Using public interest litigation to save Uganda rainforests

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Using Public Interest Litigation in Uganda to Save Mabira and Other Rainforests

Abstract: In August 2011, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni announced that he planned to give away part of Mabira rainforest to a sugar corporation. The intention was to grow a sugarcane plantation and enhance sugar production in the country…

Ugandans opposed to the give-away of forest land to private companies can bring public interest litigation under Article 50 of the Uganda Constitution.  Ugandans could apply the “public trust” doctrine to legally protect natural environments from degradation by private interests. Uganda should seek guidance from U.S. case law based on the “public trust” doctrine.

Public interest litigation

Ugandan citizens opposed to the government’s giving away forest land to private investors can use public interest litigation to challenge such policies. Although still evolving,  public interest litigation has proved crucial to enforcing environmental rights and duties in Uganda…

Article 50 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda gives public interest litigants standing.  Article 50 Clause 1 states:

“any person who claims that a fundamental or other right or freedom guaranteed under this Constitution has been infringed or threatened, is entitled to apply to a competent court for redress which may include compensation.”

The Article, thus, applies to any individual whose rights have been violated.  Article 50 Clause 2 further allows “any person or organization” to petition the court to enforce “another person’s or group’s human rights”.

The High Court interprets Article 50 Clause 2 to allow any person or organization to enforce the rights of others, regardless of whether such a person’s or organization’s rights were violated.

Using the Public Trust doctrine in Uganda to protect the environment

This study also examines case law in the United States based on the doctrine of public trust. The sovereign holds all navigable waterways, along with the land underneath these waterways as a trustee and the people as the beneficiaries. This doctrine, as used in the United States, has been used to apply legal protection to natural environments from degradation by private interests.

The author concludes that “Public interest litigants could use the Ugandan Constitution to sue the government on behalf of all Ugandans and especially on behalf of the local residents whose livelihood depends on the forests. Litigants could seek a declaration that the government would violate its public trust role if it gives away one quarter of Mabira forest to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited.

Read full article:
Saving Mabira Rainforest: [pdf]
Using Public Interest Litigation in Uganda to Save Mabira and Other Rainforests
Author: Catherine Nampewo
Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, Vol. 40, 2, article 9. 28 May 2013

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