Sengwer Indigenous Community Living in Embobut Forest - Photo credit: Chris Chapman -Amnesty International

Amnesty International has expressed its grave concern at reports that the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has been carrying out forced evictions of members of the Sengwer community in Embobut forest since Friday 29 December 2017. The forced evictions are being carried out, despite a High Court injunction that forbids the eviction or arrest of Sengwer residents in the forest, pending the hearing of a challenge to the legality of the 2014 mass evictions.

Forced evictions constitute violations of human rights, including the rights of the Sengwer to housing, and to their ancestral lands, under international law, the African Union human rights standards, and the Constitution of Kenya. According to a number of consistent reports from affected community members, and interviews by national media outlets, KFS guards burnt at least 15 huts, fired shots into the air, and shot dead a number of animals belonging to Sengwer community members.

While the KFS had issued an advance warning saying that evictions would happen from 5 pm on 29 December, it is reported that the guards moved into the forest and began forcibly evicting Sengwer community members from 10 am on that day. The timing of the forced eviction, between Christmas and New Year, meant that the community struggled to mobilize support to contest the action, including through the media, civil society, and the judiciary. Since January 2014, Amnesty International has received reports from the Sengwer and other sources of at least 13 actions to forcibly evict them. In addition, Amnesty International has interviewed over 100 Sengwer community members and found that the evictions did not comply with international human rights standards.

Despite several requests, Amnesty International has not been granted permission to visit the forest and independently interview members of the Sengwer living there. Amnesty International now calls on the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to immediately order the cessation of forced evictions in Embobut forest. It further calls for the investigation of reports of evictions on 29th  December and 1st January 2018, and to ensure that necessary action is taken against individuals responsible if there is evidence of criminal responsibility or administrative failings, in compliance with national and international standards of due process.

The ministry should ensure that all those affected by the forced evictions are allowed to return to their lands and are provided access to remedies including compensation for losses that they might have incurred; provide a guarantee that there will be no further evictions or arrests of Sengwer on the basis of their presence in Embobut, and enter into good faith negotiations with the Sengwer regarding the status of the forest and its management in the interests of conservation.