Thomson Safaris lawsuit (re Maasai in Tanzania)

Masai - photo by Gideon GranvilleOn 3 February 2010, semi nomadic Maasai pastoralists filed a claim in Tanzania against Tanzania Breweries (TB) and Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TC), alleging that the companies forcefully evicted the plaintiffs from their ancestral land, and acquired it without the plaintiffs’ prior consent.  The Soitsambu Village Council filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Maasai in the High Court of Tanzania, Land Division.  TC is a Tanzanian subsidiary of Thomson Safaris, a US-based tourism safari company.  The plaintiffs seek an order recognising their ownership of the disputed land.

Sukenya Farm, where the plaintiffs claim to have lived for generations, was, until recently, part of the Soitsambu Village, which borders with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park.  The plaintiffs claim that the authorities allocated a total of 10,000 acres of land on the Sukenya Farm to TB in 1984, increased to a total of 12,617 acres in 2003, without plaintiffs’ consent.  The plaintiffs argue that because the land was not used by TB for 19 years, in accordance with Tanzanian land law, it had reverted back to common village ownership.  The plaintiffs further claim that in 2006, TB leased the disputed land to TC without consulting with the plaintiffs and without obtaining their consent to do so.  It is alleged that in 2006, TC employees burned, damaged and removed plaintiffs’ homes and possessions from Sukenya Farm.  The plaintiffs charge that they have been subjected to beatings, shootings, harassment, extrajudicial arrests and detention by TC employees and by the local authorities whenever they try to access the grazing and water sources on the farm.  Both TB and TC deny all allegations.  They claim that the allocation of the disputed land to TB and the subsequent lease to TC were done in accordance with the law.  TC also asserts that a 2008 investigation carried out by the Office of the Prime Minister of Tanzania regarding plaintiffs’ claims cleared TC of all charges.  

In August 2010, the plaintiffs asked the court to issue an injunction, barring the defendants from preventing the plaintiffs from grazing cattle on the Sukenya Farm.  The application was dismissed by the court due to a technical error in the pleadings and an amended application was filed in September 2010.  Both defendants contested the interim application, stating that the Soitsambu Village Council had no legal standing to represent the plaintiffs because it no longer governed Sukenya Farm.  In January 2013, the judge upheld the objections of the defendants and dismissed the application (though awarded no costs because the matter had been by frustrated by circumstances).

In respect of the main suit, the defendants raised various preliminary objections in an attempt to get the case dismissed without consideration of the merits.  In one such objection, the defendants argued that the parties, the subject matter and the plaintiffs’ claims were the same as in a previous lawsuit, because in the 1980s a small number of villagers had contested the legality of the land transfer to TB.  In May 2011 the judge ruled in favour of the companies on this claim and dismissed the case.  The plaintiffs appealed and in May 2012 the Court of Appeal found in their favour.  It reversed the lower court’s decision and held that the facts needed to rule on this objection by the defendants could not be determined without consideration of all the evidence.  The matter was therefore sent back to the High Court.  In May 2013, it was dismissed on a similar technical point to that which had resulted in the dismissal of the injunction application. 

New proceedings were filed at the end of June 2013, naming Soitsambu, Sukenya and Mondorosi villages as plaintiffs and joining the local District Council and Commissioner for Lands as additional defendants.  The plaintiffs alleged that the companies conspired with local government authorities to illegally transfer part of the land, and asked the court to revoke the company’s title to the land, to prevent conversion of the land’s designated use of pastoralism to tourism, and to award damages to the community for their displacement.  In October 2015, the High Court denied all of community’s arguments except for the point concerning the illegal transfer of the land.  The Counsel for the Maasai intends to appeal.  

