New Forests Company investigation into Uganda land grab risks credibility gap
Oxfam welcomes the recent commitment by the New Forests Company to engage in an independent investigation of the events surrounding the evictions of communities in Mubende and Kiboga, and to act on the recommendations of the investigation. However, NFC's press release fails to address issues of fundamental concern which the company needs to act on urgently.
NFC has taken responsibility for organizing the investigation - including the identification of people to participate in the Steering Committee, and the selection of an auditor to carry out the investigation. While this may be acceptable for an internal inquiry into the company’s practices, this process is not likely to give the credibility that an independent investigation would, given the seriousness of the impacts on affected communities, including allegations of abuses and violence.
In order for the investigation to be regarded by all key stakeholders as independent, credible and trustworthy:
- It is essential that the selection of the auditor and Steering Committee is not carried out by NFC alone behind closed doors;
- Instead Oxfam recommends that this role be taken on by an independent Chair, acceptable to all parties, who would then consult all stakeholders regarding the appointment of members of the Steering Committee.
- The Chair would also hold responsibility for the appointment of an internationally credible auditor, to be approved by the Steering Committee.
- The Steering Committee would then draw up the Terms of Reference and Scope of the investigation, in consultation with all stakeholders.
In this process, there must be adequate space and opportunity for affected communities to have their voices heard, for safeguards to be put in place for their protection, and for them or their representatives to have a genuine say in the content and scope of the investigation.
A key issue must be to determine the respective responsibilities of NFC and other actors – including under international standards. Of paramount importance is that the outcome of the investigation must ensure redress for those who have been affected by the evictions.
It is a matter of grave concern that local communities report that NFC workers have, over the course of the last two weeks, been asking questions of community members. Oxfam has heard that people whose stories have featured in recent media coverage have been sought out in particular. Community members have said that some of the interviews were recorded on video. We have also heard that police arrived to question specific people in an NFC vehicle. We are concerned that such actions may prejudice the forthcoming investigation.
Oxfam case study: The New Forests Company and its Uganda plantations