Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Urgent appeal against the forced eviction of Sengwer communities in Kenya

23 December, 2013

We are deeply concerned by the forced evictions of the 6,000-7,000 Sengwer indigenous people and other communities in Embobut Forest in the Cherangany Hills (Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kenya).

For many years the Government has been trying to move the indigenous inhabitants of Embobut off their land by burning their homes. They have done this in the name of a fortress conservation approach which seeks to remove local people from their lands. As IUCN and all pre-eminent conservation organisations now acknowledge, such an approach only ever makes the environmental situation worse, and adds a human rights disaster to the environmental crisis. The new President has taken what at first appeared to be a new approach: he came in November and promised them a small amount of money to move, however now that it is clear people are refusing to move, this is being followed up with this threat of imminent eviction.

We appeal to the Government and Parliament of Kenya and to all responsible for guarding and securing the fundamental rights of such communities, to stop this forced eviction of the indigenous communities and other people at Embobut, which violates their human rights and international law. According to the 2010 Kenya Constitution (Article 63) and international law, the indigenous Sengwer / Cheranagany have the right to not be moved from their ancestral territories unless they have given their free, prior and informed consent.

Being forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands and deprived of their own indigenous means of subsistence integral to their forest life, identity, their characteristic sources of food, water, health and shelter and to their cultural survival as a people violates their human rights and their right to the customary sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.

In summary, the Kenyan Government has been engaged in persistent attempts to evict the indigenous inhabitants by burning their homes. This happened as recently as May 2013, despite an interim injunction secured in the High Court against the burning of Sengwer homes. The most recent attempt to move them from Embobut Forest took place when the President visited Embobut on November 15th 2013 and promised 400,000 Kenyan shillings per family to what he called the ‘Evictees’ to move out of the forest (this money would secure 4 cows or 1 acre of land in Trans Nzoia). Then on 12th December 2013, the Elgeyo Marakwet County Commission, Mr. Arthur Osiya, said that “The Evictees were given the cash and have no reason to continue staying in the forest. By January 3rd 2014, we expect all squatters out of that forest” (Saturday Nation, December 14, 2013, page 22).

However, the Government is treating all residents of Embobut Forest as if they are internally displaced people who need to be moved. While those non-indigenous residents who are living in Embobut as a result of landslides elsewhere or who have moved in to use land to grow crops are very willing to receive the money and move, the indigenous inhabitants of the forest refuse to move. They want to live here in peace and make sure that no harm comes to the forest where their ancestors are buried.

We appeal to the Kenyan Government to stop these  unlawful evictions and to sit with the residents of Embobut to address the two critical issues: (1) that those recent arrivals and others who want to move elsewhere be supported to do so, but (2) that people's right to live on, and care for, their ancestral lands be respected.

Please send your organisations sign up to this appeal urgently to:
Ville-Veikko Hirvelä
and Justin Kenrick of Forest Peoples Programme