Agago, Uganda – Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo has encouraged leaders in Acholi to address the issue of charcoal trade within their region.
In May, President Museveni enacted an executive order prohibiting the commercial production of charcoal through tree cutting in Northern Uganda. This measure has resulted in an increase in the confiscation of trucks transporting bags of charcoal in the area.
During a public court session held in Agago on Thursday, Dollo stated that the executive order merely served as a reminder of an existing law, which local residents and leaders have not been enforcing.
Citing the National Climate Change Act of 2021, Dollo emphasized that any individual across the country has the right to take legal action against any entity involved in tree cutting anywhere within the nation.
Section 26 (1) of the National Climate Change Act 2021 stipulates that individuals can petition the High Court to intervene against the Government, an individual, or a private organization whose actions or negligence jeopardize or have the potential to jeopardize climate change adaptation or mitigation efforts.
According to Section 2 (a), in addition to other suitable remedies, the high court holds the authority to issue orders to prevent, halt, or rectify the actions or omissions addressed in the application.
Dollo asserted that detaining charcoal dealers on the roadside proves to be ineffective, as the law empowers leaders to make arrests within the forests where the trees are being felled.
He elaborated that apprehending charcoal dealers on the roadside actually facilitates ongoing extensive tree cutting. Leaders such as GISOs and RDCs could be held liable for this, potentially leading to legal action from the public.
Dollo indicated that legal action could be taken against the sub-county, central government, and district if they fail to uphold their responsibilities in environmental protection. He underlined that the court can only take action if the public initiates legal proceedings.
The Chief Justice recommended to the LCV Chairperson of Agago that they collaborate with other district leaders to collectively file a public interest lawsuit in the Gulu high court. This approach aims to achieve substantial outcomes in the fight against tree cutting.
Leonard Ojok, Agago district’s LCV, praised the Chief Justice for clarifying the legal aspects and requested that the judiciary allocate funds for community awareness campaigns.
Ojok stated that the court has predominantly responded after offenses have occurred, and he believes that educating the public about the law could significantly reduce the incidence of such crimes.
Despite multiple bans issued since 2016, the Acholi Sub-region continues to witness the depletion of its forest cover due to the escalating demand for charcoal and timber.
Among the districts, Agago stands out with the highest number of charcoal dealers, contributing to an estimated daily felling of 100 trees.
In June 2022, GIZ released an initial report revealing that Agago district lost 93 hectares (229.8 acres) of trees between 2001 and 2020, primarily due to charcoal production and agriculture.