On 26 February 2014, the Soitsambu, Sukenya and Mondorosi villages filed an action in a US federal court against Thomson Safaris, an affiliate of TC, and its owners. The plaintiffs seek to compel the defendants to provide information on the circumstances of the land transfer, which they believe will prove the land was confiscated illegally. The plaintiffs brought the action under a law that allows people to obtain documents and information from individuals or companies in the United States for use in foreign legal proceedings. In April 2014, the court ordered Thomson Safaris and its owners to turn over documents and give sworn testimony about the sale of Sukenya Farm, the alleged home burnings and beatings, and the conversion of the land from Maasai grazing territory to a deluxe private reserve. Under the court order, Thomson Safaris and its owners must turn over all documents by 9 May and give sworn testimony before the end of June 2014.

 

- "MRG deeply disappointed by Arusha Court land rights judgment against Loliondo Maasai", Minority Rights Group, 3 Nov 2015
- "Grabbing land for conservation in Loliondo, Tanzania", Just Conservation, 2 Dec 2012

- "Maasai land conflict in Tanzania sparks online campaign against Thomson Safaris", Tourism Concern, 4 Nov 2012
- "Maasai Pastoralists of Soitsambu Villege, Tanzania asserts their rights to ancestral lands", Michelle Chan, Minority Voices Newsroom, 15 Feb 2011
- "Last Days of the Maasai", Conde Nast Traveler [US], Nov 2010
- "Hunted Down, Maasai evicted so foreigners might play", New Internationalist [UK], Dec 2009,
- [PDF] "Letter to Permanent Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania", UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 13 Mar 2009

- Thomson Safari website: Thomson Safaris Spotlights Good Works in Tanzania
Stop Thomson Safaris [website run by plaintiffs’ supporters]

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Article
3 November 2015

Tanzania: Court dismisses indigenous group's case against companies for forceful & violent eviction to pave way for tourism

Author: Minority Rights Group International (UK)

          "MRG deeply disappointed by Arusha Court land rights judgment against Loliondo Maasai"

A High Court ruling, handed down, against a Maasai community from Northern Tanzania, is deeply disappointing, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG). The land rights case was brought by the indigenous community against a subsidiary of a US-based safari company, and a government parastatal – Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) and Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL) – claiming forceful and violent eviction from their ancestral land in Loliondo.

The land rights case was brought by the indigenous community against a subsidiary of a US-based safari company, and a government parastatal – Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) and Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL) – claiming forceful and violent eviction from their ancestral land in Loliondo.

The Arusha-based Court ruled against the Maasai on all but one point. The community had asked the court to revoke the company’s land title, prevent TCL from converting the land’s designated use from pastoralism to tourism, and award damages for the injuries they have suffered due to their exclusion from the land. They alleged that TCL, together with local Tanzanian police and government officials, had conspired to illegally confiscate their land.

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Article
2 February 2015

New EarthRights International Blog: "New Transnational Strategies in Pursuit of Justice"

Author: Michelle Harrison, EarthRights International

The Business & Human Rights Resource Center’s (BHRRC) latest Annual Briefing confirms what those of us working for corporate accountability already knew:  2014 was bleak for victims of corporate human rights abuse seeking remedies and accountability…But we were pleased to see that BHRRC also recognized a new strategy we’ve developed to support human rights and environmental litigation in other countries by utilizing the liberal discovery rules in the U.S. to obtain vital information. The Foreign Legal Assistance (FLA) Statute…, allows any person with an “interest” in a foreign legal proceeding to request relevant documents and sworn testimony from corporations or individuals in the U.S. to support a case in a foreign court.  ERI has already filed three FLA applications in U.S. courts and developed a guide…about the existence, availability, and potential benefits of this strategy. [refers to Chevron, Thomson Safaris, Newmont Mining]

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Article
26 April 2014

[PDF] Steep Rise in Allegations of Human Rights Abuse as Boom in Investment Brings Hope of Prosperity

