation, geographical boundaries of Amuru and Adjumani districts after the area measuring about 200 square kilometers was controversially declared a conservation area in 2002.

Uganda Wildlife Authority claims that Parliament gazetted the area, a Wildlife reserve, after Adjumani district local government declared it part of East Madi Game Reserve. Amuru district challenged the decision in Court. Local government Minister Tom Butime also declared the area part of Adjumani district last October, saying the area is part of Zoka Forest Reserve and Madi Wildlife Reserve. 

Full blown tension over the land broke out between Adjumani and Amuru district in 2012 after UWA moved to evict residents to pave way for Bruce Martins, a South African investor to set up a controlled game hunting reserve in the area.

Since then, there have been clashes between residents, Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers, National Forest Authority guards backed by Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers and Police. Last year, 13 people were shot to death using bows and arrows by a group of unknown assailants in the area.

Scores of others were injured and homes burnt down. Although government forcefully surveyed the contested land in 2015, it is yet to gain full control of the land from residents.


About the author

Peter Labeja
Peter Labeja has been a practicing journalist for the last 13 years during which he has covered part of the brutal conflict which bedeviled Northern Uganda as well as the painful transition to Peace thereafter. Emerging post conflict issues such as land rights of under privileged widows and orphans, challenges of access to social services in the immediate aftermath of Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda.

Labeja is now the Northern Uganda Bureau chief in Acholi Sub Region since 2014 - Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts as well as South Sudan falls within his areas of jurisdiction. He previously worked with The Vision Group for four years.

Labeja’s major career interests are in Climate Change; Agriculture and Environment - natural resources such as Water, Oil and Gas; Transitional Justice; Human Rights, Democracy and Governance as well as South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In 2013, Labeja was awarded a prestigious Pan African Journalism Award for excellence in journalism at United Nation’s UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for Climate Change and Health Reporting.