Legal Aid Forum Wins Compensation for Nineteen Victims of Land Expropriation

In 2011, MTN-Rwanda Cell (“MTN”) seized the land of nineteen residents of Kamubuga Sector, located in Gakenke District-Northern Province, while constructing the road to access its telecommunication installations there. When MTN expropriated this land, it paid no compensation to the landowners, who then complained tolocal sector authorities. The local authorities intervened on their behalf, first conducting a valuation of each resident’sseized plot of land and then approaching MTN for talks regarding the seizure. When the talks did not lead to compensation of the landowners, the local authorities forwarded the issue to the district authorities. The Mayor of Gakenke District then wrote to MTN several letters requesting that the company compensate the affected residents, but MTN never responded and failed to show any interest in resolving the problem.

The Legal Aid Forum (“LAF”) commenced representation of thenineteen Kamubuga residents through a referral by the District Access to Justice Bureau (MAJ). On 13th August 2013, a team of representatives from LAF visited the residents to gather more information about the case. During that visit, the LAF team also met the Mayor of Gakenke District, Mr. NZAMWITA Deogratias, who welcomed LAF’s support on the matter, particularly because MTN had simply ignored the local authorities’ requests and attempts at resolution.

LAF team meeting with the nineteen residents at Kamubuga Sector, Gakenke District

On 26th August 2013, the Legal Aid Forum wrote to MTN,demanding that the company amicably settle the case and compensate each of the nineteen residents, or LAF would pursue legal remedies for the case in court. As it had done to the district authorities, MTN never responded to LAF’s letter.

As promised, the Legal Aid Forum then took MTN to court. A legal advocate provided by the Legal Aid Forumprepared the case on behalf of the nineteen residents and filed it in Gakenke Primary Court. Because the residents were unable to afford even court filing fees, LAF paid for the advocate’s representation and all court fees. Gakenke Primary Court heard the case in December 2013 and pronounced its decision on 13th February 2014.

LAF hired lawyer together with the affected residents at the primary court of Gekenke

The nineteen residents won their case. The court ordered MTN to pay the value of the grabbed land for each resident, just as it had been calculated by the Kamubuga Sector officials. Additionally, the court ordered MTN to pay an additional150,000Rfw fine to each of theresidents as compensationfor lost income they incurred in pursuing their cases.

Despite winning the case, the nineteen residents were unable to execute the judgment because they could not afford to buy judgment copies, a necessary predicate step to obtain payment from MTN. The residents advised LAF, as well as Ms.Isabelle MUKUNDE from MINECOFIN and Ms. Janouk BELANGER from the EU,of this barrier when they visited the residents on 27th February 2014. The residents asked LAF for help in executing the judgment against MTN.

LAF team together with EU and MINECOFIN representatives during their visit to the affected residents in Kamubuga Sector

As the residents requested,LAF paid for the purchase of copies of the judgment for each resident. LAF then engaged MTN to have the company execute the judgments and pay all nineteen residents. Though LAF hired a professional bailiff who carried out all the necessary procedural arrangements, MTN deliberately disregarded the judgment execution procedures.

LAF continued to pursue the case on behalf of the Kamubuga residents by filing another case for non-execution of the court judgment. This second case was heard on 19th August 2014; the court pronounced a decision on 28th August 2014.Again, the residents won their case. This time, the court ordered MTN to pay further additional fines to the nineteen residents.

Thanks to the effective advocacy by LAF, the court ultimately ordered that MTN pay significantly greater sums than the amount the residents initially requested. For example, one of the plaintiffs, Mr. Thomas SEBAHINDE, was initially owed 310,000Rfw, the valuation of his land according to the sector officials. In the end, including court-ordered fines, Mr. Sebahindewas awarded more than double that amount, 722,000 Rfw.

In an effort to continue seeking justice on their clients’ behalf, the Legal Aid Forum once more hired aprofessional bailiff to undertake all the procedural requirements to force MTN to make payments according to the court pronouncement. Finally, MTN agreed to pay.

However, because many of the residents lacked bank accounts in which to receive the monetary payments, MTN then requested that LAF facilitate the process of payment. LAFagreed to help. LAF arranged with the residentsthat MTN would deposit the money to LAF’s bank account,and LAF would aid the residents in openingpersonal accounts in their Umurenge Saving and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) into which each resident’s payment would be deposited. LAF also negotiatedan agreement with the manager ofIZIYIGIHE/Kamubuga SACCO that the nineteen residents could open accounts, despite the fact that they had no money to pay the required fees for this service at the time.

LAF then transferred the money for the nineteen residents to the account of IZIYIGIHE/Kamubuga SACCO. On 22nd October 2014, the LAF team, together with district officials and the Legal Officer from the District Access to Justice Bureau (MAJ), traveled to Kamubuga to witness the actual transfer of the amount owed to each resident’s account, as the court had ordered. Through LAF’s zealous advocacy and relentless pursuit of the case, all nineteen former landowners received compensation for the expropriation.

LAF Programme Manager handing-over the account books to their respective owners and showing them that their money (as ordered by the court) is already on their SACCO account.

Assisted people expressing their appreciation to the LAF team, after receiving justice (compensation for their land and indemnities).

The 19 residents together with the LAF team and local authoritiesin a group photoinfront of Kamubuga SACCO officeafter the residents received their SACCO account books.

The case was publicized on local radios and in online newpapers(see, e.g., http://www.igihe.com/amakuru/u-rwanda/article/gakenke-laf-yashyikirije).

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