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

In a new briefing paper...Business & Human Rights Resource Centre...identifies three key trends in companies’ human rights impacts in the region...Executive Director...Phil Bloomer said: “The threat of the infamous ‘Resource Curse’ hangs heavy over East Africa. Something is very wrong when a boom in inward investment...leads to [a] five-fold leap in allegations of company abuse...The good news is that Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania still enjoy vibrant civil society which demands that this investment benefits the many...and that a small group of companies is trying to show how responsible investment can protect and enhance...human rights..." Joseph Kibugu...principal author of the briefing, said: “The burgeoning discovery of natural resources and the growing multinational investment...is a window of opportunity to transform lives...[Bold] action is needed to ensure investments to contribute to alleviation of endemic poverty rather than compromising the dignity of locals.” [refers to AngloGold Ashanti, Japan Tobacco Intl., Philip Morris Intl., Barrick Gold, Johnson & Johnson, Safaricom, Bedford Biofuels, JPMorgan Chase, Sinovatio, Kaweri Coffee (part of Neumann Kaffee Gruppe), Strategic Friends Intl., British American Tobacco, Kenya Commercial Bank, Tanzania Breweries (part of SABMiller), China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), Kenya Pipeline Company, Thomson Safaris (part of Wineland-Thomson Adventures), DAO Group, MTN, Total, East African Mining/East African Gold, Tullow Oil, Eland Coal, Nevsun Resources, Unilever, Fenxi Mining Industry, Oil Palm Uganda (joint venture Bidco Uganda, Wilmar Intl.), Finfisher, Paladin Energy, ZTE, Gamma Group, PetroChina]

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Article
22 April 2014

Tanzanian Maasai Villagers Win Fight For Information about Land-Grabs and Forced Eviction against Luxury Boston Safari Company

Author: Marissa Vahlsing & Lucy Claridge, EarthRights International

A high-end safari operator must turn over documents and testimony about alleged land-grabbing and violence to the leaders of three Maasai villages in Tanzania, according to an order issued…by a federal magistrate judge in Boston. The villagers…petitioned to receive this evidence in order to support their fight in the Tanzanian courts to recover land that they lost to Thomson Safaris and damages for violent abuses and property destruction…According to the lawsuit in Tanzania, company security guards and police officers burned Maasai homes and beat villagers who tried to gain access to the land…Under the court order, Thomson Safaris and its owners…will turn over documents and give sworn testimony about the sale of Sukenya Farm, the alleged home burnings and beatings, and the conversion of the land from Maasai grazing territory to a deluxe private reserve…

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Article
18 September 2013

[PDF] Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin – Issue 10, Sep 2013

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Welcome to the 10th issue of the Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin. To assist all those following corporate legal accountability issues, we send this bulletin to highlight key developments, new cases profiled on our site, updates to existing profiles, and other news. Our Corporate Legal Accountability Portal is an online information hub providing resources for non-lawyers as well as lawyers – including victims, advocates, NGOs, businesspeople, lawyers bringing lawsuits against companies and lawyers defending companies. The portal provides impartial, concise information about lawsuits against companies in which human rights abuses are alleged – its aim is to demystify these lawsuits. Each case profile includes materials from both the plaintiffs and defendants, to the extent they are available…This bulletin is now available in Spanish and French. [Refers to African Barrick Gold, Alstom, BP, CACI, Chevron, Coca-Cola, COMILOG (part of ERAMET), Daimler, Danzer, Dow Chemical, Drummond, ERAMET, Ford, HudBay Minerals, IBM, KBR, Ledesma, Mercedes-Benz (part of Daimler), Monterrico Metals, Nestlé, PA Child Care, Qosmos, Rio Tinto, Shell, Sinter Metal, SNCF, Texaco (part of Chevron), Thomson Safaris, Total, Union Carbide (part of Dow), Vedanta Resources, Veolia (part of Veolia Environnement), Veolia Environnement, Walmart]

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Lawsuit
17 July 2013

Thomson Safaris lawsuit (re Maasai in Tanzania)

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

On 3February 2010, semi nomadic Maasai pastoralists filed a claim in Tanzania against Tanzania Breweries (TB) and Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TC), alleging that the companies forcefully evicted the plaintiffs from their ancestral land, and acquired it without the plaintiffs’ prior consent.  The Soitsambu Village Council filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Maasai in the High Court of Tanzania, Land Division.  TC is a Tanzanian subsidiary of Thomson safaris, a US-based tourism safari company.  The plaintiffs seek an order recognising their ownership of the disputed land.

