Read appeal court’s 2022 decision

Read high court’s 2019 award judgment


There’s no end in sight yet for 2 500 Ugandan villagers, forced off their land in 1990 and who have been fighting a legal battle for compensation since 2001.

A high court judgment in 2019 noted that the matter had been through the hands of seven judges already up to that point – since then, however, three judges of the court of appeal have also considered aspects of the case, and more could become involved when the matter is finally heard on appeal.

In the original high court case, the villagers said they had been living in the forest area since 1971 when they were allocated land and resettled there by the government of Uganda and the district administration.

Then, around 1990, government forces moved in, displaced them from their homes, killed their cattle and destroyed their crops. They were scattered to various places and subjected to physical and mental torture because of the resulting turmoil. And while the government kept promising that they would be compensated, this never materialised.


The legal team appearing for the attorney general said that the villagers were squatters with no right to be living on the forest fringes. As ‘encroachers’ on various pieces of government land, they were lawfully evicted.

The villagers, however, claimed they were settled there on the say-so of Uganda’s former president, Idi Amin, in 1971, and that government officials had provided them with rural services until their eviction.

In his judgment on compensation, the high court’s Judge Wilson Musene said that, having considered the evidence, he found the applicants were not ‘mere squatters’, since they had been allocated the land by ‘Idi Amin Dada, who was the head of state and fountain of honour at the time’.


Were the evictions lawful? Witnesses testifying for the villagers said they were forcefully evicted by ‘officers from the forces who were armed’ and that no reason was given as to why they were being evicted. Their property was destroyed and their animals killed and they were then dumped at a prison farm where a camp was set up for them. Against this background, the court found they were unlawfully evicted.

From evidence before the court, it appeared they had suffered significant losses. Most of the evidence on this question came from a witness who had been the district agricultural officer in the villagers’ area at the time of the evictions. He had kept a register of crop activities during at least seven years before the evictions, and had also interviewed them about their losses, after they were evicted.

Extension workers had made monthly reports on the crop activities of the district and the witness had access to this information as well.

Based on this and other evidence, the court awarded the villagers UGX 52.6 billion (more than USD 1.35 million) as special damages and UGX 4 billion (more than USD 1 million) in punitive and other damages.

Important impact

That May 2019 judgment and award are due for appeal but before the actual appeal was heard, the AG brought an application to the appeal court, asking leave to introduce new evidence.

The AG said that the new, additional evidence hadn’t been available at the time of the high court’s hearing but would have had an ‘important impact’ on the outcome of the case if it had been before that court.

Counsel for the AG told the three appeal judges involved in the application that the general rule was for an appellate court not to admit fresh evidence ‘unless it was not available to the party seeking to use it at the trial.’


Counsel also referred to various letters showing that the AG had made ‘numerous attempts’ to get needed information from the ministry of lands. That information had now been made available, and it said that the disputed land ‘used to be a forest reserve and was not a national park.’ This, said counsel, showed that the land from which the villagers were removed did not belong to them.

The AG’s legal team also argued that the sums awarded by the high court were ‘colossal’ and the application to introduce fresh evidence ‘was intended to protect taxpayers’ money’.

Counsel for the villagers opposed the application, saying that such an application had to be made ‘without delay’, but in this case, it was made two years after judgment.

Counsel also argued that the AG had been given enough time to consult with the government valuer during the trial and that many adjournments were granted so that consultation could take place. However, the AG still failed to verify or assess the villagers’ claims during the trial and had ‘agreed to the report’ given by the agricultural officer.


The court pointed out that the new evidence that the AG wanted to introduce seemed to be the findings of a technical team sent by the chief government valuer to the disputed area. But the report itself was not attached to the application. Instead, there was a letter summarising the observations of the team’s field visit.

The court also said that during the high court trial, the AG was well aware that he needed the report of the government’s valuer for the case. Counsel for the AG was given several adjournments to produce this report but never did so. Instead, ‘curiously’, the report materialised six months after counsel for the villagers demanded payment of the award.

Fundamental criterion

This meant that the evidence the AG wanted to introduce did not meet the fundamental criterion that it could not have been produced at the time of the trial. Further, said the appeal judges, the AG’s legal team wanted to use the application to produce evidence that they ought to have produced before the high court but did not, despite having been given ample time and opportunity to do so.

In addition, the new evidence would concern ownership of the land on which the villagers lived, and this was not a relevant issue in the aspect of the dispute that the appeal court was to hear.

The appeal judges therefore unanimously dismissed the AG’s application to introduce new evidence and awarded costs to the villagers.

* 'A matter of justice', Legalbrief, 29 September 2022