Regional court dismisses Maasai eviction case against Tanzania | New

Rights groups said Friday’s ruling sends a dangerous message that indigenous peoples can be evicted from their lands in the name of conservation.

The East Africa Regional Court of Justice has ruled that Tanzania’s decision to cordon off land for wildlife protection was legal, dealing a blow to the Maasai indigenous group who had protested the decision, accusing the government to try to force them to leave their ancestral land to promote tourism.

The government says it wants to ‘protect’ 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) of the region from human activity, but rights groups said Friday’s decision sent a dangerous message that people Indigenous peoples can be evicted from their lands in the name of conservation.

Tensions have skyrocketed in recent months with violent clashes erupt in June at Loliondo in Ngorongoro district – one of the country’s top tourist destinations – between police and Maasai protesters.

According to the government, four Maasai villages are located within the boundaries of the Serengeti National Park. The borders were originally demarcated under British military rule, but redrawn for retention by subsequent administrations.

The East African Court of Justice, based in Arusha, ruled that the Maasai had failed to prove that the eviction took place outside the park and that much of the evidence alleged violence and brutality were hearsay or inconsistent.

“Forcibly expelled”

But a representative of the Maasai community said the villagers would appeal.

“We are not satisfied with the ruling and believe the court erred in analyzing the evidence we provided,” said Jebra Kambole, who represented the Maasai in the interim ruling.

Tanzania has always allowed indigenous communities such as the Maasai to live in certain national parks, including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But authorities say their growing population is encroaching on wildlife habitats.

The Maasai say that “they were forcibly evicted by government forces and their property was destroyed,” said Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi.

Soi explained that the government maintains that the Maasai community destroyed the park because its population grew rapidly.

“I think it’s important to understand that many Maasai, up to 50,000, in this area have already been moved to other parts that have been earmarked by the government for this purpose,” Soi said.

She added that this disputed area is very important for tourism.

Land disputes between the national park management and Maasai villagers erupted in 2012, but the government ordered them to leave in 2017. Security forces then forcibly evicted them.

The court ordered a halt to the evictions in 2018, pending a final judgment.

The Maasai had asked the court “to stop the deportations, arrests, detention or persecution” of their members and sought one billion Tanzanian shillings ($430,000) in damages.

The three-judge bench said no compensation was due, Maasai lawyer Esther Mnaro told AFP.

Fiore Longo of Survival International, an indigenous rights organization, said the judgment was a blow to the Maasai and to indigenous peoples around the world.

“The tribunal has sent a strong signal to the international community that evictions and human rights violations against indigenous peoples should be tolerated if they are committed in the name of nature conservation,” Longo said.

Tanzania has long been criticized by the international community for its violence against the Maasai. In 2015, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the government for violating their human rights.

The government denies violating their rights.

There was no immediate comment from the Tanzanian government, which depends on tourism for a significant part of its economy.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic system around tourism was the largest earner of foreign exchange, the second largest contributor to gross domestic product and the third largest contributor to employment, according to a World Bank report in 2021.

Elna M. Lemons