Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Report on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples in Kenya

I have just come across the report prepared in December 2006 by the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people in Kenya. Considering the current situation in Mau, I thought that it would be worth adding visibility to this public document.

I am quoting part of the text and offer a link to the full document at the bottom of this post.


C. Hunter-gatherers and forest peoples

36. Settlement schemes, logging and charcoal production have put a severe strain on Kenya’s rich and varied forests, and have resulted in the loss of the traditional habitat of Kenya’s forest peoples, the indigenous hunter-gatherers such as the Awer (Boni), Ogiek, Sengwer, Watta, and Yaaku. While existing laws are oriented to the protection of wildlife and forest resources, many of these communities can no longer live by their traditional livelihoods, and their cultures and language are rapidly vanishing as a result; illegal logging has played a major role in this as well.

37. The way of life of the Ogiek is well adapted to the Mau Forest environment where they have lived for centuries. Numbering about 20,000 countrywide, they have been dispersed and assimilated in recent decades, and dispossessed of their traditional source of livelihood. When the Mau Forest was gazetted as a National Forest in 1974, the Ogiek were evicted from their traditional habitat without prior consultation or compensation, in violation of their basic human rights. They were henceforth prevented from hunting or collecting bee honey for survival in the forest, and were reduced to a miserable subsistence on the margins of this area rich in plants and wildlife. On the other hand, illegal logging, the introduction of exotic plantations and the excision of parts of the forest for private development by outside settlers have endangered the Mau Forest as a water catchment area, as well as the country’s environmental security. The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, signalled in his report on his mission to Kenya that the destruction of the forest has affected the rights of the Ogiek to housing, health, food and a safe environment, threatening to further destroy their cultural identity and the community as a whole (see E/CN.4/2005/48/Add.2, para. 61).

38. Despite a court injunction in their favour in 1997, the Government has proceeded to alienate Ogiek forest land, and a recent court decision does not recognize the Ogiek’s ancestral title to the forest. Still, the Government has distributed title deeds to land to several thousand Ogiek, and some non-Ogiek outsiders have tried to enrol as Ogieks in the hope that they may eventually also be given title deeds. The unresolved conflict between the Ogiek and their neighbours continues to this day. Being considered as squatters on their own land and legally banned from using the forest resources for their livelihood, their attempt to survive according to their traditional lifestyle and culture has often been criminalized and their repeated recourse to the courts has not been successful. Ogiek attribute this vulnerability to the fact that they are not recognized as a distinct tribe and therefore lack political representation. The Special Rapporteur met with members of several Ogiek villages, listened to their grievances and heard their demands for the recognition of their right to land and to maintain their traditional lifestyle in the forest.


90. In view of the above, the Special Rapporteur makes the following recommendations:

A. Recommendations to the Government


Forest areas

102. The rights of indigenous hunter-gatherer communities (particularly the Ogiek in Mau Forest) to occupy and use the resources in gazetted forest areas should be legally recognized and respected. Further excisions of gazetted forest areas and evictions of hunter-gatherers should be stopped. Titles derived from illegal excision or allocation of forest lands should be revoked, and new titles should only be granted to original inhabitants. Illegal commercial logging should be stopped.

C. Recommendations to indigenous communities and organizations
124. Indigenous peoples’ organizations are encouraged to develop concrete strategies for data collection, research and documentation to support their advocacy work both at the national and international levels.

D. Recommendations to civil society and political parties
127. NGOs and donors should strengthen their relations with indigenous communities, support their development initiatives and promote a better understanding of their demands and aspirations within Kenyan society.


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