Kenya: Maasai Human Rights Defenders criminalised for defence of ancestral land in Kedong Valley (joint communication)

BACKGROUND

On 25 June 2021, I sent two letters, jointly with other mandate holders, to the Government of Kenya as well as Kedong Ranch Limited respectively. We raised concerns about the criminalisation of Maasai human rights defenders and the land dispute between Kedong Ranch Ltd. And the indigenous Maasai people in Kedong Valley.

Mr. Tima Kuronoi, Mr. Kingiri Kuronoi, Mr. Oropi Kuronoi, and Mr. Torome are indigenous human rights defenders, members of the Maasai indigenous community and advocates for the indigenous rights of the Maasai to their ancestral lands in the Kedong Valley, where they have lived for generations. The land in Kedong Valley is essential for the Maasai peoples; as pastoralists, their entire livelihood and culture depend on moving freely within and living off this land, and it holds great cultural and spiritual significance within their community.

Kedong Ranch Ltd. is a private corporation consisting of private ranches and dairy farms. It currently has 23 shareholders, some of whom are family members of the current President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta. Kedong Ranch Ltd has been leasing approximately 75,000 acres of Maasai indigenous land since the 1970’s. There has been a longstanding land dispute between the Maasai indigenous peoples and Kedong Ranch Ltd over the validity of this lease.

ALLEGATIONS

In July 2019, four individuals claiming to be representatives of the Maasai community made an agreement with Kedong Ranch Ltd. in return for 4,000 acres and 10 million Ksh to the Maasai communities. The wider Maasai community including the four aforementioned human rights defenders, claim that this agreement was illegal and made without their proper free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). On 30 October 2019, a case was filed questioning the validity of the agreement between Kedong Ranch Ltd. and the four alleged representatives of the Maasai community. Maasai indigenous defenders and supporters have demanded that Kedong Ranch Ltd. halt all activities on the land in question pending the decision by the Court of Appeal and the Environment and Land Court, which may result in new legal action and land ownership.

On 19 October 2019, Mr. Torome and other petitioners filed another case against Kedong Ranch Ltd., the Kenya Railways Corporation, the National Land Commission and the Attorney General of Kenya, on behalf of 4,000 Maasai families (35,000 individuals) living on the Maasai ancestral land. The case calls for recognition of the Maasai peoples’ collective land rights and an investigation into the legality of Kedong Ranch Ltd.’s land lease. On 26 July 2020, Mr. Torome was arrested in Kedong Ranch. He was charged with causing bodily harm and disturbances and released on bail. The human rights defender is currently awaiting trial.

On 21 December 2020, while defending the demarcation of their land that had allegedly been sold without their consent, three members of a Maasai family, Mr. Tima Kuronoi, Mr. Kingiri Kuronoi, and Mr. Oropi Kuronoi were arrested, charged with assault and then released on bail. On 21 January 2021, Mr. Tima Kuronoi, Mr. Kingiri Kuronoi, and Mr. Oropi Kuronoi were arrested after they tried to prevent the employees of Kedong Ranch Ltd. from digging trenches on their land.

The three human rights defenders were charged with assault and released on bail later that day. The charges against them still stand.

CONCERNS

To the Kenyan Government, we expressed serious concerns regarding the apparent criminalisation of Mr. Tima Kuronoi, Mr. Kingiri Kuronoi, Mr. Oropi Kuronoi, and Mr. Torome, which appear to be linked to their efforts to stop Kedong Ranch Ltd.’s encroachment on their ancestral land. The criminalisation of the four above mentioned human rights defenders exposes an extremely worrying trend in which local police appear to be intervening on behalf of Kedong Ranch Ltd. against the Maasai peoples, resulting in impunity for the perpetrators of harassment, intimidation and physical attack against human rights defenders and local indigenous Maasai peoples.

To Kedong Ranch Limited, we expressed deep concern over the apparent lack of respect for and disregard of the Maasai peoples’ collective right to their ancestral lands and their right to self-determination. We’re deeply concerned that Kedong Ranch Ltd. Continues to carry out its activities while the dispute still pends before the Court of Appeals.

This is a summary of the original communications.

Read the communication to the Kenyan Government Read the communication to Kedong Ranch Ltd.

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