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Kenya: Rights Groups Threaten to Sue KWS Over Samburu Perennial Land Disputes

The emerging struggle for the Laikipia East farm purportedly purchased by conservation NGOs

"KWS purchase of the land was illegal because the Samburu have acquired rights to this land under the Kenyan Constitution and international law by residing on the land continuously for over 90 years."

An international human rights group is accusing the Kenya Wildlife Service for continuously trampling on the rights of the Samburu people and scheming to "illegally evict the community from Laikipia East District".

In a letter seen by the Star and addressed to the KWS managing director Julius Kipngetich, the Center for International Human Rights Law and Advocacy is threatening to "pursue any legal means necessary to hold KWS accountable for its current unlawful actions against the Samburu people".

The letter is among others copied to the Attorney General Githu Muigai, Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa and the Kituo Cha Sheria. The borne of contention is the decision by the wildlife body to purchase 17,000 acres of land in Laikipia to convert into a national park.

On November 1, the Business Daily reported that KWS had purchased 17,000 acres of land from former President Moi which it intends to turn into a nature conservancy called Laikipia National Park. "Since May of 2009, various groups have been trying to forcibly and illegally evict the Samburu people from this land you just purchased," the letter says in part. It is signed by Travis LaSalle of the Centre

According to the letter, KWS purchase of the land was illegal because the Samburu have acquired rights to this land under the Kenyan Constitution and international law by residing on the land continuously for over 90 years. Besides, the said land is currently the subject of a lawsuit before Justice Joseph Sergon at the High Court in Nyeri reference number L.R. No. 10068.

The suit was filed by the Samburu against the African Wildlife Foundation and the former President to prevent illegal forcible evictions from their land. The Centre says KWS purchase of the land as well as actions taken before the purchase are indirect violation of the court ordered injunction. "KWS represents to the world that it is purchasing the land in the name of conservation, but neglects to disclose that in the process it will illegally remove whole communities of women, children, and elderly Samburu from the land leaving them homeless and without any place to go," the letter says.

The letter further accuses KWS for failing disclose its true purpose which is to make millions of dollars in revenue from tourist visits to the conservancy. "The Center, the Samburu Community, and the international community are well aware of the true intentions and consequences of KWS' recent purchase of the land and we will do everything within our means to continue to protect the Samburu people.

LaSalle says in the letter the Center is carefully documenting all actions taken by KWS and will pursue any legal means necessary in alliance to hold KWS accountable for its current unlawful actions. The actions includes filing to hold KWS in contempt of court. The Center has also vowed to report these actions to a variety of international human rights groups and governmental organizations.

http://allafrica.com/stories/201111080041.html

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