TIME RUNNING OUT

End forced evictions in Embobut, state told

Rights groups say 28 homes torched on July 10, cite President's call for moratorium on evictions during pandemic

In Summary

• On June 25, the EU gave the government until September 24 to put its house in order, stop forced evictions and human rights abuses or risk losing Sh3.6 billion; thus far funding has been suspended.

• Government has formed multi-agency team to spearhead talks and come up with a roadmap to sort out some of the issues raised by the EU.

 

Sengwer houses set on fire by KFS officers in Embobut last year.
ON FIRE: Sengwer houses set on fire by KFS officers in Embobut last year.
Image: FILE

Eight human rights and conservation organisations have expressed alarm over reported ongoing forced evictions in Embobut Forest by the Kenya Forest Service.

“We are reliably informed that 28 homes with bedding and possessions were burned in Kapkok glade on July 10, 2020, leaving families in the cold with no shelter,” they said in a statement on Tuesday.

The groups are the America Jewish World Service, Amnesty International, Defenders Coalition, Forest People’s Programme, Natural Justice, KHRC, the Katiba Institute and the Sengwer Council of Elders.

 

They urged the government to end forced evictions from Embobut Forest and ensure human rights are respected and protected.

 “The Constitution of Kenya and Land Act 2012 (as amended in 2016) prohibit forced evictions carried out contrary to the law,” their statement said.

The organisations said on May 11, President Uhuru Kenyatta through Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, declared a moratorium on evictions for the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Environment PS Chris Kiptoo did not pick calls or respond to a text query on Wednesday. KFS chief conservator Julius Kamau did not pick calls but said in a short text he was appearing before the Senate.

The organisations said protecting the right to adequate housing is critical to protecting Kenyans from the spread of the virus and ensuring their recovery.

“The forced evictions and homelessness have increased the vulnerability of those affected by Covid-19 and its negative socio-economic impacts,” the groups said.

 

They said forced evictions are taking place as the European Union and Kenyan government are considering restoration of Sh3.6 billion funding for water tower protection and climate change mitigation.

The programme was suspended after numerous human rights violations occurred, including forced evictions of the Sengwer indigenous people.

On June 25, the EU gave the government until September 24 to end rights violations or risk losing the Sh3.6 billion.

The EU suspended the conservation project in the face of mounting evidence its funds were being used to carry out violent human right violations.

The suspension in 2018 came hours after guards from the KFS, which received EU money, raided Embobut Forest, where the Sengwer indigenous people live.

One man, 41-year-old Robert Kiprotich, was fatally shot and another man wounded. The violence caused an uproar.

The EU-funded programme is the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme.

Launched in June 2016, the programme has provided technical support and funding to the national government, counties and several government agencies.

The eight organisations said the Kenyan government must use this time to dialogue on its approach to conservation. They said it must consistently ensure the community land rights of the Sengwer indigenous people.

They said other traditional forest dwellers can also be recognised in community owner-conservation efforts.

The EU programme aims to protect ground supplies of water known as water towers in Mount Elgon and the Cherangany Hills.

Water towers store rainwater, enable regular river flows, recharge ground water storage, improve soil fertility, reduce erosion and sediment in river water and host many species of plants and animals.

Already, Environment PS Kiptoo has formed a multi-agency team to spearhead talks. He said the team will come up with a roadmap on resolving some issues flagged by the EU.

“The government is keen on having a lasting solution to the problem,” Kiptoo said.

EU Ambassador Simon Mordue told the Star in a separate interview at Kaptagat the programme was suspended as there was no compliance with human rights obligations by the government.

“Dialogue should solve the matter as we need to find a solution that reconciles human rights with conservation,” Mordue said.

The envoy said the EU insists on full respect for the rights of indigenous people. He said conservation work on the water towers was never expected to involve any evictions or use of violence.

The ambassador said it is important to conserve the vital water tower while respecting the rights of communities.

Mordue said there was good commitment and engagement from the Environment ministry and county government. The Sengwer community also has expressed willingness to engage in dialogue, he said.

The envoy said it was suggested to rapidly form a task force to go through all issues in the complex equation.

“There is a sweet spot or a magical solution that can be found,” he said, otherwise, the programme must end on September 24.

The eight organisations urged the government to make a ministerial statement to halt the KFS operation and forced evictions.

They also want the government to adhere to the Constitution, the Land Act and presidential declaration of a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic.

They also want those evicted to be provided with shelter and basic needs, ensuring they can live in peace.

(Edited by V. Graham)