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The EU-funded WaTER programme supports Kenya's efforts to protect its "Water Towers". The Water Towers are high-elevation forests which serve as natural reservoirs, on which much of Kenya's environment depends for its water supply. This makes their conservation vital for the country's resilience to drought and climate change. However, the programme has faced growing controversy because the Kenya Forest Service, which is one of its project partners, has carried out forcible evictions of communities of indigenous peoples from one of the Water Towers areas. As reported in our press release in January, the programme is currently suspended following the killing of a member of a community of indigenous people during an enforced eviction by the Kenya Forest Service.
The WaTER programme aims to support environmental conservation activities (such as replanting and protection of forests): it doesn't provide funding for policing activities. In that sense, there is no direct linkage between the programme's activities and human rights abuses. Nevertheless, as a committed champion of indigenous peoples' rights, the EU pays close attention to warnings received from human rights organisations and UN rapporteurs that the WaTER programme could encourage the abuse of indigenous people's rights in Kenya. Such warnings have been received intermittently since December 2016, and culminated in a letter-writing campaign by Amnesty International.
As the letter-writing campaign noted, the EU had already suspended its funding for the WaTER programme. That decision was taken not because the eviction was the fault of the programme, but because the eviction was carried out – with fatal consequences – just days after the Delegation had formally warned the Government that the use of force by Kenya Forest Service guards against innocent locals would lead to such a suspension.
Some people are now asking what is being done that might allow the suspension to be lifted. Indeed, in its message launching the campaign, Amnesty International noted that it "fully supports a resumption of the project under conditions that fully guarantee that the human rights of all affected communities will be respected, protected and fulfilled". The answer is that several actions are currently underway:
On the basis of information received from the Kenyan National Commission for Human Rights and the midterm evaluation, the EU Delegation plans to engage with all relevant interlocutors in order to decide about the future of all of the components of the WaTER programme. Update (June): the EU Delegation to Kenya is engaged in confidential discussions with the Government. To put that into context, it should be noted that the Kenya Forest Service is just one of the seventeen Kenyan partner organisations in the programme. The allocations of the programme's €31 million funding are:
The EU's view is that all actions that the programme supports must fully comply with international human rights obligations and must have the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples affected.