Kenya evicts Indigenous people for forest offset scam

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The UN and World Bank are supporting the forced expulsion of the Sengwer people from their ancestral lands. The land-grabbing REDD scheme must be stopped.


Kenya Forest Service  guards destroy Sengwer home.

Kenya Forest Service guards destroy Sengwer home, January 2014

‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradations’ sounds like a worthy, even vital, objective. In practice, the UN-sponsored REDD+ program is being used to justify forced evictions of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands, to support emission-offset schemes that allow rich nations to avoid real action on climate change.

As members of the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative argue:

“REDD+ is a neo-liberal, market-driven approach that leads to the commodification of life and undermines holistic community values and governance. It is a neo-liberal approach driven by economic processes such as trade liberalization and privatization and by actors like the World Bank whom have been responsible for the destruction of forests and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples all over the world. The concept of “Green Economy” is a vehicle for promoting trends of commodification of nature.” (Climate & Capitalism, November 2011)

The latest atrocity committed in the name of REDD is the assault on the Sengwer people of Kenya beginning in January of this year. The news release below, and the accompanying open letter, were published on March 12, by the No REDD in Africa Network.


FORCED RELOCATION OF SENGWER PEOPLE
PROVES URGENCY OF CANCELING REDD

News Release, March 12, 2014

Nairobi – The No REDD in Africa Network (NRAN) and hundreds of international allies strongly condemn the massive evictions and forced relocation of the Sengwer People, as well as World Bank-funded REDD, a land-grabbing forest offset scam, in Kenya’s Cherangany Hills.

In an open letter to the United Nations and the Kenyan government, the No REDD in Africa Network states that, “the forced relocation of the Sengwer People proves the urgency of canceling REDD.” NRAN is also calling for the creation of an International Truth Commission on the forced relocation of the Sengwer People and abuses associated with REDD and carbon offsets throughout the world.

We take great exception to the press statement issued by the World Bank in which it attempts to distance itself from this forced relocation of the Sengwer People. The cause and effect is perfectly clear; the Bank in its highly controversial role as both carbon credit financier and broker is aiding and abetting the forced relocation of an entire Indigenous People through its Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) which includes REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), in the region.

NRAN together with  65 organizations and renowned human rights activists are alarmed at the obvious connection between these evictions and the World Bank’s funding of the Kenyan government’s REDD+ ‘readiness’ program in the Cherangany Hills through the bank’s Natural Resource Management project. REDD is a highly controversial emissions reduction scheme that uses forests, plantations and lands in the Global South as carbon offsets and supposed sponges of carbon emissions and fossil fuel pollution from the Global North.

“The denial of complicity by the World Bank in the forced eviction of the Sengwer people from their forests is ludicrous, said Nnimmo Bassey, founder of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in Nigeria and former Chair of Friends of the Earth International.  “We will not be fooled as the fingers of international financial institutions (IFI’s) like the World Bank and other carbon cowboys are clearly visible in the unrepentant push of neoliberal agenda to exploit, despoil and displace poor communities and grab their resources including carbon. This nonsense must stop,” he continued.

In the Maputo Declaration (2013)[2] we had predicted that REDD-type projects would lead to displacement of forest-dependent communities, servitude, killings, repression and other human rights abuses, and the Sengwer Peoples’ plight is a clear example of what we condemn and why there must be no REDD in Africa, said Anabela Lemos, founder and Director of Justiça Ambiental, Mozambique.

“We demand that the government of Kenya recognize and promote the kind of conservation practiced by the Sengwer and other forest peoples, that has clearly shown that forest ecosystems, protected areas and other natural resources are well protected when the rights of forest indigenous communities are recognized”, said Yator Kitum, a spokesperson of the Sengwer people.

“We are demanding that the Kenyan government immediately stop the evictions and provide reparations to the Sengwer people, in addition to providing a formal apology recognizing their rights, said Ruth Nyambura, Advocacy & Communications Coordinator at the African Biodiversity Network in Nairobi. “We are also calling on the UN and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to respond to these demands and requests, and take the corresponding action, she continued”.

The No REDD in Africa Network has repeatedly warned that the scale of REDD-related land grabs in Africa could be so massive that they may eventually constitute a “continent grab.”


