Thursday, July 18, 2024

High Court Awards Serenje Villagers Compensation For Losing Land

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The Lusaka High Court has ruled that the 13 villagers that were displaced by a commercial farmer in Serenje in 2013 should be compensated.

This was after the 13 villagers filed a complaint in the Lusaka High Court with the help of the Zambia Land Alliance and Southern Africa Litigation Centre after the release of a Human Rights Watch findings in 2017.

The villagers who sued live in the Muchinda chiefdom, territory and people ruled by Chief Muchinda in Serenje district, which covers about 324 000 hectares and had been parceled out into four large farm blocks which take up more than 273 000 hectares.

The chiefdom also has a forest reserve, an open-air prison facility with farms run by the Zambia Correctional Service and a “resettlement scheme”.

The villagers were forced off their plots of land as soon as investors leased the land and started clearing to plant, sometimes without all the required permits.

They lived out in the open for months, then later in tents or shoddy housing on the fringes of a government forest reserve, with inadequate access to water and no source of livelihood or permission to cultivate the land.

On April 30, the High Court ruled that the holding that the conversion of customary land was illegal and that the resulting forced displacement violated the community’s rights to life, freedom of movement and association, dignity, and equal protection of the law.

The Court ordered the Attorney General, the Serenje District Council and one of the companies at issue to provide relief, including providing alternative land and compensation for rights violations.

And Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Researcher Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu has since urged the Zambian government to swiftly execute the order to ensure that community members have access to land and water and get help with building new homes and returning to farming.

Mrs. Nnoko-Mewanu said the government should also ensure that communities can adequately shelter-in-place to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“Additionally, they should fully enforce the court order that the commercial farm must compensate them for their destroyed property, which includes ancestral graves.”

“Families who lived and farmed for generations were displaced without due process or compensation, with some left hungry and homeless. The High Court ruling is a first step in righting the wrong done to them. Petitioners had sought more and requested that the court cancel the commercial farm’s land title, and questioned the legality of the conversion of their land into a farm block. The court stopped short of doing so,” Mrs. Nnoko-Mewanu said.

“It found that though the procedure for converting the land was irregular, it could not cancel the title of the farm since the venture furthered the government’s national development plan.”

“The court then ordered the government to provide alternative land and compensation. The President should direct responsible senior officials and local leaders to urgently identify and provide alternate land, compensation and assistance to these community members in a way that preserves their connection to their ancestral area. Given the scarcity of land in the area, alternative land might be difficult to find. But the government has to do its best to find it — and do so quickly,” she said.

9 COMMENTS

  1. “It found that though the procedure for converting the land was irregular, it could not cancel the title of the farm since the venture furthered the government’s national development plan.”

    CHIEFS ARE A LET DOWN, HOW DO YOU GIVE OUT CUSTOMARY LAND ALREADY OCCUPIED BY YOUR SUBJECTS WITHOUT CONSULTING THEM? DO THESE PEOPLE EVEN KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CUSTODIAN OF THE LAND AND TRADITIONS.

  2. I see this as just a circus, why didn’t the court quantify the compensation(costs) for each displaced family. The victims are likely to be cheated by the authorities again here.
    I’ve seen it happening in some parts of Zambia. The problem some officials want to reap even when they are not part and parcel of the verdict.

    Justice system must be reformed, it takes too long to expedite the cases, imaging 7 years down the line. Other people might have died of depression and shock due eviction.

  3. This is a good judgement by the High Court. I salute the judge who passed it. How do we ensure that the most vulnerable are protected? These peasants hv skills to survive only in the rural economy. As long as they remain in their villages, they don’t bother anyone. Wht do u think will happen if life is made impossible in villages and they trek to urban areas where there are no jobs? This is a very, very good judgement. Zambia Land Alliance, thank you for standing by these people. We Africans are the only race that has sold its own kind into enslavement by another race and not hv a life-long regret about it.

  4. How many in this community have died since they were displaced in 2013?
    where was their so called chief when they were being evicted?
    Justice delayed….

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