, GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan 15 – Three independent experts appointed by the United Nations have expressed concerns about recent reports that indigenous Sengwer peoples in western Kenya have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their homes.
The forceful evictions are meant to pave way for the implementation of the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation project, an EU-funded water management project.
But locals say if the government wants to conserve the forest, indigenous communities should be involved since vacating their land will leave it vulnerable from destruction by outsiders.
“The Sengwer are facing repeated attacks and forced evictions by agents of the Kenya Forest Service, which is an implementing agency in the project financed by the European Union,” the experts said.
On 25 December 2017, more than 100 armed Forest Service guards entered the traditional lands of the Sengwer in the Embobut Forest, firing gunshots, burning at least 15 homes and killing their livestock.
On 9 January 2018, one of the Sengwer leaders was shot at by Kenya Forest Service guards.
While he managed to escape unhurt, his house was burnt down and his property destroyed.
The experts have called on Kenya and the European Union to ensure that the human rights of the Sengwer peoples are respected.
“We are concerned that the project is being undertaken without a human rights impact assessment,” the experts said.
“Consultations have not been held with the Sengwer to seek their free, prior and informed consent.
We call on the Kenyan authorities to urgently halt the evictions of the Sengwer community and undertake impartial investigations of these attacks. Furthermore, we urge the European Union to suspend funding for the project until measures have been taken to uphold international standards on indigenous peoples’ rights.”
In June 2016, the EU and the Kenyan government launched the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (WaTER) project worth some Sh3.1 billion.
In May last year, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights ruled that the government violated the rights of the indigenous Ogiek people living in Mau forest, draws inspiration from, saying it set a precedent on why evicting such people not only violates their human rights but leaves their forests vulnerable to destruction.
The Sengwer are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling people in the country.