Human rights groups said Friday’s ruling sends a dangerous message that indigenous peoples can be expelled from their lands in the name of conservation.
The East Africa Regional Court of Justice has ruled that Tanzania’s decision to withdraw land to protect wildlife is legal, dealing a blow to the Maasai indigenous group. oppose the moveaccused the government of trying to force them to leave their ancestral lands to promote tourism.
The government claims it wants to “protect” 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) of the area from human activity, but human rights groups say Friday’s ruling sends a dangerous message that indigenous people Land can be evicted from their land in the name of conservation.
Tensions have spiked in recent months with violent conflict broke out in June in Loliondo in the Ngorongoro district – one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions – between police and Maasai protesters.
The four Maasai villages lie within the boundaries of the Serengeti National Park, according to the government. The boundaries were originally demarcated under British military rule but were redrawn by subsequent administrations for preservation.
The Arusha-based East African Court of Justice ruled that Maasai failed to prove the eviction took place outside the park, and much of the evidence about accused of violence and brutality is rumored or inconsistent.
‘I am kicked out’
But a representative of the Maasai community said villagers would appeal.
Jebra Kambole, who represented Maasai in the interim ruling, said: “We are not satisfied with the ruling and we believe that the court erred in analyzing the evidence we provided.
Tanzania has historically allowed indigenous communities like the Maasai to live in a number of national parks, including the Ngorongoro reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But authorities say their growing population is encroaching on wildlife habitat.
Maasai said that “they were evicted from their homes by government forces and their property destroyed,” Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi said.
Soi explained that the government argued that the Maasai community destroyed the park because their population was growing rapidly.
“I think it is important to understand that many Maasais, up to 50,000, in that area have been relocated to other areas that have been set aside by the government for that purpose,” Soi said.
She added that the disputed area is important for tourism.
A land dispute between the national park management and the Maasai villagers arose in 2012 but the authorities ordered them to leave in 2017. Security forces later evicted them by force.
The court ordered a halt to the evictions in 2018, pending a final verdict.
Maasai asked the court to “stop the deportation, arrest, detention or ill-treatment” of its members and demanded damages of one billion Tanzanian shillings ($430,000).
Esther Mnaro, a lawyer for Maasai, told AFP the three-judge bench said no compensation was due.
Fiore Longo from Survival International, an indigenous rights advocate, said the ruling is a blow to the Maasai and to indigenous peoples around the world.
“The Court has sent a strong signal to the international community that evictions and human rights violations against indigenous peoples should be tolerated if they are done in the name of protecting nature,” Longo said. .
Tanzania has long been criticized by the international community for its violence against the Maasai people. In 2015, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning governments for violating their human rights.
The government denied that it violated their rights.
There was no immediate comment from the government of Tanzania, the country dependent on tourism which plays a major part in the economy.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, economic system around tourism as the largest source of foreign exchange earnings, the second largest contributor to gross domestic product and the third largest contributor to employment, according to a World Bank report in 2021.