- Clad in their traditional regalia, their representatives expressed their satisfaction after the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) ruled that the Kenyan government had violated the rights of the indigenous people when it evicted them.
Arusha. It was a moment of joy for scores of members of the Ogiek community who had travelled all the way from the Rift Valley province in Kenya to hear the verdict of the Court on a case they filed years ago against their eviction from their ancestral land.
Clad in their traditional regalia, their representatives expressed their satisfaction after the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) ruled that the Kenyan government had violated the rights of the indigenous people when it evicted them.
“The ruling is a historic victory for the Ogiek community and gives hope to all indigenous people everywhere. In this one ruling, the Court has both affirmed the Ogiek’s right to live freely on their ancestral land and proved to the continent that regional justice mechanisms work”, said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for easter Africa and the Great Lakes.
She added, however, after the ruling at the African Court’s premises in Arusha on May 26th that the ruling was not enough and that it must be respected by the Kenyan government.
In their application, the Ogiek community claimed that the government had violated their rights and freedoms through,among others, forced evictions from their Mau Forest, their ancestral home, where they have lived from time immemorial and which was crucial for their survival.
However, the Kenyan government denied the allegations and argued that the Court, a quasi-judicial organ of the African Union (AU), lacked jurisdiction in the case.
The Court, on its part, dismissed the objection on temporal jurisdication to hear the application and declared that it had jurisdiction to hear the application on the ground that the matter is pending before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
The case was initially lodged by Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme, Minority Rights Group, and the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE) at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights before to the Court ion 2012.
The Ogiek, who live mostly in Kenya’s Mau and Mt Elgon forests, are reported to have fought for a long time in the national courts against their eviction by the Kenyan authoritiest later took their case to the African Court due to apparent failure by their government to grant them what they deemed to be their ancestral rights.
Until a few decades ago, not much was known on the Ogiek, an ethnic and linguistic group who besides living in the Mau and Mt Elgon forests in Kenya, are also found in some remote areas in northern Tanzania’a Arusha and Manyara regions.
In the year 2,000, their population was estimated to number 36,869, although those speaking Akiek language was as low as 500.
Linguistic experts say many Ogiek speakers have shifted to the languages of
the surrounding communities such as the Maasai in northern Tanzania, the Gikugu in central Kenya and other tribes in Kenya living around Mt Elgon.
Ogiek also remain one of the various groups of hunter-gatherers found in Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania, they have been known as Ndorobo, a term now considered derogatory. But their equivalent could be the Hadzabe found on the shores of Lake Eyasi.
Amnesty International has hailed the African Court’s ruling on the Ogiek case, saying it gives hope to indigenous people who have been fighting for their land rights in other parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world.
During the ruling which was read by Judge Augustino Ramadhani, the immediate former President of the Court, Kenya government was given six months to amend the alleged violations against Ogiek,
The Panel of Judges, under the current President of the Court Justice Sylvain Ore unanimously agreed that the Kenyan government had violated several articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights through alleged eviction of the community from their ancestral lands.
“The Court orders the Respondent (government) to take all appropriate measures with a reasonable time frame to remedy all the violations established and inform the Court of the measures taken within six months from the date of this Judgement”, the Court ruled.
As expected, the ruling attracted dozens of members of the indigenous community from Kenya’s Mau Forest complex the Court also requests the Applicant to file reparations within 60 days from the date of the Judgement; May 26th, 2017.
Thereafter, it ruled, the Respondent (the government) shall file its response thereto within 60 days of receipt of the Applicant’s submissions on reparations and costs.