Court to make ruling in Ogiek case against gov’t Friday

Mau Forest
Mau Forest

An Arusha-based African Court will on Friday,  May 26,  deliver a landmark judgment on a case filed before it by the Ogiek community against the Kenyan government.

The community which is one of the last remaining forest-dwelling communities moved to the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights accusing the Kenyan government of consistent violation and denial of their land rights.

Minority Rights Group International’s (MRG) Legal Director Lucy Claridge said the case is of great importance for indigenous peoples in Africa, and particularly in the context of the continent-wide conflicts between communities, sparked by pressure over land and resources.

“Ultimately the Court will be ruling on the crucial role of indigenous peoples in the conservation of land and natural resources, and consequently, the mitigation of climate change in a region currently ravaged by drought and famine,” says Claridge.

VIDEO: Ogiek community fights for right to live in forest

The Ogieks, 35, 000 of whom are the victims in this landmark case, live in the Mau Forest complex in Rift Valley region.

They are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling communities and among the most marginalized indigenous peoples in Kenya.

They allege eight violations of their rights to life, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture by the Kenyan government under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Kenya is a signatory.

This is the first time the African Court, in operation since 2006, will rule on an indigenous peoples’ rights case and is by far the largest ever case brought before the Court.

It was originally lodged with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, but was referred for the first time in history to the Court on the basis that it evinces serious and mass human rights violations.

MRG,  Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) and CEMIRIDE were the three original Complainants before the African Commission.

“This judgment will be a huge milestone for the Ogiek community. We are optimistic that it will be positive, and crucially, that it will be respected by the Kenyan government, including implementation, so that Ogiek can feel complete and enjoy all the basic rights like every other Kenyan,” says Daniel Kobei, executive director of OPDP.

The case was heard by the Court in November 2014. MRG delivered an oral intervention on behalf of the original Complainants, whilst two Ogiek community members and other expert witnesses gave testimony.

In March 2013, the African Court issued a provisional measures order requiring the Kenyan Government to stop land transactions in the Mau Forest and refrain from taking any action which would harm the case, until it had reached a decision. This order unfortunately has not been respected.

The Ogiek have a spiritual, emotional and economic attachment to the forest. They rely on it for food, shelter and identity. They are traditionally honey-gatherers, they survive mainly on wild fruits and roots, game hunting and traditional bee-keeping.

READ: Tragic accident unearths underlying issues among Ogieks

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Story By Kimeli Arap Kemei
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