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Protecting Ancestral Lands: MRG’s Plea for Sengwer and Ogiek Rights at ACHPR

24 May 2024

At the 79th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held from 14 May to 3 June 2024, we delivered an oral statement addressing the critical human rights situation of minorities and indigenous peoples in Africa. The focus was on the Sengwer and Ogiek indigenous communities in Kenya, who have been subjected to severe human rights violations by the Kenyan government. This statement highlights the forced evictions, destruction of homes, and the ensuing hardships faced by these communities, and calls for urgent humanitarian aid and respect for their ancestral land rights. MRG also urges the African Commission to investigate these violations and hold the Kenyan government accountable.

Honourable Chairperson and Members of the Commission, distinguished representatives of States, and esteemed colleagues of international and national NGOs. 

Thank you for the opportunity accorded to Minority Rights Group (MRG) to make a Statement on the situation of human rights on the continent. Our statement focuses on the situation of the Sengwer indigenous people of Embobut Forest, Kenya and the Ogiek indigenous people of the Mau Forest Complex – also Kenya. Both communities are victims of egregious human rights violations at the hands of agents of the government of Kenya.

On 29 April 2024, over 150 Kenya Forest Service (KFS) guards forcibly evicted Sengwer families from their homes in Kapkok Glade. Reports from the Sengwer indicate that KFS guards razed more than 800 houses to the ground, destroying properties of community members and leaving over 2,800 families destitute in harsh, rainy conditions. This, to forcibly evict the Sengwer indigenous communities from their traditional ancestral lands wherein they have lived, survived and have a particular connection to for many centuries. The affected families are now enduring severe hardship, living in the cold without basic necessities. They have appealed for urgent humanitarian assistance, including tents, blankets, medicines and foodstuffs.

The April 29th attack on the Sengwer indigenous people follows another eviction campaign inflicted on the Ogiek indigenous people of Sasimwani within the Mau Forest. In the recent violent eviction campaign of late October – early November 2023, the Ogiek of Sasimwani were forcefully evicted from their ancestral lands by the government of Kenya, specifically elements of the KFS. Over 700 community members were rendered homeless and destitute. Details of the plight of the Ogiek was presented by MRG during the 77th OS and again, during this present 79th OS by the Executive Director of OPDP, Mr. Daniel Kobei.

MRG condemns these forced evictions of the Sengwer and the Ogiek indigenous peoples of Kenya from their traditional ancestral lands, in the guise of conservation, emphasizing that the Sengwer and the Ogiek are not intruders but the indigenous peoples of Embobut Forest and the Mau Forest complex respectively.

The Kenyan government must respect the rights of these communities to live on, manage, and own their ancestral lands. These forced evictions violate domestic, regional and international human rights laws, especially as the Sengwer and the Ogiek were not consulted and did not give their free, prior, and informed consent.

MRG calls on donor agencies supporting conservation projects in the Cherangany Hills Water Tower and in the Mau Forest Complex, including UN agencies, the EU, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank, to ensure that a human rights-based approach and free, prior, and informed consent are central to any conservation project.

MRG further calls on the government of Kenya to provide humanitarian relief and to compensate the affected families. The government must also involve the Sengwer and the Ogiek, as well as other indigenous peoples in Kenya in conservation efforts and respect their land rights.

MRG urges the African Commission to investigate the human rights violations meted out against the Ogiek and Sengwer indigenous communities in Kenya and to request for a report from the government of Kenya on the violations outlined above.

Regarding the Ogiek, MRG urges the African Commission to use its good offices to ensure that the government of Kenya fully complies and implements all the orders of the African Court in the Merits and Reparations judgements in the Ogiek case, and to request from the African Court, a date for a hearing on the status of implementation of the said judgment orders.

Thank you.

Yator Kiptum, Sengwer community leader, speaks to the media about the evictions. Credit: Elias Kimaiyo/Sengwer Indigenous Community Trust.


Samuel Ade Ndasi

African Union Advocacy and Litigation Officer

Minority Rights Group