OPEN LETTER TO:

  • Kenya President – Uhuru Kenyatta
  • United Nations Secretary General – Ban Ki-Moon
  • President of the World Bank – Jim Yong Kim
  • UN High Commissioner on Human Rights – Navi Pillay
  • UN Special Adviser on prevention of genocide – Adama Dieng
  • UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples – James Anaya
  • UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition – Pablo de Greiff
  • UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect – Jennifer Welsh
  • United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa
  • Coordinator of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Programme on Indigenous Peoples – Dr. Albert Barume
  • UN-REDD Programme Policy Board and Secretariat
  • UNEP, Executive Director Achim Steiner
  • UNDP, Administrator Helen Clark
  • Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)

We, the No REDD in Africa Network (NRAN) together with the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme and the undersigned 66 organizations and over 300 individuals, strongly condemn the massive evictions and forced relocation of the Sengwer Indigenous People, one of the few remaining hunter-gatherers of the world, from their ancestral home in Kenya’s Cherangany Hills. The Kenyan government calls the Sengwer People ‘squatters and or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs),’ despite the fact that they and their ancestors have lived in the Cherangany Hills since time immemorial; and that Article (63d) of the Kenyan constitution (2010) grants them inalienable rights to their ancestral lands.

Sengwer spokesman Yator Kiptum denounced the “disaster” carried out by a combined force of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Administration Police, a paramilitary unit of the police, now evicting the Sengwer, destroying property and burning homes. “The government of Kenya is forcing us into extinction,” he said. According to international human rights law such as the Convention on Genocide, forced relocation of ethnic or racial minorities is a very grave violation and can constitute genocide.

World Bank’s complicity

We take great exception to the press statement issued by the World Bank in which it attempts to distance itself from the forced relocation of the Sengwer People. The cause and effect is perfectly clear; the Bank in its highly controversial role as both carbon credit financier and broker is aiding and abetting the forced relocation of an entire Indigenous Peoples through its Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) which includes REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), in the Cherangany Hills.

What is perhaps most disturbing about the statement is the World Bank’s offer to the Kenyan government, “to share best practices in resettlement in line with its safeguard policies. These seek to improve or restore the living standards of people affected by involuntary resettlement.” The World Bank is both admitting its complicity in the forced relocation of the Sengwer People as well as offering to collude with the Kenyan government to cover-up cultural genocide. Claims of being able to restore and improve the living standards of evicted people such as the Sengwer are crude, paternalistic, colonial in nature and above all smack of sheer arrogance on the World Bank’s part.

Background

Forced evictions and displacements were started in early 1980s, unsuccessfully. However, from 2007 when an Indigenous Peoples Planning Framework (IPPF) for NRMP was adopted by both Kenya Government and World Bank, there have been almost yearly forced evictions of the Sengwer People with the latest evictions being the most violent of them all. It is no coincidence that the evictions began in 2007, the very same the year that the World Bank’s Natural Resource Management Project started.

In 2013, the Sengwer People moved to court to file an injunction against their imminent removal from their homes and on 25thMarch 2013, an interim injunction was secured at the Eldoret high-court. These orders were further extended in November and on 18 January 2014; the same court issued further orders requiring that the police arrest anyone breaching the injunction until the matter of community rights to their land is resolved. The government of Kenya has continued to ignore these court orders, taking upon itself the role of judge and prosecutor of the Sengwer People’s case – it continued to burn houses, destroy property – hence force Sengwer families to flee from their ancestral homes and lands – their community land with respect to article 63 of the Constitution of Kenya.

The Sengwer Peoples are being accused of encroaching on and destroying the forests in the Cherangany Hills, leading to the drying up of rivers that provide water to nearby towns and villages. The government of Kenya states that evicting these ‘squatters’ is the only way to begin the ‘conservation’ of the ecosystems and specially the forests in the area. This is a complete obfuscation of the truth. The Sengwer Peoples have always preserved these ecosystems in their ancestral land by practicing by living sustainably and are now facing complete annihilation under the guise of ‘conservation’ under REDD.

The Kenyan government insists on not distinguishing between the Sengwer Peoples and a large group of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), including those affected by the 2007-2008 post-election violence, and victims of landslides who have settled in the Embobut Forest area. The government’s refusal to make this distinction is an attempt to falsely label the Sengwer as “squatters and IDPs.”

REDD driving Land Grabs and Forced Relocation of Indigenous Peoples

We are alarmed at the obvious connection between these evictions and the World Bank’s funding of the Kenyan government’s REDD+ ‘readiness’ program in the Cherangany Hills through the bank’s Natural Resource Management project (NRMP). REDD is a highly controversial emissions reduction scheme that uses forests, plantations and lands in the Global South as carbon offsets and supposed sponges of the fossil fuel carbon emissions and pollution from the Global North.

The head of conservation at the Kenya Forest Service, Mr. Solomon Mibei, is on record stating that “REDD+ mechanism is a future option.” He also admitted that the KFS is doing carbon financing workshops with communities. “At the moment, the KFS is conducting workshops with communities living around the Cherangany Hills which includes Embobut forest and the Kakamega forest to educate them on carbon financing.” Furthermore, the Kenya Forest service was the REDD+ focal point, but due to criticism the focal point was moved to the Ministry, yet the same individual, Alfred Gichu, continues to be in charge.

