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Ogiek Case

The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights in Arusha Tanzania will soon hear the Ogiek Case (Application 006/2012 African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights V Republic of Kenya) that has far reaching implications on the relationship between an Indigenous community's land rights and

state interests in Forest conservation. The African Courts decision regarding the plight of the Ogiek Community of Kenya will impact not only the community that brought the case but the entire Human Rights Community in Africa.

For centuries Ogiek community lived sustainably within the forests.Indeed Ogiek culture is based on conservation of forest resources that provide food shelter and the basis of the religious observance.

With the arrival of the colonist, the destruction of the Mau Forest Complex begun, and has continued virtually unabated through Subsequent post colonial administrations in Kenya. the clearing of indigenous tree species and replacement with exotic trees has undermined the forest for decades. Post-colonial government policies of creating settlement schemes and allocating large forest acreage to logging companies and political elites have also continued to degrade the forest.

Over the 15 years leading up to 2009, Kenya witnessed the destruction of approximately 25 percent of the then-remaining Mau Forest Complex. In 2009, the Kenyan Government issued an eviction notice to the Ogiek (and others living in the forest) to vacate the Mau Forest area in thirty days.

The  Kenyans state's attempt to finally stop decades of forest destruction that it had explicitly and implicitly condoned, took no account of the indigenous Ogiek's relationship to the forest , nor their long-term role in fighting to preserve the forest. the 2009 evictions propelled the Ogiek community to take their plea for justice and conservation of Mau to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

After decades of litigation in the Kenyan courts, it was clear that the government had refused to recognize the group rights of the Ogiek peoples to land and natural resources, to culture and to participate  in decision making processes.

Multiple international human rights bodies had  recognized the indigenous rights of the Ogiek Peoples. Both the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing and the UN special Rapporteur on fundamental rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples have recommended that the ogiek should be recognized as an indigenous community and their land rights protected.

This case is one of the first cases before the court to proceed to a full trial and is the first case at the court touching on collective rights to traditional lands. the case will offers an opportunity for the African Court to address multiple pressing issues that impact communities across the continent, the scope and the practical operation of communal land Rights, the nexus between conservation and indigenous peoples' rights, remedies of historical injustices and the rights to community participation and consultation in relation to state development and conservation planning.

Should the community successfully argue its claims before the court leading to a judgement against the Kenyan government. the case will also prove to be a critical test for the rule of law in Africa.