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September 20, 2018

Respect indigenous forest people’s rights in forced evictions, state told

Members of the indeginous community of Sengwer during their procession in Embobut forest on April 21,2016.Photo/file
Members of the indeginous community of Sengwer during their procession in Embobut forest on April 21,2016.Photo/file

The government must respect the rights of indigenous forest people who are being forcibly evicted from their homes, Amnesty International has said.

The human rights group said property is being destroyed and their traditional way of life trampled on.

Amnesty International said this on Thursday during the commemoration of International Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The day promotes the rights of the indigenous people across the world.

It was first declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1994.

In April this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “Ours is not to interfere with traditional communities who have lived there. We have done a lot to allow people in those areas, who use those areas for traditional rights, to continue enjoying their practices.”

The President was responding to a question on evictions of indigenous people from forests.

Executive director of Amnesty International Kenya Irungu Houghton said entrusting the forests to the Kenya Forest Service alone will not keep the water towers safe.

“Rather than respecting the land rights of the Sengwer people of Embobut Forest, the Ogiek of Mount Elgon and Mau and working with them as partners in conservation, the government is forging ahead with an outdated fortress conservation model,” he said.

Amnesty International has repeatedly clashed with the state’s violence against communities such as Sengwer.

In January, the European Union suspended funding for a climate change mitigation project in Embobut Forest worth Sh3.6 billion after one Sengwer man was killed and another seriously injured during an operation by the KFS to forcibly evict the community.

In April this year, a government-mandated task force found that the KFS had “overseen wanton destruction of our forests and systematically executed plunder and pillaging of our water towers”.

In May, Amnesty International published a report showing that widespread, sometimes deadly, force has been used against the Sengwer people.

It also highlighted significant flaws in the decision-making process that has been used to forcibly evict the Sengwer from their ancestral lands in Embobut forest.

In July, Sengwer representatives reported that KFS guards demolished the houses of three families, stole Sh100,000 and destroyed household possessions.

The razed houses were located outside the designated forest area. There is concern that the Sengwer are being targeted as a community who have objected to forced evictions in Embobut forest.

Amnesty said government agencies descended on Embobut last week launching an operation to tackle cattle rustling.

Based on past experiences, many Sengwer people fear the operation could be a strategy to carry out further forced evictions.

 

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