On 30th September 2022, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) dismissed a case (Reference No. 10 of 2017) brought against the Tanzanian government by four Maasai villages who sought recourse for violent evictions and burning of homes in Loliondo by the government in 2017. The case which has continued to make headlines, was brought forward after violent government-led evictions in Maasai villages, which border Serengeti National Park (SNP) to the west. Of concern, the evictions of the Maasai from their lands have been encouraged by international conservation organizations, which have always portrayed indigenous communities as a threat to conversation. In it’s judgement, the court determined that the witnesses failed to prove the evictions took place outside Serengeti National Park’s borders, and that testimonies about violent evictions relied on “hearsay.” On the two bases, the Court determined that there was insufficient evidence from the applicants to demonstrate that they were evicted from village land, and not from the Serengeti National Park.

The Court totally paid a blind eye to the illegal arrests, shootings, and displacement suffered by the applicants including women and children; but instead glossed over the compelling multitude of oral and Affidavit evidence tendered by the villagers; and the incontrovertible evidence of the Expert Witness, a respected and accomplished Geo-Spatial Expert, on the mere basis that he was a Kenyan and had not sought a work permit to undertake surveys in Tanzania, which is not true position. Infact, the community was forced to hire another expert after the previous Tanzanian expert whom they had contracted eventually dropped off following continuous intimidation from the state machinery.

The community was evicted from their land in 2017, after which a heavy military presence was deployed in the area to prevent accessibility. Apart from the testimonies, how else did the court expect the community to demonstrate they were evicted from their village lands? What other proof of ownership did the court require beyond the erected beacons?

Noteworthy, the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples declares that indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the UDHR, and international human rights law. The Declaration goes


on to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples to enjoy and practice their cultures and customs, and their religions. In addition, the UN Framework and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, provides a global standard for states and corporates to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses.

When national mechanisms fail, it is expected that independent regional and international mechanisms shall guarantee accountability and justice for all by holding state accountable for violations. However, this decision by the East African Court of Justice sets a dangerous precedent by sanitizing state impunity, and sends a message that governments can trample on human rights without being held accountable. The court’s failure to hold the Tanzania government accountable for gross violations not only throws it's integrity into question; but is also a travesty for all indigenous communities; especially to the more than 30,000 families who have lost their loved ones, property including land, homes and livestock; and still reeling from physical and psychological wounds inflicted on them by the very government that is supposed to protect them. In its decision, and even in its conduct of postponing the judgement on the matter severally raises serious eyebrows on the integrity of the court.

Since its withdrawal from the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in 2019, a human rights crisis that has been building in Tanzania consequently threatening the country’s stability and democracy. Reports by Amnesty International indicate that Tanzania has had the highest number of cases filed against it and judgments ruled against it by the African Court. By September 2019, 28 decisions out of the 70 decisions issued by the court were on Tanzania. Infact the Government of Tanzania was in contempt of court when it further conducted violent evictions in June 2022, despite court ordering it to stop all activities pending judgement on the matter. Recently in September 2022, the European Parliament expressed its grave concerns about the human rights violations in Uganda and Tanzania linked to investments in fossil-fuel projects including the wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders and the eviction of hundreds of people from their land without fair and adequate compensation.

Reports by Oakland institute highlight that the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources has indicated the area occupied by the Maasai has been identified as a potential game reserve which will certainly exacerbate evictions of the already affected community. The Suluhu administration needs to understand that when a government recklessly violates the rights of its citizens, international scrutiny and action is paramount. This growing hostility towards human rights coupled with cynical attempts to evade accountability will not be tolerated. Blatant abuse of human rights cannot be justified in the name of conservation to and to benefit safari companies, such as Boston-based Thomson Safaris and the UAE-based Otterlo Business Company, which runs hunting excursions for the Emirati royal family. This is an outright contravention of the text and spirit of local legislation including Tanzanian Land Act, Village Land Act, Wildlife Conservation Act; as well as regional, and international human rights instruments including the East African Community Treaty, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International


Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination which are all premised on the respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.

We hereby:

  1. DEMAND for IMMEDIATE and UNCONDITIONAL release of the 24 Maasai elders who were arbitrarily arrested in June 2022 and remain illegally detained to date for taking a bold stand to oppose the illegal government evictions.
  2. CALL upon the international community including local, regional and international civil society to join us to exhaust every possible avenue TO HOLD THE TANZANIA GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE.
  3. CALL upon the international community to EXERT MAXIMUM PRESSURE on the relevant companies as well as Tanzanian authorities including imposing ECONOMIC SANCTIONS to guarantee respect and protection of indigenous land rights.
  4. We DEMAND that the government of Tanzania CEASE AND DESIST from any further violations and undertakes to commit to using the best available means to provide reparations to preserve the dignity, culture, and future of the communities affected and to explore alternatives in line with its international and regional treaty obligations.

restrict access to critical resources without providing for equal or better alternatives thus undermining enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms. WE DEMAND that indigenous communities MUST be at the centre of global conversation efforts.