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Sengwer indigenous homes on fire in Kenya's Embobut forest region

Three Sengwer indigenous homes on Embobut forest land can be seen burning after Kenyan government forces conducted forced evictions in the region. Image: Goodwall

(WNN) Nairobi, KENYA, EASTERN AFRICA: With ongoing struggles indigenous rights in Kenya continue to be compromised as government land grabs deny those in greatest need for cultural identity and dignity, the indigenous Sengwer.

Five years following the 2009 shooting of Mrs. Beatrice Chepkorir, a Sengwer indigenous woman who survived after she was sent to the Kitale District hospital with critical injuries, recent acts by the Kenyan government are being questioned by advocates. Today Sengwer women and their families continue to face hardship under forced evictions.

“Kenya defies its own courts: torching homes and forcefully evicting the Sengwer from their ancestral lands, threatening their cultural survival,” outlined FPP – Forest People’s Programme, a human rights watchdog group that supports the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide who live in forests.

“By carrying out these evictions and burnings, the Kenyan government is completely ignoring the orders of its own courts, its Constitution, and its international legal commitments. It is acting as though it is above the law,” continued the FPP.

“The Kenyan government has sent Kenya Forest Service (KFS) guards, with police support, to Embobut Forest in the Cherangany Hills to forcibly and illegally evict thousands of Sengwer indigenous people from their ancestral forest lands and burn their homes and belongings to the ground,” added the FPP.

Despite the Kenyan March 2013 interim court injunction that forbids any action of evictions or home burnings during land grab attempts in the region by the Kenya Forest Service forest guards and the police, evictions and destruction of homes continue.

A January 18, 2014 legal order for the arrest of any individuals involved in or acting to evict people on the land where the Sengwer live was also put into place by the Eldoret High Court in Western Kenya has also failed to stop the evictions.

“…despite the illegality of these evictions, the Kenya Forest Service, with police support, are continuing to burn Sengwer homes and evict Sengwer communities in the Embobut area of the Cherangany Hills, and are now planning to extend evictions to all other areas in the Cherangany Hills forest complex to include Kapolet and Lelan/Kamolokon,” outlined the FPP. “This means the removal of the entire population of Sengwer indigenous people living in the Cherangany Hills from their ancestral lands – which is tens of thousands of people. Forceful eviction and displacement of Sengwer peoples from these areas will not only violate the 2010 Kenyan Constitution and International Human Rights law, but will threaten the very survival of their way of life,” the FPP continued.

Considered ‘squatters’ with little legal rights or recourse to save the land where they live, the Kenyan government has pushed forward to remove the Sengwer who have been left under ongoing battles to keep their homes. These government directives have continued as human rights organizations including the United Nations along with global indigenous and human rights advocates work to try to bring attention to the land grabs.

“Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly relocated from their lands or territories,” said James Anaya, current UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in January. “No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement of fair and just compensation and, where possible, the option of return,” he added in a news release by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In November 2013 Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta came to Embobut offering 400,000 Kenyan Shillings to a list of  ‘beneficiaries’, including Sengwer families. But the payment to families is not considered an answer to the trauma of relocation and loss of generational culture in the forest.

Today I was in the house with my 4 children (1, 2 and half, 5 and 8). All their uniforms, our cooking pans, water containers, cups were burnt. There was no consultation. In October I went up to the market place and heard there was a plan to give out money. I did not want to get money to leave. I was not offered money to leave,” said one Sengwer mother to The British Friends of The Sengwer Tribe of Kenya – Sengwer Aid

No informed consent under what the UN calls ‘forceable’ relocation programs in Kenya points to the mismanagement of court injunctions under land management policy inside the region.

“Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly relocated from their lands or territories,” Mr. Anaya said, quoting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples*. “No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement of fair and just compensation and, where possible, the option of return,” outlined UN Special Rapporteur Anaya.

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