Human rights groups will appeal the East African Court of Justice’s ruling that dismissed a case filed by Maasai herders who attempted to prevent the Tanzanian government from evicting them from what they call their ancestral land.
The appeal will be filed through the Pan African Lawyers Union, Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) Executive Director Davis Malombe said at a press briefing in Nairobi.
The herders were seeking redress for violent evictions and burning of homes in Loliondo by the government in 2017 in four villages bordering Serengeti National Park to the west.
In 2018, the court issued interim orders stopping the evictions but human rights groups documented further forceful evictions in June this year when 2,135 Tanzanians and 35 human rights defenders fled to Kenya as refugees.
But in a ruling delivered on Friday last week, the EACJ found that the Maasai failed to show they had been evicted from their village land and not from the Serengeti park itself.
The court also said that the testimony about violent evictions relied on “hearsay” and there was insufficient evidence to support their case.
“The court totally paid a blind eye to the illegal arrests, shootings and displacement suffered by the applicants including women and children, but instead glossed over the compelling multitude of oral and affidavit evidence tendered by the villagers,” Mr Malombe said.
He also questioned the court’s decision to refuse to admit expert evidence provided by a key witness, a Kenyan geo-spatial expert who undertook a survey of the land, on the mere basis that “he was a Kenyan and had not sought a work permit to undertake the surveys in Tanzania”.
“The fact is, the community was forced to hire another expert after the previous Tanzanian expert whom they had contracted eventually dropped out following continuous intimidation from state machinery,” Mr Malombe added.
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Ms Anne Samante, the acting executive director at the Mainyoito Pastoralists Integrated Development Organization (MPIDO), noted that reports by the Oakland Institute show that Tanzania’s ministry of tourism and natural resources had earmarked the area inhabited by the Maasai as a potential game reserve.
“Blatant abuse of human rights cannot be justified in the name of conservation to benefit safari companies such as Boston-based Thomson Safaris and the UAE-based Otterlo Business Company, which runs hunting excursions for the Emirati royal family,” she said.
Mr Martin Mavenjina, KHRC lawyer and senior programs adviser at Transitional Justice, said the court’s failure to hold the government accountable for its actions sends the message that the government can trample on human rights without being held accountable.
“This not only throws its integrity into question but is also a travesty for all indigenous communities, especially to the more than 30,000 families who have lost their loved ones, property including land, homes and livestock and still reeling from physical and psychological wounds inflicted on them by the very government that is supposed to protect them,” he said.
Mr Taiko Lemayian, of the Tanzania Crisis Coordination Committee under the Maa Unity Agenda (MUA), demanded the immediate release of 24 Maasai herders arrested during the June evictions, saying they were detained illegally on trumped-up murder charges.
He also urged the international community to exert more pressure to curb human rights violations by the Tanzanian government including imposing economic sanctions.
“We condemn exclusionary and militarised conservation approaches that restrict access to critical resources without providing for equal or better alternatives thus undermining enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms and demand that indigenous communities be at the centre of global conservation efforts,” he added.