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Homes of Sengwer people stand burning in Embobut, Kenya. Photo: Forest Peoples Programme.
Homes of Sengwer people stand burning in Embobut, Kenya. Photo: Forest Peoples Programme.
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World Bank 'failing to protect Kenya forest dwellers'

John Vidal / The Guardian

30th September 2014

The eviction of Kenya's Sengwer forest people in a World Bank financed project was a failure of the Bank's duty to protect indigenous people, according to an internal report. The Bank's directors are to decide on how to respond today - but if they follow their own management's advice, the evictions will continue.

The World Bank's own leaked management response to the report denies many of the findings, evidently sees little importance in the fact that violation of safeguard policies has occurred, and presents an inadequate action plan.

A leaked copy of a World Bank investigation seen by The Guardian has accused the bank of failing to protect the rights of one of Kenya's last groups of forest people, who are being evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of climate change and conservation.

Thousands of homes belonging to hunter-gatherer Sengwer people living in the Embobut forest in the Cherangani hills were burned down earlier this year by Kenya forest service guards who had been ordered to clear the forest as part of a carbon offset project that aimed to reduce emissions from deforestation.

The result has been that more than 1,000 people living near the town of Eldoret have been classed as squatters and forced to flee what they say has been government harassment, intimidation and arrest.

UN condemnation - but no change in policy

The evictions were condemned in February by the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination.

They also drew in the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who expressed alarm at what was described by 360 national and international civil society organisations and individuals as "cultural genocide".

An Avaaz petition collected 950,000 names calling for the bank to urgently halt the "illegal" evictions.

Following a request by the Sengwer to assess the impact of the bank's funding of the project, the bank's inspection panel decided in May that it had violated safeguards in several areas. At the same time, the bank's management decided to ignore most of the independent panel's recommendations.

"Unfortunately, the World Bank's own leaked management response to the report denies many of the findings, evidently sees little importance in the fact that violation of safeguard policies has occurred, and presents an inadequate action plan to be considered by the bank's board. It simply proposes more training for forest service staff, and a meeting to examine what can be learnt", said a spokesman for the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme.

"President Kim said the bank would not be bystanders, but only by taking seriously the many breaches of its own safeguards and approving the action plan requested by the Sengwer people themselves to overcome the human rights violations that these breaches have contributed to will the bank be able to demonstrate that the president has been true to his word", said Peter Kitelo, a representative of Kenya's Forest Indigenous Peoples Network.

World Bank directors to decide the Sengwer's fate today

A final decision on the project is due today when the World Bank board meets in Washington under the chairmanship of Kim to decide on the bank's response to the inspection panel report.

If the board decides to endorse the action plan, the evictions are certain to be completed. More than half the people evicted are thought to have returned to their lands.

"The eviction of such ancestral communities leaves the indigenous forests open to exploitation and destruction; whereas securing such communities rights to their lands and responsibility to continue traditional conservation practices, protects their forests", said the Forest Peoples Programme.

 


 

John Vidal is Environment Editor for The Guardian.

This article was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced with thanks via The Guardian Environment Network.

 

 

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