Want a real glimpse into the work of IJM Uganda? This story is taken directly from IJM’s website, and tells the story of Veronica, a woman who protected her abandoned niece and nephew and regained her property through the assistance of IJM.
“I was tossed by worry…”
UGANDA – Deep in a Ugandan village, Veronica laughs and rocks on a battered old sofa. The couch scrapes the dirt floor of her tiny home, raising a glistening cloud of dust that hovers in bright air. Veronica’s adopted niece smoothes her skirt and smiles shyly while her brother, whom Veronica has also adopted, grins outright. “God has remembered us,” Veronica says, looking at the children. “He did a miracle.” She laughs a low, rumbling laugh, then grabs her IJM aftercare worker in a strong hug.
Outside, birds chirp and squawk. Insects buzz. Maize crackles and hisses in the fire.
Today, the whole property seems to celebrate. At long last, Veronica can farm her land in dignity and in peace.
A Devastating Threat
Trouble and violence first ignited on this land in 2002 when Veronica’s brother (and neighbor) passed away, leaving behind a widow – Margaret – two young children and a plot of land. Veronica’s other brother Bruno immediately saw an opportunity for personal gain and delivered a terrifying ultimatum to his late brother’s widow: Flee your land and your home, or I will kill you.
In Uganda, widows like Margaret are often forcibly evicted from their land and sustain related acts of violence and intimidation. The U.N. estimates that over 30% of widows and orphans in sub-Saharan Africa experience illegal property seizure, or “property grabbing.” When deprived their land and property, grieving widows and orphans are left without a home, no means of producing food, and no hope for education.
Bruno’s threats left Margaret with a terrible choice. She could stay and face death, or flee – homeless and with no means of subsistence. So Margaret devised a compromise plan, a plan that afforded her children the greatest chance of survival: She left the children with her trusted sister-in-law Veroni ca and ran for her life.
Bruno promptly took possession of her land. However, he still wasn’t satisfied. He began setting his sights on Veronica’s adjacent property. When Veronica left temporarily to care for her sick father in his home, Bruno took advantage of his sister’s absence and hijacked her property.
Veronica courageously fought back. First, she looked to the local police for help. They turned her away, dismissing her problem as a domestic issue. Then, Veronica sought help from local authorities, who gave her permission to fence in her and her sister-in-law’s adjoining plots of land. Bruno swiftly uprooted the fences. When police came to arrest him, Bruno and his sons beat up and bit the officers, who left without completing the arrest. Finally, Veronica looked to local courts to defend her. Court officials first lost her file, then refused to give her an audience after Bruno bribed them.
It seemed Bruno had won. Veronica had knocked on every door. She had nowhere left to turn and no reason to hope.
That’s when Veronica first heard about International Justice Mission. She was invited to a legal education seminar held in her village, where she reported her story to IJM. When IJM agreed to take on her case, she reports that she was “very happy and excited. I said, ‘God has remembered me.'”
IJM assisted Veronica in filing a civil suit against Bruno and helped her access someone outside of Bruno’s sphere of influence: the Administrator General. He issued Veronica a document granting her permission to fence in the properties and farm the land for the benefit of her niece and nephew.
With the Administrator General’s blessing, Veronica began to fence the land again. “I was very frightened of meeting my brother,” she says. “I knew he would beat me.” Afraid of Bruno but determined to survive, she began to till the land. This infuriated Bruno, who gathered a cabal of three men to cut his sister down.
Providentially, when Bruno’s henchmen arrived, three day-laborers were helping Veronica cultivate her land. The laborers shielded her from blows, and in the course of offering her protection, were assaulted with bricks. One man was beaten so brutally he was left hospitalized.
Victory in the Face of Violence
Veronica had already filed a civil suit against Bruno. Now, with IJM’s assistance, she filed additional criminal charges of assault and criminal trespass against her three assailants. IJM investigators tenaciously pursued Veronica’s attackers and, over the course of several months, secured the necessary arrests, even as the men attempted to evade justice.
The assailants were convicted for their crimes, and in a separate civil trial, the Magistrate’s court passed judgment in favor of Veronica by declaring her the rightful owner of the land. Bruno was ordered to vacate the property and required to pay 1,000,000 shillings as general damages to Veronica and costs of the suit.
Throughout the lengthy and often heated trial, IJM aftercare staff stood by Veronica’s side. Aftercare also found school sponsorships for her niece and nephew and additionally helped Veronica begin a chicken rearing business, which now provides her and the children with additional income. Now, the family is secure on their land.
Says Veronica, rocking on her sofa, “I was tossed by worry.” The skin around her eyes crinkles upwards. She joyfully slaps the edge of the couch. “Then God brought for me IJM.”