Maasai herders file appeal against eviction ruling

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Maasai herders file appeal against eviction ruling

Lawyers for Maasai herders who claim the Tanzanian government is trying to evict them from their ancestral land to make way for a luxury game reserve have filed an appeal against a court ruling that dismissed their case.

The lead counsel for the herders and chief executive officer of Pan-African Lawyers Union Palu said on Wednesday that his team had appealed against the verdict of the East African Court of Justice, which campaigners branded as a shocking blow to Indigenous land rights.

In a statement issued by Palu earlier this week, the Maasai communities were said to be discontented and disappointed by the ruling, which disregarded the compelling evidence they presented in court.

The legal battle dates back to 2017 when residents of four Maasai villages in northern Tanzania went to court to try and stop the authorities from 580 sq miles 1,500 sq km of land in Loliondo, bordering the Serengeti national park. More than 70,000 Maasai would be affected by the move if it was carried out.

The government says land is within the park and should be given solely to conservation purposes rather than disrupted by human activity. The herders say the land has been rightfully theirs for generations and accuse the authorities of wanting to create a luxury game reserve run by a UAE-owned company.

They are seeking recourse for the allegedly violent evictions of 2017 that included the burning of their homes and the confiscation of their livestock. The government denies this.

In 2018 the court issued an interim order that stopped evictions but tensions reached a boiling point in June of this year when violent clashes between police and Maasai demonstrators began to demarcate land boundaries.

The court found on Friday that the Maasai had failed to prove they had been evicted from their village land and not from Serengeti itself. The court also found that witnesses who alleged violent evictions failed to show evidence of injury or loss.

The judgment was condemned by campaigners.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, said that the failure of the East African Court of Justice to hold the Tanzanian government accountable for blatantly abusing human rights of the Maasai in Loliondo is a travesty for all indigenous communities on the continent.

Fiore Longo, an indigenous rights advocacy group, said the court gave a strong signal to the international community that evictions and human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples should be tolerated in the name of protecting nature. There was no immediate comment from Tanzania's government.