Nairobi — The European Union has suspended the Sh3.6 billion Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme (WaTER), following the killing of a member of the Sengwer community by officers drawn from the Kenya Wildlife Service.
In a statement, the EU condemned the killing and shooting of another person, while insisting that the rights of the indigenous people must be respected even as the government seeks to protect the country's water towers.
"Yesterday's (Tuesday) shooting took place after we had formally alerted Kenya's Government that the use of force by Kenya Forest Service guards in the Embobut Forest or elsewhere against innocent locals would lead the EU to suspend its financial support for conservation work on the country's water towers," noted Ambassador Stefano Dejak.
"Accordingly, we are now suspending the support to the Water Towers Programme with the Government of Kenya."
Before its suspension, the programme sought to protect the ground supplies of water, which are known as water towers, in the Mount Elgon and the Cherangany Hills areas, but locals have incessantly protested attempts to be forcefully evicted from their ancestral land.
The EU has committed to initiate consultations with all stakeholders, to ensure the community is involved in any conservation efforts, without changing their way of life.
"The EU insists on full respect for the rights of indigenous people, and the conservation work on the water towers was never expected to involve any evictions or use of violence," reads the statement.
"EU staff have been following up on reports which began more than a year ago concerning abuses of indigenous people's rights in the conservation areas, as there were claims that these were linked to the EU's support."
It is a win for the Sengwer community after a year of anxiety.
Both local and international rights groups have piled pressure on the EU leading to this move.
On Monday, Three independent experts appointed by the United Nations have expressed concerns about recent reports that indigenous Sengwer peoples in western Kenya have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their homes.
The forceful evictions were meant to pave way for the implementation of the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation project.
- Cases of human rights abuses -
On January 16, a community member was shot dead by Kenya Wildlife Service officers.
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 Kenya Forest Service guards.
While he managed to escape unhurt, his house was burnt down and his property destroyed.
In June 2016, the EU and the Kenyan government launched the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (WaTER) project worth some Sh3.1 billion.
In May last year, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights ruled that the government violated the rights of the indigenous Ogiek people living in Mau forest, draws inspiration from, saying it set a precedent on why evicting such people not only violates their human rights but leaves their forests vulnerable to destruction.