Indigenous rights must be respected during Kenya climate change project, say UN experts

GENEVA – Three independent experts* appointed by the UN have expressed concerns about recent reports that indigenous Sengwer peoples in western Kenya have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their homes as a result of the implementation of the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation project, an EU-funded water management project.

"The Sengwer are facing repeated attacks and forced evictions by agents of the Kenya Forest Service, which is an implementing agency in the project financed by the European Union,” the experts said.

On 25 December 2017, more than 100 armed Forest Service guards entered the traditional lands of the Sengwer in the Embobut Forest, firing gunshots, burning at least 15 homes and killing their livestock.

On 9 January 2018, one of the Sengwer leaders, was shot at by Forest Service Service guards. While he managed to escape unhurt, his house was burnt down and his property destroyed.

The experts called on Kenya and the European Union to ensure that the human rights of the Sengwer peoples are respected. “We are concerned that the project is being undertaken without a human rights impact assessment,” the experts said. “Consultations have not been held with the Sengwer to seek their free, prior and informed consent".

We call on the Kenyan authorities to urgently halt the evictions of the Sengwer community and undertake impartial investigations of these attacks. Furthermore, we urge the European Union to suspend funding for the project until measures have been taken to uphold international standards on indigenous peoples’ rights.

In June 2016, the EU and the Kenyan government launched the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (WaTER) project worth some €31 million.


*John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.


Photo credit:

Joseph Kilimo Chebet, father of five, standing next to the charred remains of his home. His story was featured in ICIJ and GroundTruth’s Evicted and Abandoned investigation. Photo: Tony Karumba / GroundTruth- Evicted and Abandoned investigation page