Restoring land, livelihood and dignity to widows and orphans

Restoring land, livelihood and dignity to widows and orphans

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

IJM’s project in Mukono, Uganda will serve widows, orphans and other vulnerable victims of illegal property seizure by providing legal assistance to help them secure land ownership, by providing social services to promote their emotional and financial recovery, and by encouraging changes in the public justice system’s management of land rights cases.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In Uganda, it is estimated that 30% of all widows are forcibly evicted from their land and endure related intimidation and violence. Property grabbing is unlawful under a host of Ugandan laws, including the Succession Act, which criminalizes wrongful eviction of widows and children from their homes and forbids intermeddling with a deceased person’s estate. Despite the fact that strong laws are on the books, they are not being effectively enforced. In fact, a study conducted by IJM in 2008 found that 55% of widows and orphans in IJM’s current project area (five sub-counties in Mukono County) had experienced actual or attempted property grabbing within their lifetime. For most Ugandans, land ownership serves as a critical form of social security and is essential to survival, making property grabbing particularly devastating for the widows and orphans who are victimized by this crime.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

IJM’s casework strategy is unique among pro bono legal aid providers in Uganda in that it combines civil representation and criminal prosecution with comprehensive aftercare services to provide holistic sustainable relief to widows and orphans victimized by succession-related property grabbing. IJM’s project in the Mukono area aims to: • Restore victims to their property through mediation sessions and traditional legal cases. • Provide aftercare services to help victims heal from the emotional and physical suffering they may have suffered as a direct result of property grabbing. IJM’s approach is also unique in that it complements its individual casework with initiatives to promote long-lasting structural changes in the community and public justice system to help prevent further abuses. IJM works to: • Sensitize and educate the general community in Mukono to decrease vulnerability and create social demand for improved public justice system performance in property grabbing cases. • Enable public justice system actors in Mukono, including Local Council Leaders, Police Officers and Civil Servants, to properly and independently respond to property cases.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Since 2008, IJM has secured legal relief for 186 property grabbing victims, trained 25 police officers, and trained 3618 community members and 519 local council leaders at legal education clinics. Our clients include women like Veronica, whose own brother Bruno hijacked her property, leaving her – and the young niece and nephew who lived with her – homeless. Veronica courageously fought back, asking the local police, community authorities, and courts to defend her, but was denied justice at every turn. Desperate and almost out of hope, Veronica heard of IJM through a legal education seminar in her village. We quickly took Veronica case and advocated for her during the lengthy trial. Our aftercare team found school sponsorships for both children and helped Veronica begin a chicken-rearing business to provide additional income. Veronica recently received justice when the courts declared her the rightful owner of the land and ordered Bruno to vacate the property and pay 1,000,000 shillings. The family is now joyfully secure on their land. By tangibly assisting scores of widows like Veronica, IJM has established strong credibility in the community and has learned important lessons about how the public justice system responds (or fails to respond) to property grabbing. Our project is beginning to apply those lessons to prompt structural changes in the way the justice system handles property grabbing cases – by offering trainings for local officials and working on initial public policy initiatives.
About You
International Justice Mission
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, VA, Arlington County

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Organization Name

International Justice Mission

Organization Phone


Organization Address

P.O. Box 58147

Organization Country

, DC, Washington

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on


Do you have a patent for this idea?


IJM has worked hard to establish our credibility within the community as an effective agency for handling succession related property grabbing. We have accomplished this by partnering closely with other local non-profits and with the Ugandan government officials. In fact, we just secured a memorandum of understanding with the Ugandan Ministry of Justice. We have worked particularly hard to help establish a property grabbing “desk” (specialized section) at the Mukono Police Department to handle property grabbing cases. Police officials have acknowledged the importance of this desk – noting that more community members are now reporting cases, officers are taking cases more seriously, and cases are resulting in increased convictions. Our work depends on this kind of cooperation and goodwill, and would be hampered if we were no longer able to collaborate with local organizations and the government to carry out our work with their support and collaboration.


IJM Uganda’s 2011 casework goals are provided below (please note that these are provisional, pending approval at our November Board of Directors meeting):

• Bring relief to 160 victims of property grabbing.
• Use a mediate-first strategy to restore the majority of clients to their land; in cases where repeated mediation efforts fail, assist clients in bringing civil suits against the perpetrators and facilitate 5 convictions.
• Provide social services to enable victims to engage safely in productive livelihoods on their own land.
• Organize and lead 10 legal education programs to teach 600 community members and leaders the local relevant laws and proper ways to respond to property grabbing.
• Organize and lead two will-writing workshops.

