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Tanzanian court to hear Maasai community land rights case involving a US-based Safari Company

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A Tanzanian High Court is set to hear a land rights case by the Maasai community against the subsidiary of a US-based Safari Company, and a government parastatal – Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) and Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL), claiming forceful and violent eviction from their ancestral land in Loliondo, Northern Tanzania.

The hearing will begin on Monday 8 December and continue to 11 December, 2014 at the Arusha-based Court.

The Maasai villagers of Mondorosi, Sukenya and Soitsambu allege destruction of homes, livestock and harassment of villagers who were trying to access the natural resources upon their ancestrally-owned land.

According to the lawsuit, villagers have seen their homes burned, and they have been beaten, detained, and even shot at for trying to use the land and water at or near Sukenya Farm.

The community is asking the court to revoke the company’s land title, prevent TCL from converting the land’s designated use from pastoralism to tourism, and award damages for the injuries they have suffered due to their exclusion from the land. They claim that TCL, together with local Tanzanian police and government officials, have conspired to illegally confiscate their land.

“Under international law, the Maasai have the right to give or withhold consent to proposed projects that may affect the lands they have lived on and used for years, and the natural resources within them.  These lands are the source of their livelihoods, and indeed their very survival as an indigenous people.” says Lucy Claridge, Head of Law at Minority Rights Group International (MRG), an international rights organisation which has been supporting the communities in their struggle since 2009.

“States are under a duty to protect against human rights abuses, including investigating and providing redress for any abuse. Private companies must avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur.  Unfortunately, as is often the case for indigenous peoples throughout the world, these duties seem to have been ignored in this case,” adds Claridge.

The Maasai’s troubles began in the 1980s, when TBL acquired 10,000 acres of land within what was then Soitsambu village, Maasai ancestral land, with the intention of wheat and barley cultivation.

TBL failed to follow the required conditions, such as consulting with the landowners; neither did they offer any compensation for the land.

Out of the 10,000 acres it acquired, TBL only used about 700 for cultivation. As such, life continued as normal for the Maasai, who continued to use the land for grazing and watering their livestock.

They did so for a period of over 19 years without any disturbance, which led to the belief that the land belonged to them. However, in 2006, TBL sold the land to TCL – a Tanzanian incorporated company, run by an American owned safari company, Thomson Safaris.

The community started legal proceedings in 2010 before the local courts, bringing an adverse possession action on behalf of the villagers against TBL, which previously owned the land, and TCL, the current owners of the land and subsidiary of Thomson Safaris.

In addition, the villagers sought an injunction seeking to stop further development on the land, pending the determination of the case. The applications were dismissed in 2013 for procedural reasons, but new proceedings were lodged several months later, and remain pending.

The Maasai of Tanzania are an indigenous group of nomadic people inhabiting the north of the country. Their distinctive customs and dress are emblematic, and images of them are often used by the Tanzanian government to promote tourism in the country.

MRG is working with EarthRights International, who have successfully pursued a 1782 discovery action against Thomson Safaris in the US courts, which has given access to information relevant to the proceedings in Tanzania.

Notes to 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

For more information please contact:

MRG Press Office in Africa – Frederick Womakuyu
T: +256 312266832
M: +256 782934003
E: frederick.womakuyu@minorityrights.org

Lucy Claridge, MRG Head of Law
M: +44 (0) 7866 741922
E: Lucy.Claridge@minorityrights.org

Filed Under: Africa
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