NAIROBI, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya has
violated the forest-dwelling Ogiek people's rights to land,
religion, culture, development and non-discrimination, the
African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights ruled on Friday, in
its first decision on indigenous people's rights.
The Ogiek live in the Mau Forest - Kenya's largest water
catchment area - in the Rift Valley. But along with other hunter
gatherer communities they have faced repeated evictions from the
land since colonial times.
"By expelling the Ogieks from their ancestral land against
their will, without prior consultation and without respecting
the conditions of expulsion in the interests of public need, the
respondent (Kenyan government) violated the right to land," the
Minority Rights Group International (MRG), one of three
complainants, hailed the ruling as a "huge victory" which would
have major ramifications for other communities living on
protected lands across Africa.
The Tanzanian-based court, which started work in 2006, is
the highest human rights body in Africa.
Kenya's Office of the Attorney General was not immediately
available for comment, but the government has justified the
evictions on the grounds of environmental conservation.
Kenya has been hard hit by illegal settlement, logging and
charcoal production in its indigenous forests, reducing forest
cover to 7 percent of land mass, government data shows.
"I am extremely pleased, not only for the Ogiek, but also
for other indigenous people in Africa," said Lucy Claridge,
legal director of the London-based MRG.
"One of the main things that the court has recognised is
that the preservation of forest land does not justify evictions
of indigenous people," Claridge said by phone from outside the
court where a crowd of Ogiek and Maasai sang and danced.
Campaigners argue that the best way for Kenya to protect its
forests is to give indigenous communities like the Ogiek
ownership of the land on condition that they conserve it.
"This is a chance for the government to restore the Mau and
to restore the dignity of the Ogiek people," Daniel Kobei,
executive director of the Ogiek Peoples' Development Program
(OPDP), another complainant, said in a phone interview.
"If the Ogiek are given the chance to practise their
traditional way of preservation ... I think it will be the best
The court found that the main causes of environmental
degradation of the Mau Forest, which lies 200km (125 miles)
northwest of Nairobi, were "ill-advised" logging concessions and
settlement by non-Ogiek people.
The OPDP took the case to the African Commission on Human
and Peoples' Rights in 2009 after the government issued eviction
notices to around 35,000 Ogiek, plus other settlers. The
commission works closely with the African Court.
Although Kenya's 2010 constitution recognises community
rights to ancestral land, the court found it was "not fully
effective" in securing the Ogieks' rights.
The marginalisation of the Ogiek dates back to when British
colonialists refused to recognise them as a tribe, which would
have entitled them to land, Justice Augustino Ramadhani said in
a live broadcast from Arusha.
The Kenya Land Commission rejected the Ogieks' request for
recognition in 1933, describing them as "a savage and barbaric
people who deserved no tribal status" and advised them to
assimilate with another tribe, he said.
The court will meet again to discuss reparations. It ordered
Kenya to take "all appropriate measures" to remedy the
Although the court's ruling is legally binding, it cannot
sanction parties for non-compliance.
It is the second ruling against Kenya regarding its
treatment of indigenous people since 2010 when the African
Commission found that its eviction of the Endorois from their
land for tourism in the 1970s violated their human rights.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro @katymigiro.; Editing by Emma Batha.
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