Archive 2002

 

KENYA: Court blocks forest excisions

NAIROBI, 24 Apr 2002 (IRIN) - Environmental activists in Kenya have welcomed a court order temporarily blocking the Kenyan government's plans to excise some 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of the country's remaining forests, pending the hearing of a suit they have filed challenging the move.

The local media reported on Tuesday that the temporary order, issued by a Nairobi judge, Richard Kuloba, also halted the carrying out of a survey, issuance of further land titles or any other development on the disputed forest land, until the dispute had been settled, the East African Standard reported on Tuesday.

Kuloba also ordered the contentious suit, filed jointly by three organisations and two individuals, (namely the East African Wildlife society [EAWS], Environmental Liaisons Centre [ELC] and the Kenya Alliance of Residents Association [KARA]), James Aucha and Lumumba Odenda respectively), served to the environment minister and top government officers, according to the paper.

"We are quite pleased that the initial reaction by the court was a stay of the transfer of land titles on the disputed forests," Barbara Gammill, the ELC executive director, told IRIN on Wednesday.

Gammill said the lawyers of the group which had made the application were currently in the process of drafting a legal notice to enable them to enlist additional signatures of support from interested groups and individuals, on the application, which will be used in the trial, in a month's time. "This would mean that they are in support of the cause we are fighting for. We filed the case on a representative basis, and the trial will give the government an opportunity to defend itself," she added.

Ali Kaka, who heads the EAWS, told IRIN on Wednesday that this was the third attempt by environmental groups to halt plans by the government to excise forests, and the only one to succeed so far in getting a court order.

The previous attempts, brought to court respectively late last year and early this year by the local environmentalist Green Belt Movement, failed on the basis of technicalities, according to Kaka. "In this case, the judge gave the order, which technically means nothing can be done by the minister of environment or any other government official without being held in contempt of court," Kaka said. "The order has brought the whole process of excision to a halt. We want to publicise all the orders and tell the public what they mean."

Gazetted land comes under Kenyan government control, and is legally protected. Once an area is de-gazetted, the land is no longer afforded legal protection and can be disposed of by the government to private individuals and companies, after which they are free to use it as they see fit, according to experts. "We are broadly appealing to Kenyans to support the group, because the implications of this matter on the country are very heavy. It is a matter for all of us," Odenda told IRIN.

Odenda, who heads the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) told IRIN on Wednesday the group's main argument at the forthcoming trial would be that various government departments concerned with forests and land, namely the departments of physical planning, the conservator of forests and the land registry, had acted in contravention of both local and international laws in the way they had approved the excision and allocation of the forest land.

"We are all aware the judiciary is not independent. But we want to go on record for Kenya's history that they [Kenyan government] are in violation of Kenya's environmental and human rights," Odenda said. "We are convinced from the laws and procedures that the government is wrong in its decision. Even the people know which side is right."

The government announced in October 2001 that it was planning the excision as part of its programme to resettle landless people. The decision outraged environmental groups in Kenya, which were subsequently joined in their response by international conservation groups such as Survival International and Global Response.

A resulting coalition of such organisations, led by the EAWS's Kenya Forests Working Group (KFWG), then began to lobby the Kenyan government to reconsider the decision. The KFWG issued an ultimatum giving Environment Minister Joseph Kamotho up to 19 April to revoke the excision, failing which it would file a suit in court to halt the move. The group has argued the main beneficiaries of the excisions would be politically favoured people and loggers.

"The government is cutting [down] forests for reasons which are selfish," Odenda told IRIN on 27 March from Nakuru, where his organisation is based. "Squatters are just being used as an excuse, but the land is being used to buy political patronage. We know all forest excisions in Kenyan history have never benefited the so-called landless people."

Paula Palmer, Executive Director Global Response P.O. Box 7490 Boulder CO 80306 USA TEL: 303-444-0306 FAX: 303-449-9794 Email: paula@globalresponse.org Website: www.globalresponse.org

Link : http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=27444

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