Justice Musa Ssekaana has stepped down from hearing a petition challenging the planned giveaway of part of Bugoma forest reserve in Kikuube district.
Justice Ssekaana says that he could be in possession of more information relating to the matter compared to what has been presented by the parties in the case.
Ssekana noted that he had perused the files before him relating to the case and found that he had previously handled the matter, and if he decides to proceed with the case filed by Uganda Law Society and two civil society organizations, he may appear to be biased.
He directed that the file be returned to the High Court Civil Division registrar, Jameson Karemani for a reallocation to another judge.
Ssekaana recused himself from the matter when the lawyers including Eron Kiiza, Shafir Yiga, Anthony Asiimwe, and Nalukoola Luyimbazi appeared before him for the hearing of the matter. The lawyers represent Uganda Law Society (ULS), Civil Society Organisations, the Environmental Shield Limited and Resource Human Rights Africa Limited.
These ran to the court seeking an order compelling Hoima Sugar Limited, Martin Aryagaruka, the National Environmental Management Authority, and Attorney General to restore or replant trees on part of Bugoma forest reserve, which was gazetted in 1932 as a tropical high forest and home for chimpanzees and part of the ecosystem.
This followed NEMA’s approval of Hoima Sugar company, okaying the use of 21.54 square miles for sugarcane growing and associated developments on August 14th, 2020. According to the approval, the sugarcane project was expected to commence within 24 months from August 14th, 2020, and the certificate was valid for five years subject to revision on request when the project area condition changes.
But the petitioners, the majority of whom are environmentalists and climate change activists noted that sugarcane growing has adverse environmental and climate change impacts including pollution of water bodies such as rivers and streams and soiling the water quality.
They want court to cancel the certificate and order the respondents to replant trees on part of the forest reserve, which they had cut down.
The petitioner’s lawyers led by Eron Kiiza welcomed the Judge’s decision to recuse himself from the case.
Early this year, Justice Ssekaana dismissed three consolidated petitions in which conservationists had sought to quash the environment and social impact assessment certificate issued to Hoima Sugar Limited to grow sugarcane on Bugoma forest reserve on grounds that they carried distorted facts. The petitions were filed by the Water and Environment Media Network (U) Ltd, National Association of Professional Environmentalists -NAPE, and Africa Institute for Energy Governance.