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Kenya environmental defenders win landmark $12m court battle

Environmental defenders in Kenya are celebrating a landmark $12m court victory against the government that could pave the way for more legal action against polluters.

In a case that has attracted international attention, a court in Mombasa has awarded the compensation to residents of the shantytown Owino Uhuru for deaths and health impacts from a nearby lead smelter for recycling batteries.

It found the authorities guilty of negligence, the company owners – EPZ and Hezron Awiti’s Penguin Paper and Book Co (no relation to the British publisher) – liable for damages, and ordered a cleanup of the site within four months.

The verdict comes after a four-year legal battle by residents initiated by the activist Phyllis Omido, one of the winners of the 2015 Goldman environmental prize.

Omido has been threatened by thugs, arrested by police and forced into hiding for organising opposition to the smelter, but she has received support from the local community, regional politicians, NGOs and the UN.

The activist said the judgment would make a big difference. “We’re elated. The ruling was very thorough. It will change my people’s lives and improve access to medicines,” said Omido, the founder of the Center for Justice, Governance and Environment Action.

Environment and land activists often risk their lives to campaign against powerful companies, corrupt officials and governments that are more focused on economic growth than health. They have notched up several significant victories in recent years.

In 2018 a South African activist, Nonhle Mbuthuma, who like Omido has featured in the Guardian’s Defenders series, was part of a successful lawsuit against a titanium mine inside Xolobeni community land on the Wild Coast.

This article was published by The Guardian.


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