Last week the EU suspended funding to its Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme in Kenya. The EU suspended funding to the €31 million project after Kenya Forest Service guards shot and killed Robert Kirotich, a 41-year-old indigenous Sengwer man. Another man was wounded.
The violence is the latest of a series of evictions of the Sengwer by the Kenya Forest Service. The evictions have been carried out in the name of conservation.
While the EU has suspended funding, the Kenyan government has promised to “continue with eviction of illegal settlers in Embobut forest”. Marakwet East deputy commissioner Stephen Sangolo, in whose jurisdiction the Embobut forest lies, told The Star,
“Security officers will continue smoking out anyone who is in the forest illegally. We will ensure that we get rid of illegal loggers, land speculators and cattle rustlers.”
Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that,
“There are criminal elements in the forest which must be flushed out.
“The security operation has been designed to return the situation to normal, which is what is likely to happen soon.”
The Star reports Elgeyo Marakwet County Commissioner Fredrick Ndambuki as saying that elite security forces will be deployed in Embobut forest to “flush out illegal settlers”. The Star article states that,
Ndambuki said anyone who will be found inside the forest will be deemed to be a criminal and will be ‘dealt with’ by the security forces.
“The county security committee has resolved to deploy a more specialized security forces to Embobut forest from Monday. Another team using choppers,” Ndambuki said in Koibatek, Marakwet East on Friday.
The Katiba Institute just tweeted that a court in Eldoret has ordered the government to stop the evictions:
Human rights organisations in Kenya put out a statement on 19 January 2018. Finnish organisation Siemenpuu has written to Finland’s foreign minister Kai Mykkänen to express their concern about recent events in the Embobut forest.
The letter includes a link to a letter sent to the EU back in December 2016, seeking a postponement of the project, because it would be in “non-compliance with legal duties and/or responsibilities enshrined in multiple instruments of EU policy and law, international human rights law, and indeed Kenyan domestic law (notably its 2010 Constitution)”.
Here is the Kenyan human rights organisations’ statement:
Government must protect the rights of the Sengwer and end forced eviction in Embobut Forest
We the undersigned human rights organizations once again call on the Kenya Government to end forced evictions in Embobut Forest and ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.
Yesterday, the official Government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe publicly announced that the Government will launch a probe into the shooting and killing of Robert Kirotich and the serious hurting of David Kipkosgei Kiptilkesi. It was officially communicated that any officer who will be found culpable of the murder of Robert Kirotich will be held liable.
The Government’s commitment to ending the ongoing forced evictions in the Embobut Forest has been publicly contradicted by Marakwet East Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) Stephen Sangolo. The Deputy County Commissioner informed the press that the operation of forcibly evicting Sengwer community member in Embobut Forest must continue.
As human rights and conservation organizations, we are deeply concerned about the mixed messaging by the Government. Sangolo’s remarks come at a time when the Sengwer community are still coming to terms with the loss of one of their own, injury of another and displacement from their homes. The remarks further threatens the early resumption of the suspended Kes 3.6 billion funding to the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme.
We urge the inter-ministerial committee set up by the Kenya Government to use this time to reflect and adopt a new approach to conservation, sustainable development and human rights to the ancestral alnd of the Sengwer indigenous people and others in Kenya We also call on that the Government to put in place human rights frameworks that enable a genuine consultation with the affected persons.
As we have said repeatedly, the forced evictions violate the human rights of the Sengwer, including their right to housing and to their ancestral lands, under international law, African Union (AU) human rights standards and the Consitution of Kenya and laws.
Consequently we call on the Government of Kenya to immediately:
- Publicly communicate an immediate halt to the Embobut evictions;
- Institute the probe promised and communicate publicly the outcome of the probe within seven days;
- Ensure that all those affected by the forced evictions are allowed to return to their lands and no further retaliation happens to Sengwer leaders and community;
- Put in place human rights frameworks that enable genuine consultation with the affected persons are introduced.
Kenyan Human Rights Commission
National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders
Sengwer community leaders
Amnesty International Kenya
PHOTO credit: Screenshot from NTV news report, 20 January 2018