Milestone Sentence in Ugandan Property Seizure Case

A perpetrator in an illegal land and property seizure case has been convicted and is currently serving six months in jail for his role in violently stealing the home of an elderly female relative after her husband’s death. Related trials against the perpetrator continue and may result in more serious convictions. Since becoming operational in 2002, IJM Uganda has served many clients in recovering their stolen land or property through the court system and through mediation, but this case marks the office’s first criminal conviction for a perpetrator of illegal land and property seizure. A major victory in Judith’s* case, the conviction also holds special significance due to the rarity of convictions for this type of crime in Uganda.

A major victory in Judith’s* case, the conviction also holds special significance due to the rarity of convictions for this type of crime in Uganda.

After her husband’s death in 2005, Judith was forced out of her home by her step-granddaughter and nephew. The younger woman forcefully barred Judith, who is in her late 80s and suffering from poor health, from re-entering her home, and deprived her of all of her property – even her clothing. Judith’s nephew assisted the step-granddaughter in the crime, keeping Judith from her home and following the theft with repeated violent threats against the elderly woman. Judith’s nephew was a butcher by profession and told Judith he would “cut” her if she returned her home – a threat she took literally.

When IJM attorneys took up Judith’s case, they helped her file a police statement leading to her nephew’s arrest. Through IJM Uganda’s work and the cooperation of police, Judith received documentation in February 2007 stipulating that she was the lawful widow of the deceased and entitled to residence in her home. After repeatedly refusing to relinquish the stolen property even after these legal steps had been taken, Judith’s step-granddaughter was also charged, and both of the accused fled.

Judith’s nephew was able to evade court for several weeks. However, he appeared at the final court hearing, at which he was pronounced guilty for intermeddling in the estate of Judith’s deceased husband.

This conviction was crucial both for Judith’s case and for IJM Uganda’s efforts to bring about structural change. Convictions like these serve as strong deterrents for other would-be perpetrators of illegal land and property seizure, protecting vulnerable Ugandans from future victimization.

IJM continues to work with police to locate Judith’s step-granddaughter and hold her accountable for her part in the crimes. Judith is now happily and peacefully living in her house, which is also her major source of income – she rents out extra rooms and the funds she receives provide financial security. At last, Judith is safe at home.