UN concerned about violence against Maasai people in Tanzania

United Nations (UN) human rights experts have expressed grave concerns about continuous encroachment on traditional Maasai lands and housing and the use of violence by security forces against the Maasai people in Tanzania.

This trend most recently 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.

On 7 and 8 June, around 700 members of security forces were deployed into five locations in the area, where they installed tented camps to start demarcating the 1,500 square kilometres. On 9 June, 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.

“We are deeply alarmed at reports of use of live ammunition and tear gas by Tanzanian security forces on 10 June 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 in a statement released on 15 June.

Another situation has been unfolding in the adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where authorities have reportedly been advancing plans to evict an estimated 80,000 Maasai from their ancestral lands.

Maasai representatives said that there had been no genuine efforts to consult them and that they have learned details of the planned eviction from leaked documents. It was only on 9 February when the National Assembly held a special session discussing the right of the Maasai to live in the area, which has been guaranteed in law since the 1950s.

The Government stated there are no plans to forcibly evict the Maasai but there have been reports of an increased police presence and harassment in Maasai villages, advising locals to “volunteer” for relocation because they would have no choice but to move.

The UN experts said in the statement that 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.

They added that the plans to displace close to 150,000 Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo will cause irreparable harm, and could amount to dispossession, forced eviction and arbitrary displacement prohibited under international law.

“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,” the experts said.

The UN human rights experts called on the Tanzanian Government to immediately halt plans for relocation of the people living in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and begin consultations with the Maasai Indigenous Peoples, including direct contact with the Ngorongoro Pastoral Council, to jointly define current challenges to environmental conservation and best avenues to resolve them, while maintaining a human rights-based approach to conservation.

The experts have previously raised their concerns on this issue with the Government of Tanzania, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and International Council on Monuments and Sites.

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