Kenya: how partnering with the government helped conserve forests
and protect the rights of indigenous people

The right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment is key to the fulfillment of other rights

Anne Okutoyi, NHRI Kenya

Kenyan forests are key elements in the context of the country’s economic development and rural livelihoods because of the environment and ecosystem that they provide.

Forests support the operations of most key economic sectors including agriculture, horticulture, tourism wildlife and energy.

According to statistics, “Kenya loses around 12’000 hectares of forests each year due to deforestation, about 12% of its land area”. In order to react to this trend, “the government has signed up obligations to raise the forest cover to 10%” and has embarked on various interventions which included prevention of human rights violations especially against indigenous communities and forest dwellers.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission  (KHRC) has been monitoring and documenting over the years the trend of human rights violations amidst the forest conservation efforts made by the government.

These violations “have mostly occurred on indigenous people including forceful and very violent evictions, killings, sexual violence, destruction of property”.

All these cases have been litigated to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and to the African court that gave rulings on this matter. The KHRC  has been working in supporting the implementation of the court’s decision through community sensitisation and the establishment of fruitful cooperation with the government while giving advisory on what needs to be done in regard to the protection of human rights.

One of the key accomplishments of the Kenyan NHRI, is the partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry set to establish a training curriculum to mainstream human rights best approaches in forest conservation with a focus on women, youth indigenous communities, minority and marginalized communities”.

As a result, they have been able to secure dialogue with the government and communities in an attempt to secure the right to conservation and at the same time the rights of most vulnerable people.