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Sengwer crisis: Finland urged to suspend funding to Kenya Forest Service

The Finnish government was on Wednesday, Janauary 24, 2018 called upon to suspend a €9.5 million fund to the Kenya Forest Service because of escalating human rights abuses of the country’s indigenous Sengwer people.

Indigenous Sengwer people

Indigenous Sengwer people

In an open letter sent to the Finnish government, organisations from across the world said: “The Finnish Government has been the main supporter of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) over many years and so shares significant responsibility for funding these human rights abuses.”

The letter was sent on Wednesday – the day the Sengwer of Embobut Forest gathered for the funeral of Robert Kirotich, a 41-year-old man who was shot and killed by the KFS on Tuesday, January 16 while out herding cattle on the Sengwer’s ancestral land.

The European Union has already taken the step of suspending funding of a €31 million project to the Kenyan government and KFS in response to the killing. A delegation from the EU is due to conduct a site visit tomorrow, with Amnesty International and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

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Justin Kenrick, a senior policy advisor at Forest Peoples Programme, said: “The Finnish government has been a major funder of KFS over many years, and needs to learn from KFS’s history of illegally logging the forests they are supposed to protect. Conservation science is clear that securing the collective land rights of such indigenous forest communities, communities who have cared for their lands for centuries, is the surest way of securing such forests and the flow of water from them to Kenya. The Finnish government should support forest indigenous communities to secure their constitutionally recognised land rights, rather than fund KFS which violently evicts them. ”

“The other excuse KFS and the Kenyan government provide for these violent evictions is that they are clearing bandits from the forest, but there are none. The government is treating the Sengwer as bandits because they have not left their ancestral lands. In these years no one has been killed at Embobut by bandits, only by the KFS.”

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On January 22, the Eldoret High Court in Kenya issued a court order stopping the police from evicting members of the Sengwer community from the Embobut Forest. Following the suspension of EU funding, however violent forced evictions of the Sengwer community have continued at the hands of the Kenya Forest Service. Yesterday, a Sengwer leader, Yator Kiptum, reported that “evictions continue with KFS guards burning down more Sengwer homes in Kapkok glade, Embobut forest.”

Another Sengwer delegate, Milka Chepkorir Kuto, spoke to EU officials on Tuesday, January 23 in Brussels. She was invited to the Investing in Human Rights Defenders event, and outlined the human rights abuses that have been ongoing for decades but which have intensified in recent years as powerful interests use the excuse of conservation to remove the very people who are protecting their ancestral forest

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She said: “Today Kirotich, one of my own community members, is being buried. He leaves behind a family that looked up to him. He was killed by KFS in Embobut forest during their violent forceful evictions. KFS officers are committing massive human rights violations. Any funding and any organisation or person willing to fund KFS is funding violations directly or indirectly.”

Justin Kenrick added: “Whether the Finnish public support development aid or not, none surely want their tax money to be wasted on a KFS that destroys forests and commits such human rights abuses?”

The current spate of attacks by the Kenya Forest Service against the Sengwer began on Christmas Day, when more than 100 armed guards went on to Tangul, in Embobut Forest.

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