REDD+ allows rich polluting countries to shirk their historical responsibilities for and contribution to the climate crisis we now face by enabling them to shift the burden to ‘developing’ countries like Kenya. Instead of reducing emissions at source, which is the only sustainable way to stop the climate catastrophe, such schemes allow them to pretend to reduce emissions elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately as the Sengwer case shows, it is the poorest and most marginalized in developing countries who not only suffer the most from climate change but also the negative effects of the false solutions to climate change like REDD. These false solutions, above all, enable global economic interests to benefit from massive land grabs and the abuse of human and environmental rights.

The World Bank project initially claimed to address land claims of the indigenous communities, as part of the process of ensuring the fair and effective management of the Cherangany Hills forest. This was welcomed by the Sengwer Peoples who thought it would be a great opportunity to address decades of marginalization and loss of access to their ancestral lands which they had faced under the hands of successive Kenyan governments.

But this initiative was soon dropped by the KFS and the Bank in 2011(without consulting Sengwer Indigenous peoples as required by WB OP 4.10) which claimed that it was ‘too complicated’ but at the same time continued to fund the Kenyan government’s REDD+ work in the Cherangany Hills, thereby further entrenching the marginalization of the Sengwer People.

In January 2013, members of the Sengwer Peoples made a formal complaint to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, the organ tasked with the duty of reviewing the impacts of the projects funded by the World Bank. The Inspection Panel visited Kenya in May 2013 to assess the eligibility of the complaint and members of the Sengwer Peoples described the loss of access to much of their ancestral lands as well as their traditional right to protect the forests which they have always depended on for their survival. Also the community complained of forceful evictions and displacements and lack of free prior and informed consultations as a requirement in the bank’s procedures and policies. The Inspection Panel found the complaint to be admissible and a full investigation was recommended, with the final outcome of the investigation expected by the end of the first quarter of 2014.

Unfortunately, the abuses against the Sengwer People are not an exception. The violent eviction of the Ogiek People from the Mau Forest for UNEP-funded REDD is another example of Indigenous Peoples in Kenya being evicted for REDD.

The No REDD in Africa Network’s Maputo Declaration (2013)[x], declared that REDD-type projects are leading to the displacement of forest dependent communities, servitude, killings, repression and other human rights abuses, and the Sengwer Peoples’ plight is a clear example of what we condemn and why there must be no REDD in Africa.

The No REDD in Africa Network has repeatedly denounced that  REDD+ is not merely a false solution to climate change, but is emerging as a new form of colonialism, economic subjugation and a driver of land grabs so massive that they may constitute a continent grab. We must defend the continent from carbon colonialism.

The forced relocation of the Sengwer Peoples by the AK-47 touting Kenya Forest Service is reminiscent of the forced removals of rural communities by the then South African government during the apartheid era. We had hoped that this kind of history would not repeat itself in the continent.

Demands to Government of Kenya:

1. We demand that the government of Kenya immediately and definitively halt the evictions of the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples, return their ancestral lands and provide full reparations and compensation and provide guarantees that they will not be attacked again.

2. We demand that the government of Kenya should issue a formal apology to the Sengwer, duly recognizing these law-abiding citizens of Kenya of as the owners and best custodians of their territory and forests in the Cherangany Hills.

Demands to Governments and the United Nations:

  1. We request that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Adviser on Genocide, the UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples,  the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples and the UN Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples immediately coordinate, issue statements and take measures to halt the forced relocation and extinction of the Sengwer People, as well as propose concrete measures for the recovery of their territory, reparations, justice and guarantees of non-repetition.
  2. We demand that governments, companies, carbon traders, the World Bank and the United Nations including UN-REDD, UNEP, UNDP and others immediately cancel these harmful REDD and other carbon offset schemes.
  3. We request that the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Adviser on Genocide prepare a report on how REDD and carbon offsets are causing violations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  4. We demand the creation of an International Truth Commission on the forced relocation of the Sengwer People and abuses associated with REDD, REDD-type projects, the Clean Development Mechanism and carbon trading and carbon offsets in the world; composed of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and experts on human rights, the environment and the climate.

Request to African Commission:

  1. We invite the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to prepare a report on the impact of REDD and carbon offsets on the Indigenous Peoples, local communities and land grabbing in Africa.

In closing, we cordially request that the Government of Kenya, the United Nations and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to respond to these demands and requests, and take the corresponding action.

For the No REDD in Africa Network (NRAN), Sengwer people & undersigned organisations,

Signed by: Nnimmo Bassey & Anabela Lemos

(See full list of signatories here)