Sukenya Farm, where the plaintiffs claim to have lived for generations, was, until recently, part of the Soitsambu Village, which borders with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park.  The plaintiffs claim that the authorities allocated a total of 10,000 acres of land on the Sukenya Farm to TB in 1984, increased to a total of 12,617 acres in 2003, without plaintiffs’ consent.  The plaintiffs argue that because the land was not used by TB for 19 years, in accordance with Tanzanian land law, it had reverted back to common village ownership.  The plaintiffs further claim that in 2006, TB leased the disputed land to TC without consulting with the plaintiffs and without obtaining their consent to do so.  It is alleged that in 2006, TC employees burned, damaged and removed plaintiffs’ homes and possessions from Sukenya Farm.  The plaintiffs charge that they have been subjected to beatings, shootings, harassment, extrajudicial arrests and detention by TC employees and by the local authorities whenever they try to access the grazing and water sources on the farm.  Both TB and TC deny all allegations.  They claim that the allocation of the disputed land to TB and the subsequent lease to TC were done in accordance with the law.  TC also asserts that a 2008 investigation carried out by the Office of the Prime Minister of Tanzania regarding plaintiffs’ claims cleared TC of all charges.  

In August 2010, the plaintiffs asked the court to issue an injunction, barring the defendants from preventing the plaintiffs from grazing cattle on the Sukenya Farm.  The application was dismissed by the court due to a technical error in the pleadings and an amended application was filed in September 2010.  Both defendants contested the interim application, stating that the Soitsambu Village Council had no legal standing to represent the plaintiffs because it no longer governed Sukenya Farm.  In January 2013, the judge upheld the objections of the defendants and dismissed the application (though awarded no costs because the matter had been by frustrated by circumstances).

In respect of the main suit, the defendants raised various preliminary objections in an attempt to get the case dismissed without consideration of the merits.  In one such objection, the defendants argued that the parties, the subject matter and the plaintiffs’ claims were the same as in a previous lawsuit, because in the 1980s a small number of villagers had contested the legality of the land transfer to TB.  In May 2011 the judge ruled in favour of the companies on this claim and dismissed the case.  The plaintiffs appealed and in May 2012 the Court of Appeal found in their favour.  It reversed the lower court’s decision and held that the facts needed to rule on this objection by the defendants could not be determined without consideration of all the evidence.  The matter was therefore sent back to the High Court.  In May 2013 it was dismissed on a similar technical point to that which had resulted in the dismissal of the injunction application. 

New proceedings were filed at the end of June 2013 naming Soitsambu, Sukenya and Mondorosi villages as plaintiffs and joining the local District Council and Commissioner for Lands as additional defendants.  The plaintiffs have indicated they intend to file a renewed injunction application soon.

- "Grabbing land for conservation in Loliondo, Tanzania", Just Conservation, 2 Dec 2012
- "Maasai land conflict in Tanzania sparks online campaign against Thomson Safaris", Tourism Concern, 4 Nov 2012
- "Maasai Pastoralists of Soitsambu Villege, Tanzania asserts their rights to ancestral lands", Michelle Chan, Minority Voices Newsroom, 15 Feb 2011
- "Last Days of the Maasai", Conde Nast Traveler [US], Nov 2010
- "Hunted Down, Maasai evicted so foreigners might play", New Internationalist [UK], Dec 2009,
- [PDF] "Letter to Permanent Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania", UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 13 Mar 2009

-Thomson Safari website: Thomson Safaris Spotlights Good Works in Tanzania
- Stop Thomson Safaris [website run by plaintiffs’ supporters]