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Saving Uganda’s rainforests using public interest litigation

Geographic relevance: Uganda

Language: Inglés

Data type: Legal references

Author(s): Catherine Nampewo

Publication details: Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, Vol. 40, 2, article 9. 28 May,2013

About this resource:

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

This Note argues that the Ugandans opposed to the give-away of forest land to private companies can bring public interest litigation under Article 50 of the Uganda Constitution. The Note further proposes that to save private forests, Uganda should seek guidance from U.S. case law on applying the «public trust doctrine» as a means of legally protecting natural environments from degradation by private interests.

Public interest litigation

Concerned Ugandan citizens opposed to the government’s giving away forest land to private investors can use public interest litigation to challenge such policies. Although a maturing and evolving legal mechanism, 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, “[a]ny 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 person’s or organisation’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, where 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 argues that in Uganda, «Article 50 Confers Standing To Bring a Public Trust Doctrine Case» and concludes that «Public interest litigants could use the Ugandan Constitution to sue the government on behalf of all Ugandans and on behalf of the local residents whose livelihood depends on the forests. Litigants could seek a declaration that the government would violate the public trust doctrine if it executes its proposal to give awayone quarter of Mabira forest to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited.»

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