Expelled Group Files Lawsuit Against Ugandan and Tanzanian Governments

A group comprising more than 1200 individuals who were forcibly expelled from Tanzania has taken legal action by filing a lawsuit against the Tanzanian government in the East African Court of Justice. Their grievance pertains to the unjust manner in which they were expelled from the country, as well as the destruction of their property during the process.

Simultaneously, in the same legal petition, the group has also brought a suit against the Ugandan government for its alleged failure to protect them and for not compelling the Tanzanian authorities to provide compensation.

The expulsion of these individuals occurred between 2000 and 2006, during the presidency of Jakaya Kikwete. It was initiated through a presidential order known as “Operation Kimbunga,” which led to the expulsion of an estimated 50,000 people residing along the Tanzania-Uganda border, predominantly in the River Kagera basin. The justification for this expulsion was that they were perceived as refugees from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The operation was carried out by the Tanzanian Joint Task Force, which included the Police Force, the Department of Immigration, the Intelligence Unit, and the Tanzania People’s Defense Forces. Many of those expelled had lived in Tanzania for decades, and their forced displacement had significant consequences on their lives and livelihoods.

The group’s legal representatives, Mwesigwa Rukutana & Co. Advocates and OSH Advocates, held a press conference to explain their clients’ plight. They asserted that for over a decade, both the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments had neglected to address their concerns, compelling them to seek justice through the court system.

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Rukutana emphasized the severity of the situation, stating, “These are tens of thousands of people that were arbitrarily expelled from their lands, homes, businesses, and farms, and whose property and source of livelihood have been either seized, destroyed or converted by officials and members of the armed forces of the Tanzanian government. Despite their cries to both governments, these people have neither been resettled nor defended by the Ugandan government where the majority of them now live in destitution.”

Among those who were expelled, there were individuals who were citizens of Tanzania by descent or naturalization, as well as immigrants who had resided in Tanzania for approximately 40 years. Some were intermarried with Tanzanian citizens and had deep ties to the country. Additionally, cattle keepers from Uganda who relied on the region for water and pastures were among those affected.

Rukutana explained that prior to the expulsion, the Tanzanian government had conducted a survey that claimed a substantial portion of land that had previously been under Ugandan jurisdiction. This land was inhabited by thousands of people engaged in farming and livestock keeping. The expulsion was marked by cruel and illegal actions, including looting and property confiscation by the Tanzanian army. Homes were burnt or sold, and individuals suffered unlawful arrests, assaults, detentions without trial, torture, murder, rape, and other forms of inhumane treatment.

Yofesi Karugaba, one of the victims, described their plight, stating that they have since lived as destitutes in concentration camps in various locations. The group has been scattered across different countries in the East African region, enduring challenging living conditions and distress.

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Despite numerous efforts to engage with various stakeholders, including the governments of Tanzania and Uganda and the United Nations, the group has seen no progress in resolving their situation. The Tanzanian government has refused to allow the expelled individuals to return to their land or provide compensation for their losses. In the petition, the Ugandan government is also accused of failing to protect the rights of the expelled individuals, most of whom are Ugandan citizens. Additionally, it is alleged that the Ugandan government has not taken sufficient steps to hold Tanzania accountable for the atrocities committed during the expulsion or to resettle the expelled individuals in a dignified manner.

In their legal action, the group accuses both governments of neglecting to establish a joint verification committee aimed at addressing their predicament.

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