Tuesday, 23 July 2013

African Court Grants Interim Relief to the Ogiek Community

In African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights v. the Republic of Kenya App. No. 006/2012, (2013), the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights ordered the Kenyan government not to implement an eviction order removing the Ogiek Community from the Mau Forest. The Ogiek People, "Guardians of the Forest," lived in the Mau Forest centuries before their ancestral land was first dispossessed by British colonists in the 1930s. Following independence the Kenyan government have initiated repeated efforts to evict the Ogiek Community from the forest claiming that there is an unsustainable exploitation of the forest and therefore all peoples must be removed. The Kenyan government demands that they move from the forest on the grounds that it constitutes a water catchment zone and is part of the government ownership of land under s. 4 of the Kenyan Land Act.

The Ogiek Community of the Mau Forest are an indigenous minority ethnic community comprising in the region of 20,000 members, with about 15,000 inhabiting the Mau Forest that spans 400,000 hectares. The forest is their home and provides their livelihood, and is the source of their "sacral identity." On their website (Ogiek Peoples' Development Program), the Ogiek Community claim contrary to the Kenyan's government's views, they do not overly exploit the forest but live within the ecosystem's equilibrium. They state, "Mau forest is our home, we are not encroachers we are forest dwellers, we don't cut trees we nurture them for our livelihood, we hung our beehives, it's our sure 'hospital,' we get herbs, it's a sacred mother earth to us."

The Ogiek Community claim to have been subject to repeated attempts of forced eviction, harassing and intimidation by government officials, and they also argue Kenyan property law does not recognise their claims to communal ownership of the forest. As such, their recourse to law is frustrated.

Following the petition by the applicants, the Registry of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, have repeatedly requested responses by the Kenyan government to the Ogiek Community's claims, the most recent was 21 February 2013, but the Registry has not received a reply. In holding for the applicants, the Court stated (para. 20);

"In the opinion of the Court, there exists a situation of extreme gravity and urgency, as well as a risk of irreparable harm to the Ogiek Community with regard to violation of their rights guaranteed under the [African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights] to, among others: enjoyment of their cultural rights and protection of their tradition values under Article 2 and 17(2) and (3); protection before the law under Article 3; integrity of their persons under Article 4; the right to property under Article 14; and the right to economic, social and cultural development under Article 22."

The Court ordered the Kenyan government to halt the eviction until the case could be fully considered. The Court waits to see whether it's order will be complied with, and whether the Kenyan government will reply to its communications and appear before the Court in the future proceedings.

For the Ogiek Peoples' Development Program, see http://www.forestguardian.net/start.htm
To contact and support the Ogiek Peoples,' see http://www.ogiek.org/contact/