IJM uses an annual planning cycle in order to take into account the changing dynamics in each project when planning the following year. As such, targets beyond 2011 are not finalized, but numbers typically remain steady or increase.

How many people will your project serve annually?

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


If so, how?

Although public policy is a limited part of our current project, we are engaged in a few key initiatives, including:

• We are working with a group of NGOs to propose legislation for a newly revised version of the Succession Act.
• We have accepted an invitation to participate on the Uganda Law Reform Commissions task force for amendment of the Succession Act, and we have accepted invitations to work on several working groups in the Justice Law and Order Sector project that are designed to improve cooperation of the various forms of the public justice system.
• In addition, we lobby directly to the Director of Public Prosecution to influence officials to use their discretion to pursue land grabbing cases as criminal acts.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation.

Law Enforcement Partnerships: IJM has worked with the Mukono Police Department to establish a property grabbing “desk” (specialized section), train officers seconded to the desk, and resource the desk. The desk has changed perceptions among officers so that property grabbing is handled as a crime, rather than domestic matter, and community members are more readily reporting cases.

Aftercare Partnerships: We partner with the Empower and Care Organization (EACO), Bead for Life, Food for the Hungry (FHI) and other NGOs who help our clients become self-sustaining and create income generating businesses.

Legal Partnerships: We work with Uganda Christian University Law School, introducing their students to the legal aspects of property grabbing. These students help our legal education workshops, often by conducting intakes on-site if attendees have cases to report. Through this partnership, IJM is training a generation of lawyers who desire to change the public justice systems so that it effectively serves the marginalized.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

IJM raises funds for our work around the world from a broad base of supporters to ensure the sustainability of funding. The breakdown of income sources in 2009 included:

Individual Donors: 62%
Foundations: 18%
Churches and Schools: 6%
Intern Support: 4%
Other Income: 4%
IJM’s Affiliate Offices: 3%
Government Grants: 3%

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

IJM launched its Uganda Field Office in 2004. In its initial stages, IJM Uganda explored a wide variety of casework on a pilot basis, representing victims of child sexual assault, illegal detention and various land rights abuses across the country. In 2008, faced with the overwhelming need for proper attention to land grabbing cases, IJM focused its attention and resources exclusively on representing victims of succession-related property grabbing in five sub-counties in Mukono County.

Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.

Gary Haugen, who is the President and CEO of IJM, is the social innovator behind this idea. In 1994, Mr. Haugen was detailed from the U.S. Department of Justice to the United Nation's Center for Human Rights where he served as the Officer in Charge of the U.N.'s genocide investigation in Rwanda. During the fall of 1994, he directed an international team of lawyers, criminal prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and forensics experts in the gathering of evidence against the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. Mr. Haugen developed the investigative strategy, protocols, and field methodology for developing eye-witness testimony and physical evidence from nearly a hundred mass grave and massacre sites. He also personally directed and conducted field investigations at various sites. Until April of 1997, Mr. Haugen was a Senior Trial Attorney with the Police Misconduct Task Force of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. When Congress granted the Attorney General new authority to pursue enforcement action against police departments with a "pattern or practice" of misconduct, Mr. Haugen was selected to serve on a small task force with national enforcement authority. In 1997, Mr. Haugen founded IJM, to intervene on behalf of victims of violent and oppressive abuse who could not represent themselves.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Email from Changemakers

If through another source, please provide the information.

Approximately 50 words left (400 characters).

Which (if any) of the following strategies apply to your organization or company (check as many as apply)

Policy advocacy to strengthen property rights or increase security of tenure, Formalizing and documenting property rights (i.e. titling, leasing or certification), Legal education and awareness.

Please explain how your work furthers one or many of the above strategies (if you selected “other”, please explain your strategy)

Our casework strategy includes assisting property grabbing victims to formalize their land ownership. Our will writing workshops proactively help community members document their rights to their property. Our legal education workshops help community leaders and members to understand existing land rights laws. For our policy advocacy work, please see our response to question #14 above.