11 December 2006
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen from Mexico, is currently undertaking an official country visit to Kenya at the invitation of the Government. The visit started on December 4, 2006 and is scheduled to conclude on December 14, 2006.
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on indigenous people was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2001, in response to the growing international concern regarding the marginalization and discrimination against indigenous peoples and communities worldwide. The Special Rapporteur was requested by the Commission to gather information on violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples, as well as to formulate recommendations and proposals on appropriate measures to prevent and remedy such violations. A major component of the Special Rapporteur’s activities involves official visits to specific countries at the invitation of governments, which result in a report to the Human Rights Council. The visit to Kenya is the tenth such visit by Mr. Stavenhagen in his capacity as Special Rapporteur.
In this country the Special Rapporteur meets with national and regional authorities, UN agencies and representatives of non-governmental organizations. His schedule includes visits to indigenous pastoralists and hunter-gatherers in the Rift Valley, Coastal, Eastern and North Eastern Provinces, including the Maasai, the Ogiek, the Turkana, the Sengwer and the Somali. At the beginning of his visit he participated in the National Workshop on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues organized by UNDP and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 5-6 December 2006, where he had the opportunity to exchange views with more than 60 representatives of indigenous communities from all over the country. Before ending his mission, Mr. Stavenhagen will hold a debriefing session with the Government.
The Special Rapporteur is encouraged by the Government’s commitment to pay special attention to land tenure issues, particularly in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) through the Ministry of Special Programs, as well as free universal primary education, and its efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. He looks forward to receiving detailed information about how these programs will benefit indigenous communities in the country. The Special Rapporteur recognizes the important role of the Ministry of Justice and the Kenya National Human Rights Commission in this regard.
Indigenous peoples in Kenya face a number of problems, of which the loss and degradation of their lands and natural resources was emphasized by all the communities visited. Their territories include a large number of important resources such as forests, rangelands, water, fishing, and wildlife. Development policies at the national level have historically neglected the special needs of these communities.
Among the Maasai, Ogiek and others, several communities were dispossessed of their lands either during the colonial period or as a consequence of the privatization of communal landholdings. Landlessness in some districts seems to have increased dramatically as a result. Today they are probably among the poorest and most marginalized indigenous groups in the country and their situation requires priority attention. Many of the smaller communities, such as the Sengwer or the Yaku, have undergone changes and assimilation and were not listed in the 1989 census, a situation that they consider as a threat to their cultural identity and their group rights.
Pastoralist communities such as the Turkana, Pokot, Rendile and Somali face a dearth of basic services, water and infrastructure which severely affects their economic, social and cultural wellbeing. As small marginalized minorities, they complain about their lack of political representation and request the constitution of specific constituencies. Kenya’s conservationist policies, which are widely admired in the world, have posed serious problems for the survival of pastoralist and hunter-gatherer communities, whose traditional subsistence activities are being rapidly transformed, and their identities undermined. The privatization and commercialization of other natural resources also challenges indigenous wellbeing and rights.
In recent years these indigenous communities have been able to make their voices heard in the new climate of liberty and civic participation that now prevails in the country. While they enjoy in principle equal rights with all other Kenyans, some of these rights are curtailed because of their economic, social and cultural marginalization. This represents an important challenge to the development and consolidation of democratic governance in Kenya.