Ngongongeri, Nakuru County, Kenya – Kenya’s Ogiek, an indigenous minority of hunters and gatherers, have won a historic case against the Kenyan government, close to a decade after they began their legal battle.
The African Court on Human and People’s Rights, a continental court established in 2006 by African countries, on May 26 delivered its verdict in Arusha, Tanzania – ruling in favour of the Ogiek and recognising their right to Kenya’s Mau Forest as their ancestral home, and their role in protecting it.
The court ruled that the Kenyan government had violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, of which Kenya is a signatory, and which is intended to protect basic freedoms and human rights.
The verdict recognises the Ogiek’s indigenous status and their right to reparations from the Kenyan government for the suffering they have endured through forcible evictions. It recognises the Ogiek’s “strong attachment to the forest”, their legal right to live on the forest land, their freedom to practise their traditions and deemed evictions to be disproportionate to conservation aims. The Kenyan government in court said it accepted the judgment.
“The room has never been so full. It was packed to the brink,” said Lucy Claridge, legal director of Minority Rights Group International (MRG), a campaign group working closely with the Ogiek. She has been working on the case since April 2010.
Speaking from Arusha, Claridge said around 75 Ogiek attended the court hearing, dressed in their traditional clothes. After the victorious judgment, the Ogiek broke out in celebratory singing and dancing.
It is an unprecedented legal victory for an indigenous people in Africa. The ruling marks the first judgment from the highest institutional human rights body in Africa to favour the cause of indigenous peoples.
“This sends a message to governments of the standards around indigenous people’s rights in Africa,” says Claridge. “It’s a very clear message for governments that they need to respect indigenous people’s rights.”
The victory could set a precedent for similar cases across the continent.
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