Dar es Salaam. United Nations human rights experts on Wednesday expressed grave concerns about continuous encroachment on traditional Maasai lands and housing, accompanied by a lack of transparency in, and consultation with the Maasai Indigenous Peoples, during decision-making and planning.
Also known as Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, the experts are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. They are non-paid and elected for three-year mandates that can be reconducted for another three years. As of October 2021, there are 45 thematic and 13 country mandates.
In a statement on Wednesday, the experts noted that the lack of transparency and consultation in the exercise to “evict” native people of Ngorongoro has culminated in security forces’ violence against the Maasai Indigenous Peoples who were protecting their ancestral land in the Loliondo Division of Ngorongoro District, in northern Tanzania.
“We are deeply alarmed at reports of [the] use of live ammunition and tear gas by Tanzanian security forces on June 10, 2022, reportedly resulting in about 30 people sustaining minor to serious injuries from live bullets and the death of a police officer,” the experts said.
The incident that has so far received wide-ranging reactions followed authorities’ plan to turn 1,500 square kilometres of 4,000 square kilometres of designated village land comprising the Loliondo Game Controlled Area into a game reserve.
The change would imply evictions from Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo, and Arash villages, which could displace up to 70,000 Indigenous Maasai, although Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said that the exercise aimed at “evicting nobody.”
The decision also came despite a 2018 injunction by the East African Court of Justice and the fact that on June 22 the Court is expected to rule on a legal challenge to the eviction of the Maasai from their land in this area.
On June 7 and June 8, members of Tanzania security forces were deployed to five locations in the area, where they installed tented camps to start demarcating the 1,500 square kilometres.
On June 9, the police placed markers to delineate the game reserve, but local Maasai people removed them and remained overnight to guard the site. When security forces returned at daybreak, they started firing live bullets and lobbed teargas at the Maasai.
“Under such conditions, it seems impossible to guarantee that the relocation of the Maasai from the area will not amount to forced evictions and arbitrary displacement under international law,” noted the UN experts.
The experts said that they are “concerned” at Tanzania’s plans to displace close to 150,000 Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo without their free, prior and informed consent, as required under international human rights law and standards.
“This will cause irreparable harm, and could amount to dispossession, forced eviction and arbitrary displacement prohibited under international law,” the UN experts warned. “It could jeopardize the Maasai’s physical and cultural survival in the name of ‘nature conservation’, safari tourism and trophy hunting, ignoring the relationship that the Maasai have traditionally had with their lands, territories and resources and their stewardship role in protecting biodiversity.”
They want Tanzania to “immediately” halt plans for [the] relocation of the people living in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and begin consultations with the Maasai Indigenous Peoples.
They also urged authorities to demonstrate transparency by accepting requests for external scrutiny, including responding to country visit requests by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.