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UN experts urge Kenya to respect indigenous rights in climate change project

Three United Nations independent experts on Monday, January 15, 2018 called on the Kenyan government to respect the rights of indigenous Sengwer peoples while implementing a climate change project in north-western Kenya.

Sengwer indigenous people
indigenous people from the Sengwer community in western Kenya. Photo credit: REUTERS/Katy Migiro

The experts expressed concerns about recent reports that indigenous Sengwer peoples have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their homes.

They said the forceful eviction was as a result of the implementation of the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation project, an EU-funded water management project.

The experts are John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

They called on the Kenyan authorities to urgently halt the evictions of the Sengwer community and undertake impartial investigations of these attacks.

“Furthermore, we urge the European Union to suspend funding for the project until measures have been taken to uphold international standards on indigenous peoples’ rights,’’ experts said.

The Sengwer indigenous people whose population is estimated at 33,000 inhabit forests straddling Elgeyo Marakwet and Trans Nzoia counties in north-western Kenya.

For centuries, the Sengwer community has derived its livelihood from the forest ecosystem while protecting it from both man-made and natural calamities.

The Ministry of Environment in partnership with EU has since 2016 implemented a climate resilience project on the foothills of Cherangany water tower.

The project roots for active involvement of indigenous communities in restoration of one of the five major water towers in the country.

“The Sengwer are facing repeated attacks and forced evictions by agents of the Kenya Forest Service, which is an implementing agency in the project financed by the European Union,’’ the experts said.

Over 100 armed Forest Service guards entered the traditional lands of the Sengwer in the Embobut Forest on Dec 25, 2017, firing gunshots, burning no less than 15 homes and killing their livestock.

On Jan. 9, one of the Sengwer leaders was shot at by Forest Service Service guards but while he managed to escape unhurt, his house was burnt down and his property destroyed.

The experts called on Kenya and the EU to ensure that the human rights of the Sengwer peoples are respected, noting that consultations have not been held with the Sengwer to seek their free, prior and informed consent.

“We are concerned that the project is being undertaken without a human rights impact assessment,’’ the experts said.

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