Victory as Ogieks win forced eviction case against Kenya

indexARUSHA TANZANIA May 2017:  The African Court on Human and Peoples Rights, at its 45th session on 26 May 2017 in Arusha, delivered a long-awaited judgment on a case brought before it, by the Ogiek indigenous peoples against the Kenyan government, for consistent violations and denial of their land rights.

The Kenyan Government suffered a major blow in its bid to kick out the Ogiek community from the expansive Mau Forest after the Court ruled that it (the government) had infringed on the Ogiek’s rights. Kenya was found to have had breached its agreement with other African countries of ensuring all persons were treated equally and their rights respected.

The case was filed in 2006 before the Arusha based court where the Ogiek’s complained that the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officials issued them with notices to vacate the forest without factoring in how this would affect their lives and the continued harassment and destruction of their property. Court documents show that KFS officers then invaded the forest, destroyed properties and beat up those who resisted evacuation.

Following an eight-year legal battle, the Court found that the Kenyan government violated seven separate articles of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights in a land rights case that dates back to colonial times. The court ruled that the Kenyan government had violated the articles of which Kenya is a signatory, and which is intended to protect basic freedoms and human rights.

The court recognized the Ogiek's indigenous status and their right to reparations from the Kenyan government for the suffering they have endured through these forced evictions. The court also recognized the Ogiek’s legal right to live in the forest and their freedom to continue with their traditions deeming the evictions disproportionate to conservations aims.

The Kenyan government through the Attorney General Githu Muigai argued before Justice Sylvain Ore and his team that the indigenous community had not eroded all the channels of settling the disputes in the country. The AG also argued that the Ogiek had changed from its customs to modern ones and thus they were a danger to the flora and fauna in the forest. The government later agreed with the verdict.

This is the first time the African Court, in operation since 2006, has ruled on an indigenous peoples’ rights case and is by far the largest ever case brought before the Court. It was originally lodged with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, but was referred for the first time in history to the Court on the basis that it evinces serious and mass human rights violations. Minority Rights Group International, Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program and CEMIRIDE were the three original Complainants before the African Commission.

Speaking after the historic judgement was made in Arusha, Lucy Claridge, legal director of Minority Rights Group International (MRG) said that the historic judgement sends a very strong message to governments of the standards around indigenous people’s rights in Africa.

The Ogiek, 35, 000 of whom are the victims in this landmark case, live in the Mau Forest Complex in the Rift Valley of Kenya. They are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling communities and among the most marginalised indigenous peoples in Kenya. They alleged eight violations of their rights to life, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture by the Kenyan government under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Kenya is a signatory.

The Ogiek, who live mostly in Kenya’s Mau and Mt Elgon forests, are a hunter-gatherer community. They have fought for a long time in the national courts, and now at the African Court, to live on their land of their ancestors, but the government has routinely subjected them to arbitrarily evictions citing the need to conserve the environment, claims the court rejected.