Landslide victims take Ugandan Government to court

By agency reporter
October 24, 2020

Victims of a landslide in the Bududa District of Uganda have recently filed a lawsuit against the country’s Government, alleging it has failed to uphold its human rights obligations to protect threatened communities.

The Ugandan Government has been aware of the risk of landslides in Bududa for many years, reporting more than 400 landslides in the Mount Elgon region where Bududa is located, between 2008 and 2018. These landslides caused the death of hundreds of people and displaced thousands more.

In December 2019, another major landslide in Bududa caused more than 30 confirmed deaths with many others reported missing. As a result of sustained government inaction, 48 people who were directly impacted or lost family members in this disaster, are taking their case to Uganda’s High Court at Mbale. They allege that, by failing to act on the known landslide risk, the Ugandan Government has violated their rights to life, property and the right to a clean and healthy environment.

To address the risk of landslides in the region, and in response to one of the worst landslide disasters in the country’s history that took place in the Bududa District in 2010, the Government developed a resettlement plan for communities at risk. Under this plan, all those who might be impacted by landslides would be resettled within ten years. However, only a limited number of people have been relocated from the area so far, while the region continues to be hit with severe landslides that have claimed lives and devastated families.

Bernard Namanya, a partner at the Kampala-based law firm BNB Advocates, is representing the victims. Mr Namanya said: “For at least ten years, the Ugandan Government has known that landslides were threatening the lives of Bududa residents, and yet did so little to come to the aid of the most vulnerable communities. The Ugandan Government has failed to put in place an effective machinery for dealing with Bududa landslides as required by the Constitution. Landslides in the Bududa District are not going away, and may get worse over time. Landslide victims deserve justice and their Government must act immediately to protect inhabitants from further disaster.”

The Mount Elgon region is vulnerable to climate change impacts, and there is evidence that snow and rainfall has increased in the area over the last few decades. In its own policies, the Government has acknowledged that it expects climate change to contribute to increased rain and extreme weather, which is likely to worsen landslides in the country.

The Government has made national and international commitments to mitigate and adapt to climate change, including through its National Climate Change Policy and its ratification of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.

ClientEarth lawyer April Williamson who is supporting the case, said: “Climate change is increasingly posing a threat to the human rights of climate-vulnerable communities around the world. This kind of litigation will increase if governments fail to help their populations adapt to climate-related natural disasters.”

* ClientEarth works to protect the environment through advocacy, litigation and science


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