BY SAM ALFAN.
A Kenyan Judge has referred a dispute pitting a community in Lolldlaiga, Nanyuki and the British Army Training in Kenya (Batuk) over a fire incident that destroyed thousands of acres of vegetation for mediation.
Justice Antonina Kossy Bor said in a ruling that although the Environment and Land Court has jurisdiction to determine the dispute, the more than 1,000 residents should have exhausted alternative dispute resolution mechanisms established before moving to court.
The judge directed the case to be handled by the Inter-Governmental Liaison Committee to meet and see whether the dispute can be resolved amicably.
The Judge further ruled that the court has the power to determine the dispute since the British government waived its state of immunity by signing the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), implemented in 2016.
“The court finds that the government of Kenya and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in the Defense Cooperation Agreement dated December 9, 2015, waived diplomatic immunity to the extent of that agreement. This court, therefore, has jurisdiction to deal with the claims made in the petition,” the judge ruled.
The community through the African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action and residents including Kelvin Kubai, John Kiunjuri, Gabriel Ngata, Duncan Kariuki, Alice Gatere and Earnest Ngeera, sued Batuk over the fire incident which destroyed thousands of acres of grassland.
The judge ruled that the Inter-Governmental Liaison Committee will consider, recommend and oversee the resolution of this dispute.
She said if any civil claim against the Visiting Forces will not be resolved, the Committee will refer the claims to mediation and arbitration as stipulated in Article 25 of the Defence Cooperation Agreement.
In her ruling, Justice Bor said the relevant authorities of Kenya and UK governments shall cooperate in the carrying out of all necessary investigations into the claims by the community.
“If the Inter-Governmental Liaison Committee establishes that the visiting Forces, their members, employees or agents are liable for the claims made by the Petitioners, then the relevant authorities of the Government of Kenya shall submit a report to the relevant authorities of the Government of the UK who shall pay prompt and adequate compensation to the Petitioners as provided in Article 11 (3) and (4) and Article 23 (3) of the Defence Cooperation Agreement,” ruled justice Bor.
The judge sitting in Nanyuki said if the fire incident on March 25 last year in Lolldaiga Hills and its surrounding area was started by the negligent acts of the British forces, their members, employees or agents as contended in the petition, the relevant authorities of the both Government shall cooperate in the restoration of the damage caused for the environment.
Lolldaiga Hills Ltd was the owner of LolldaigHills Ranch, a livestock ranch and wildlife conservancy occupying approximately 49,000 acres of land in Laikipia County.
The ranch is home to a wide range of wildlife including rare grevy’s zebras, leopards, wild dogs, elephants and over 400 species of birds and the conservancy.
It is used as a military training ground by British Soldiers, which according to the Petitioners is done under the authority of the commanding officer Batuk and British Army Training Unit.
The residents said on March 25, 2021, while on the training grounds known as Lolldaiga Hills, officers of the British Military caused a huge fire that ravaged more than 10,000 acres of land causing massive damage to flora, fauna and the people living in close proximity to the ranch.
Further, the community said they were forced to flee from the area because howling hot winds continued to blow over the Lolldaiga Hills.
The Petitioners claimed that the British had admitted that the fire occurred during an exercise conducted by the British military