The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights has ruled the Kenyan government had violated the rights and freedoms of the Ogiek hunter-gatherer people by driving them out of their ancestral lands.
The court on Friday ordered the government "to take all appropriate measures within a reasonable time frame to remedy all the violations established and to inform the court of the measures taken within six months from the date of this judgement".
The Ogiek, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer peoples of east Africa, live in the Mau forest complex in the Rift Valley. They alleged that the Kenyan government had violated their rights, including to property, natural resources, religion and culture.
In their decision, the nine judges also asked the representatives of the Ogiek to file their requests for reparations within two months.
Minority Rights Group International, one of the three complainants in the case, hailed the ruling after an eight-year legal battle as a huge victory for the Ogiek and other indigenous communities.
"Crucially the court has recognised that the Ogiek — and therefore many other indigenous peoples in Africa — have a leading role to play as guardians of local ecosystems, and in conserving and protecting land and natural resources, including the Mau Forest," Lucy Claridge, legal director of the London-based group, said in a statement.
"By ruling that through a persistent denial of Ogiek land rights, their religious and associated cultural and hunter-gatherer practices were also violated, the court has sent a crystal clear message to the Kenyan and other African governments that they must respect indigenous peoples' land rights in order to secure their livelihoods and cultures," she added.
Based in Arusha, northern Tanzania, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights was established in 2006. The court has no criminal jurisdiction, but can order a state to pay damages. Its decisions are not subject to appeal.
So far 29 states, including Kenya, have ratified the protocol establishing the court.