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Ogiek people win historic land rights case at African Human Rights Court

May 29 2017

"African states are now strongly encouraged to respect indigenous peoples’ rights," says Julie Koch.
On Friday May 26, Kenya’s Ogiek people won a precedent-setting case on land rights and their rights as indigenous people at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “A turning point for indigenous peoples in Africa,” says IWGIA’s Executive Director Julie Koch.

“We congratulate the Ogiek people on their hard-earned victory and hope that it will inspire other indigenous peoples in Africa to try their case,” says Julie Koch, Executive Director of IWGIA.

Late Friday afternoon the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights delivered its verdict on the case of the Ogiek people versus Kenya’s Government.

The Court ruled in favor of the Ogiek people by recognizing their right to Kenya’s Mau Forest as their ancestral home and their contribution to protecting the forest.

Precedent-setting recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights

For the first time ever, the African Court adopted regional and international understandings of indigenous peoples by recognizing the Ogiek as an indigenous people with rights. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights sends a clear message to African governments with the Ogiek verdict:

“African states are now strongly encouraged to respect indigenous peoples’ rights and officially warned against violating and discriminating indigenous peoples. We might see a dramatic increase in trials like the Ogiek case, because many indigenous peoples in Africa suffer in similar ways to the Ogiek people,” says Julie Koch.

Settling an eight-year legal fight, the Court found that the Kenyan government violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the land rights dispute that dates back to colonial times. The reparations from the government of Kenya are to be decided in a later hearing

Result of decades of support to the Ogiek people  

The news of the Ogiek victory was received with great enthusiasm at IWGIA that has been actively supporting the Ogiek partner organisation, the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme (OPDP), in preparing and sustaining the court case.

“The Ogiek people and their will to win this case has been a major inspiration in our work as an organisation,” says Marianne Wiben Jensen, IWGIA’s Senior Advisor on Africa and land rights and Expert Member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa.

Since 2001, IWGIA has been engaged in strengthening the rights of indigenous peoples in Africa through the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, where IWGIA is represented by Marianne Wiben Jensen as expert member in the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa.

IWGIA contributes with support from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to documenting, empowering and promoting indigenous peoples’ rights at a regional as well as national level.

Background report on indigenous peoples in Africa
In 2003, IWGIA co-published - with the African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights - the master report on indigenous peoples in Africa: Report of the African Commission's Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities.

“The long and steady work of the African Commission is an absolute precondition for the positive outcome of the Ogiek court case. Without the continuous efforts for informing and sensitizing the members and states on the rights of indigenous peoples, the Ogiek victory would probably not have been a reality at this stage,” says Marianne Wiben Jensen.

Following the Ogiek victory, IWGIA will use the momentum and continiously support and promote indigenous peoples' rights in Africa.