By Steve Mkawale
Nairobi, KENYA: The Kenyan Government is once again on the spot over the violation of rights of indigenous people by evicting them from their ancestral land.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has ruled that the Government must not evict the members of the marginalised Ogiek community from their land in the Mau Forest.
The ruling on March 15 came hot on the heels of another delivered by the court in May 2009, that the Endorois’ eviction from their traditional land for tourism development violated their human rights.
The decision was historic since it recognised for the first time in Africa, indigenous peoples’ rights over traditional land.
But to date, the Government has not implemented the international court’s verdict on the rights of the Endorois contravening the African Charter to which it is a signatory. The ruling directed the Government to compensate the Endorois over the eviction.
In its latest ruling, the African Court states that: “There exists a situation of extreme gravity and urgency as well as a risk of irreparable harm to the Ogiek Community with regard to violation of their rights guaranteed under the charter.”
The court ordered the Government to reinstate restrictions it had imposed on land transactions in the Mau forest while it reaches a decision on the issue.
The Ogiek, who have seen much of their forest home destroyed by illegal settlers and loggers, welcomed the news.
Joseph Sang, an Ogiek spokesman, said the ruling was welcome and is optimistic that Ogieks will get justice in the long run.
“It is a relief yet again for indigenous people in the African context. We are all supportive of any move that will deliver justice to the Ogiek people,” he said.
According to the suit, the new conservation measures by the Government threaten the Ogiek community with eviction from their forest home.
According to the Minority Rights Group, which with the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme and Centre for Minority Rights brought the case to the court, it was the first time the court was intervening to protect the rights of minorities.
“This is the first time the African Court, which has been in operation since 2006, has intervened to protect the rights of an indigenous community,” he said.
Members of the Ogiek community have welcomed the court’s decisions, saying historically they are indigenous people living in Mau forest.
“Without forest we cannot survive. We gather fruits from forest, we collect honey from the forest, and we hunt wild animals, and that is how we survive,” said the Executive Director of the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme Mr Daniel Kobei.
The Endorois is an indigenous community of 60,000 people who lived in the Lake Bogoria area.
The community had gone to court to contest alleged violations resulting from their displacement from their ancestral land, failure to adequately compensate them for loss of property, the disruption of the community’s pastoral enterprise, and violations of their right to practice their religion and culture.