African Court issues historic ruling protecting rights of Kenya’s Ogiek Community
Minority Rights Group International (MRG) welcomes the recent decision of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights preventing the eviction by the Government of the Ogiek community from their ancestral homes in Kenya’s Mau Forest.
This is the first time the African Court, in operation since 2006, has intervened to protect the rights of an indigenous community.
‘The Government of Kenya must now fully respect the decision of the Court, which effectively bans land transactions in the Mau Forest Complex,’ says Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law. ‘The court found that, if land transactions continue, there exists a situation of extreme gravity and urgency as well as a risk of irreparable harm to the Ogiek.’
The Mau Forest, one of the main water catchment areas in Kenya, is home to an estimated 15,000 Ogiek families who claim to be indigenous owners of the land. A minority group, the Ogiek have faced, since colonial times, consistent persecution and denial of their land rights, worsening over the last two decades.
Most recently, the Ogiek have been threatened with eviction from their homes in the Eastern Mau, without due consultation, under the guise of protecting the environment. The Ogiek maintain that the forest is most at risk from large-scale logging rather than their own sustainable and traditional practices.
In 2009, frustrated by the lack of progress through national policy and judicial processes, the Ogiek – through MRG, the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme (OPDP) and Centre for Minority Rights (CEMIRIDE) – decided to file a case with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In 2012, the Commission referred the matter to the African Court, on the grounds that it evinced serious and mass human rights violations.
In its ruling, the court, based in Arusha, Tanzania, ordered the government of Kenya to halt parceling out land in the disputed forest area until the Court reaches a decision in the matter.
The African Court also ruled that the Kenyan government must refrain from taking any action which would harm the case, until it had reached a decision in the matter. It reached this decision out of concern that the government’s current actions violate the Ogiek’s right to enjoyment of their cultural and traditional values, their right to property, as well as their right to economic, social and cultural development, all of which are enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Kenya is a signatory to the Charter.
‘For many years, the Ogiek have suffered displacement or been threatened with eviction from their ancestral lands, and action is urgently needed to protect their livelihoods, and indeed their survival as an indigenous community. This ruling from the African Court is a positive step towards realization of justice for the Ogiek,’ says Daniel Kobei, OPDP’s Executive Director.
Notes for editors
- Minority Rights Group International is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide
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