New report on the criminalisation of Land and Environmental Defenders reveals excessive use of force
On 11 February 2021, the, International Land Coalition Africa (ILC Africa), Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA), and Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) virtually launched a new report on the criminalisation of Land and Environmental Rights Defenders (LERDs) in East Africa. The report highlights ongoing cases of criminalization and recommends actions governments and other stakeholders should take to safeguard the rights of LERDs in East Africa.
Titled Paying the Price: A Study on Criminalisation of Land and Environmental Rights Defenders in East Africa, the report drew a pattern of survey unveiling the various forms of criminalisation labelled against LERDs. Among them, accusations of serious crimes without a tangible baseline; illegal arrests; lengthy criminal proceedings, misuse of counterterrorism; defamation; and labelling LERDs who receive foreign funding.
The report then disclosed that militarisation of land and environment issues, among other forms of criminalisation, are putting LERDs at stake by either abusing and violating their rights and those of communities or aiding and abetting the same.
“Our findings show that LERDS are subjected to several violations, some of which are historical such as the Loliondo pastoralists in Tanzania and the Indigenous Peoples in Kenya,” said Ivan Okuda, Lawyer/Independent Journalist, and Report Author, Uganda.
During the virtual launch, Professor Patricia Kameri-Mbote, the Founding Research Director and Africa Program Director of International Environmental Law Research Centre in Kenya stressed that the renewed interest in land is another form of violation imposed on LERDs.
“The interest in land has become intricate because nowadays, there are links between land and the global capital. Protecting land is like stepping on the big toes,” she said.
Key points emerging from the research
- Infrastructure projects and conservation efforts by governments in the region are fuelling land conflicts.
- Indigenous Peoples in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania are constantly under attack from state and private commercial interests.
- Although state organs and institutions are active in mediating between aggrieved LERDs and business interests, they appear to be nonresponsive to the urgent needs of LERDs in distress.
- Whereas there exist strategies and civil society efforts to support LERDs, many of them are helpless at times, with limited resources.
- As land-based investments in the region increase, the pressure is mounted on land resources and so it is to LERDs.
- There is limited legal support available to LERDs, leaving them with no backup but to fight on their own.
The report recommends that…
- Governments in East Africa should resolve outstanding land claims and land inequality to help Indigenous People recover their land rights.
- Governments and Civil Society Organisations (CSOS) should ensure that all businesses comply with the consent of Indigenous Peoples at all phases of the project cycle.
- Governments and CSOS should conduct due diligence on proposed business operations to ensure proper environmental, and that social impact assessments are conducted before mapping.
Additionally, governments should: publicly condemn any threats against LERDs and bring to justice all violations; ensure the national policies are in line with the rights of defenders; redress land corruption; and compensate defenders who go into hiding when threatened.
“There should be solidarity between LERDs in different counties at the local levels. Indigenous Peoples should be understood and not likened to people living in poverty,” said Audace Kubwimana, Regional Coordinator, ILC Africa.