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Indigenous Maasai Ask the United Nations to Intervene on Human Rights Abuses

April 20, 2023

By Joseph Lee

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, and Native News Online.

In Tanzania, the Indigenous Maasai face an ongoing, violent campaign to evict them from their lands and make way for protected conservation areas and hunting reserves. This week, the Maasai are in New York to ask the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, to tell Tanzania to stop taking their cattle, remove its security forces, establish a commission to investigate disputed lands and displaced people, and allow international human rights monitors to visit without restrictions.

“We, the Maasai people of Loliondo and Ngorongoro in Tanzania, are fighting against the Tanzanian government and wildlife trophy hunters who are threatening our livelihood, culture, ancestral wisdom, legacy, and basic human rights,” Edward Porokwa, executive director of the Pastoralists Indigenous Non Governmental Organization’s Forum, said. “There is no justification for this crisis created by the government.” [...]

And in Loliondo, which is legally demarcated Maasai village land, state security forces shot at Maasai in a violent campaign to drive them from their lands last June. In the attack, dozens of Maasai were injured and many fled across the nearby border to Kenya for medical attention. At least two dozen others were arrested, while some were not permitted to leave their homes.

Last June, nine United Nations experts raised concern about forced evictions and resettlement plans, but the Maasai representatives at the United Nations say that the government has not changed its approach.

The Maasai say that since June 2022, Tanzania has taken or killed over 600,000 of their cows and demanded over $2.5 million in fines for grazing. This is all part of what Maasai say is a massive campaign to destroy their pastoralist way of life.

At the Permanent Forum, a representative from the Tanzanian government pushed back on the Maasai’s claims, pointing to the East African Court of Justice’s 2022 dismissal of an eviction case brought by the Maasai, stating that the Maasai could not prove their claims about violent evictions. The Oakland Institute, a US-based nonprofit that advocates for Indigenous rights, called the ruling a “shocking blow to Indigenous land rights.” Tanzanian representatives at UNPFII declined to comment on the matter.