On 2 April 2017, Kenya Forest Service guards violently attacked Elias Kimaiyo, a Sengwer community leader. The Forest Guards were burning houses belonging to the Sengwer. Kimaiyo was taking photographs.
The following day, Kimaiyo told Amnesty International what happened, from his hospital bed:
“I was taking pictures of Kenya Forest Service Guards who were burning houses of the Sengwer in Embobut forest. I counted 29 burnt houses.
“The guards started shooting at me. I ran, but tripped and fell, breaking my kneecap, and they caught up with me. They hit me with the butt of a rifle, and broke my arm. They took two cameras and an iPad from me.”
The Kenya Forest Service has been violently evicting the Sengwer from their forest for many years. But the violence is intensifying. Forest Peoples Programme reports that “the Sengwer are shocked that KFS guards are now shooting with live bullets”. According to FPP, the Sengwer report that in total 90 homes were burned down.
Forest Peoples Programme describes what happened:
While taking pictures, Elias was on the phone with the KFS Ag Regional Commandant complaining about the burnings and the destruction of property. Elias tells how KFS guards spotted him and started chasing him and shooting. He reports that, when he fell down, one of the KFS guards got hold of him, hit him with the butt of a rifle, breaking his upper right arm. When community members raised the alarm, the KFS guards ran away, taking Elias’ cameras and other equipment.
The Regional Commandant told the Sengwer that the Kenya Forest Service will continue with the evictions and shootings. He claims that they are acting within the law and the Kenyan constitution.
But Kenya’s 2010 Constitution recognises the rights of hunter-gatherer communities, such as the Sengwer, to their lands. And Kenya’s 2016 Community Land Act was written “to provide for the recognition, protection and registration of community land rights”.
Kenya Forest Service station burned down
On 3 April 2017, the Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation reported that “bandits” had burned down a Kenya Forest Service station in Tangul. Nine buildings, a vehicle, and a motorbike were burned.
Essau Omollo, the Kenya Forest Service Senior Deputy Director in charge of Field Operations stated that, “We want to put it on record that none of our officers has been injured or killed.”
The Daily Nation reported Omollo as saying that all those behind the incident will be brought to book.
Amnesty International put out a statement urging the Kenyan authorities to investigate the attack on Kimaiyo and ensure that those responsible are “brought to justice in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness”.
Amnesty International also calls for a stop to the evictions and burning of Sengwer homes.
Evictions days after EU delegation visited Embobut
The recent evictions took place only days after a delegation from the European Union visited the Embobut Forest. The Sengwer had requested the visit to explain their concerns about the EU-funded WaTER conservation project.
The Sengwer are concerned that the EU project will result in more evictions, as did a previous World Bank funded project in Kenya.
Forest Peoples Programmes explains that,
In particular, the Sengwer are concerned that the EU project will strengthen the ability of the KFS to evict them from their ancestral lands, thereby leaving them and their forests in peril. After agreeing to the visit, an EU delegation met with the Sengwer on the 29th and 30th March allowing the community to explain their situation.
The Sengwer have requested urgent assistance with the following:
- Urgently call upon the Kenyan government to stop the evictions and shooting of members of Sengwer indigenous peoples by KFS guards and other security agencies in Embobut forest with immediate effect and carry out investigations of the evictions and shooting of members of Sengwer indigenous people living in Embobut forest by KFS guards.
- Urge EU, World Bank, UNDP, Finnish Government, IUCN and other conservation related funders to work with KFS, the National and County Governments to ensure our forests are secured through securing and supporting the rights of forest indigenous peoples to live in, govern, manage and own our ancestral lands in order to protect our lands. This is in line with the need for conservation, and in line with our customary ways of governing and protecting our lands. Should our rights and our ability to conserve our lands continue to be violated rather than secured, recognized and protected, then we request EU, World Bank, UNDP, Finnish Government, IUCN and other conservation related funders to suspend their programmes and projects in Kenya until these rights and responsibilities are recognized and supported.
- Urge the initiation of an efficient and effective dialogue process between Sengwer and other traditional forest indigenous peoples and Kenya government (including Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Ministry of Lands, National Land Commission, County Governments, etc.) to ensure ancestral forest community’s rights are respected and we can work together to secure our forests, with support from the EU, World Bank, UNDP, Finnish Government, IUCN and other conservation related institutions.
- Seek that all actors ensure the free, prior and informed consent of the Sengwer is obtained with regard to any programmes implemented in Embobut Forest.
- Call on the EU as the main donor for the WaTER Project, to urgently institute an investigation, to verify the evictions carried out by the KFS guards immediately after the EU visit, and include as part of that investigation officers from Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Land Commission, County Government, National Gender and Equality Commission, Commission on Administrative Justice.