The High Court of Uganda at Mbale will hear a case on Wednesday brought by citizens against the federal government, alleging the government failed to uphold its human rights obligations to protect threatened communities from the effects of climate change.
Forty-eight survivors of a deadly landslide assert that the Ugandan government violated their “rights to life, property, and the right to a clean and healthy environment,” in its failure to act on the known landslide risk.
Following torrential rains in December 2019, the landslide killed more than 30 people and destroyed hundreds of homes in the Bududa District of Uganda, in the Mount Elgon region. The suit alleges that the government knew of the risk of life-threatening landslides for years. In the Mount Elgon region alone, there were more than 400 landslides recorded between 2008 and 2018.
The region is reported to have one of the highest occurrences of landslides in the country, and the citizen suit argues that the government failed to act on this knowledge. A 2016 study found that “deep-rooted links to poverty, culture, and unsatisfactory knowledge on disaster preparedness” were largely responsible for “failure to overcome the effects” of the landslides.
A press release from ClientEarth—a London-based legal charity supporting the lawsuit—emphasizes that the Ugandan government has “acknowledged that it expects climate change to contribute to increased rain and extreme weather, which is likely to worsen landslides in the country.”
In 2010, the Ugandan government implemented a “resettlement plan” for at-risk communities in response to one of the worst landslide disasters in the country’s history. The plan, however, is poorly managed. After the 2019 landslide, more than 100 families appealed to the government to speed up the relocation process. In a Tweet, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate pleaded with her online community to “relate this to climate change [as much as possible].”
“Climate change is increasingly posing a threat to the human rights of climate-vulnerable communities around the world,” said April Williamson, a ClientEarth environmental lawyer. Speaking about the citizen-suit, she said that “this kind of litigation will increase if governments fail to help their populations adapt to climate-related natural disasters.”