NAIROBI, KENYA - Human Rights Watch says Kenyan security agencies have abused and evicted people in Mau forest in an unlawful manner. The rights group said nine people have died, including two children, in the eviction process that began in 2018.
The government maintains that the ongoing evictions are part of a wider effort to reclaim the forest, which is a key source of water and clean air for the country.
Human Rights Watch says that since June 2018, Kenyan wildlife service, police and county security personnel have been evicting families living in the Mau forest, in Kenya's Rift Valley region.
It says some of the evicted were physically abused and died in the process.
Otsieno Namwaya, the rights group's researcher in Kenya, said, "We are talking about nine deaths, not through shooting, but directly related to the eviction, because some were beaten, others were hit with tear gas canisters, others fell while running away and broke their legs, ribs, and later died. Young kids, at least two below 5 years, died in the process of eviction, but that's something we need to look into, not just ignore."
Moving thousands out
The allegation comes a month after Kenyan authorities announced a plan to move about 60,000 people out of the forest to protect it.
The government denies using force to clear out the forest.
"The government has never at any one time evicted people from Mau; the government has never used force to get anybody out of Mau. What has been happening in Mau is a voluntary - people moving out of Mau voluntarily. So when you are saying people have been killed in Mau, nothing can be further from the truth than that," said government spokesman Cyrus Ogunda.
Bernard Sang, leader of the 2018 evictees, says he remembers the day security forces came to the part of the forest he called home.
"This security personnel came on that day [eviction day] abruptly on date 6th and 7th and they started evicting us that day," he said. "We were not given any notice. Several people were beaten, several were injured, several homes were torched. Some people's legs were broken."
Sang is one of 10,000 settlers allegedly evicted from the forest.
In August, the state gave the remaining communities in the forest 60 days to leave.
Sang says that despite the 60-day notice, people are still being forcibly evicted from Mau.
"This government is very serious; they are evicting people now," he said. "They are destroying their homes right now, even [before] the 60 days ultimatum given, they started beating people and destroying their property."
Mau forest covers 400,000 hectares (988,421 acres), which the government has tried to clear of settlers. Some environmentalists believe the human encroachment into forest areas has contributed to repeated droughts in the country.