Excluded from ancestral forest

Kenya’s Mau Ogiek Remain excluded from ancestral forest three years after landmark land rights win

Three years after Kenya’s indigenous Ogiek people received legal recognition of their rights over their ancestral land, the ruling remains unimplemented, and the Ogiek continue to suffer harassment and threats of further evictions from their own lands.

The original ruling was delivered in a landmark judgment by the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, which declared that in expelling the Ogiek from the Mau Forest, the Kenyan Government had committed multiple human rights violations.

A new report launched today backs the Court ruling that the return of the Ogiek to their ancestral lands is the only effective way to safeguard the Mau Forest’s water catchment and environmental biodiversity.

The Ogiek depend on the forest for their traditional livelihoods, including hunting game, and gathering plants for foods and medicinal use. Since colonial times, however, they have faced repeated evictions from the forest, while their ancestral land has been allocated to other communities and used for commercial purposes, including logging.

The Kenyan Government had sought to justify the Ogiek’s removal on environmental grounds. The Mau Forest is the largest closed canopy forest in Kenya and an important watershed, and the Government claimed that preserving the forest took priority over any claims to the land asserted by the Ogiek.

The African Court disagreed. In acknowledging the Ogiek’s indigenous status, it also recognised their legal right to inhabit the forest and the vital role they play in protecting the natural resources and ecosystems. Specifically, the Court declared that the Ogiek were not responsible for the depletion of the Mau Forest, and its conservation could not be used to justify their eviction, or the denial of their rights to practice their traditional livelihoods.

“The Ogiek are entitled to return of their land as a result of the Court ruling,” says Lucy Claridge, Senior Counsel at Forest Peoples Programme. “Yet the government has so far failed to take any steps to action this, and more worryingly has continued to evict Ogiek and subject them to repeated harassment.”

“The continued delay in implementing the Court’s ruling is causing much anxiety for the Ogiek,” says Daniel Kobei of Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program, the local organisation representing the Ogiek in the Court case. “We need resolution soon.”

To mark the third anniversary of the Court’s judgment, and in response to the failure to remedy Ogiek rights, Kenyan NGO the Katiba Institute is launching a report that outlines the responsibilities of the Kenyan government towards the Ogiek and other indigenous peoples.

Called Defending our Future, the report explains that Kenya’s Constitution and recently enacted land laws ensure the protection of marginalised communities, yet the Government is significantly delayed in putting these laws into practice. This places the country behind the rest of the world, where land tenure systems are changing to respect the rights of forest communities, based on clear evidence of the environmental and social benefits of indigenous custodianship.

Globally, communities are acknowledged as legal owners of 448 million hectares of forests in 58 countries, cumulatively accounting for 92 per cent of global forests (3.99 billion ha). Meanwhile, the Kenyan Government continues to pursue an approach to forest conservation that tramples on community’s rights, and so fails to protect the forest or its custodians.

“The Kenyan Government has declared its commitment to the implementation of the Ogiek judgment, but this will require a systemic change in policy and practice towards all its indigenous communities” says Lucy Claridge. “It requires action, not words.”

www.forestpeoples.org

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