Kenya: Indigenous leader shot amid crackdown
Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the targeting of indigenous human rights defenders and community members of the Sengwer people in western Kenya. Security forces in the Embobut forest have shot, disappeared, and killed community leaders amidst forced evictions and burning down village homes.
The Embobut forest is the ancestral land of the indigenous Sengwer people, who the Kenyan Forest Service (KFS) has been violently evicting due to the implementation of an EU-funded project. In June 2016, the EU and Kenyan Government launched the six-year, 31 million EUR Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (WaTER) programme to preserve Kenya’s five “water towers” in the Mount Elgon and Cherangany area.
According to the Sengwer, Article 63.2.d.ii of the 2010 Constitution protects community lands on the basis that they are “lands traditionally occupied by hunter-gatherer communities”. In March 2013, the Sengwer successfully obtained an injunction from Eldoret High Court to protect their communities from eviction by the KFS.
Between 31 March and 2 April 2017, as KFS members attempted to evict the Sengwer from their traditional lands, one of their community members was shot and badly injured while documenting the evictions. On 25 December 2017, over a hundred members of the KFS were deployed to the Embobut forest and forced evictions began on 29 December 2017, including the burning of homes.
On 16 January 2018, two Sengwer were targeted by KFS forces while herding cattle in Kapkot Glade. Members of the KFS were burning homes during a forced eviction and shot at the group of Sengwer community members. Robert Kiprotich was shot and killed and community leader David Kipkosgei Kiptilkes was seriously injured and is in need of surgery. On 17 January 2018, the EU suspended its support for the WaTER project on the basis that the forced evictions were a human rights violation against the indigenous Sengwer people.
A statement on the indigenous rights of the Sengwer people expressing concern at the treatment of the Sengwer was released by three UN Special Rapporteurs on 15 January 2018, including Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Front Line Defenders welcomes the decision of the EU to suspend the project, but strongly condemns the ongoing attacks and targeting of indigenous rights defenders and the Sengwer people. Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Kenya to carry out immediate, thorough and impartial investigations into the attacks regardless of the status of the water project.