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AU Court Hears Ogiek Charges Against Kenya

The Ogiek are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling communities and one of the most marginalised indigenous peoples in Kenya. The Ogiek allege violation of their rights to life, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture by the Kenyan government under the African Charter

on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Kenya is a signatory. The Court will also be asked to consider the crucial role of indigenous peoples in the conservation of land and natural resources.

This is the first time the African Court, in operation since 2006, will hear an indigenous peoples’ rights case and indeed is one of the first ever Court cases. The case was originally lodged with the African Commission and Human and Peoples' Rights, but was referred to the Court on the basis that it evinces serious and mass human rights violations. MRG, the Ogiek People’s Development Program (OPDP) and CEMIRIDE were the three original Complainants before the African Commission, and MRG has been granted permission to deliver an oral intervention during the hearing.

“This case is another example of a seemingly powerless community that decides to pursue justice no matter how far or how long it takes,” says Minority Rights Group International’s Head of Law, Lucy Claridge. “It illustrates the need for governments globally to recognise minority and indigenous peoples’ rights over their ancestral land and natural resources,” she adds.

Since independence, and indeed prior to it, the Ogiek have been routinely subjected to arbitrary forced evictions from their ancestral land in the Mau Forest by the government, without consultation or compensation. This has had a detrimental impact on the pursuit of their traditional lifestyle, religious and cultural life, access to natural resources and indeed their very existence as an indigenous people.

Prior to their eviction, the Ogiek had a spiritual, emotional and economic attachment to the forest. They relied on it for food (hunting game, honey), shelter and identity (source of medicines, honey used in cultural practices).

In March last year, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a provisional measures order requiring the Kenyan Government to stop land transactions in the Mau Forest and refrain from taking any action which would harm the case, until it had reached a decision. The court, while delivering its ruling, found that, if the evictions continued, there existed a situation of extreme gravity and urgency as well as a risk of irreparable harm to the Ogiek (pdf).

Mau Forest is one of the largest indigenous forests in East Africa. The Mau Forest complex has an area of about 480000 hectares (1,200,000 acres) and is home to an estimated 30,000 Ogiek who are the indigenous owners of the land. The forest area has some of the highest rainfall rates in Kenya.

According to Daniel Kobei, the Executive Director of Ogiek People’s Development Programe, a local NGO at the forefront of defending Ogiek rights “After years of discrimination, marginalisation and threats to Ogiek identity and existence, this hearing represents a significant step towards the realisation of justice for our people, the Ogiek.”

Minority Rights Group International is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide