Del Monte Case: High Court Confronts Human Rights Violations

The High Court commenced proceedings yesterday on a contentious case involving multinational food giant Del Monte, as it faces accusations of human rights violations and land ownership disputes. Human rights groups, alongside victims of alleged abuses, have filed a lawsuit against the company, highlighting incidents of killings and assaults purportedly occurring within its expansive pineapple plantations spanning Kiambu, Murang’a, and Machakos counties.

In a petition presented before Justice Florence Muchemi at the Thika High Court, security guards employed by the food processor are implicated in orchestrating multiple killings of trespassers and violently attacking others on the pineapple farm premises.

The petitioners, in their court documents, assert that individuals reported missing after trespassing onto Del Monte’s property have been discovered brutally beaten, tortured, and even drowned in dams on the company’s land. They allege that the victims’ bodies were bound with stones to ensure they sank deep into the dams.

Among the respondents listed in the petition are Del Monte Kenya Limited, Fresh Del Monte Produce, the Inspector General of the National Police Service, the Director of Criminal Investigations, and the Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Interior, Security, and Coordination of the National Government.

Additionally, the lawsuit reflects a simmering dispute over land ownership between the multinational corporation and local community members who lay claim to the land as their ancestral home.

The petitioners are seeking compensation for punitive damages inflicted upon the local community and are urging the High Court to declare the actions of the company as violations of human rights, constitutional rights, and environmental laws.

Instances cited in the petition include allegations of Del Monte guards beating thieves to death, drowning them in dams, and dumping their bodies in nearby rivers. Furthermore, the petitioners accuse the company of neglecting to train its security personnel adequately, thereby posing ongoing threats of gross human rights violations.

During the virtual court session, Del Monte Kenya Limited and Fresh Del Monte Produce moved to have the petition dismissed, arguing that the High Court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter and questioning the competence of the petition’s filing.

Fresh Del Monte Produce specifically contended that the court lacked territorial jurisdiction as they are not based in Kenya.

In response, Justice Muchemi directed that the issue of jurisdiction be addressed first. She further instructed lawyers representing both sides to file their replies within 14 days.

Concerns were raised during the virtual hearing regarding the heavy presence of armed police officers obstructing petitioners from accessing the court. In response, Justice Muchemi ordered the High Court’s deputy registrar to investigate the matter and report back to her.

The case is scheduled to be mentioned on March 14, during which the court will review compliance with its directives.

These legal proceedings unfold amidst ongoing police investigations into a disturbing incident where the bodies of four men were discovered in a river near the Del Monte facility on Christmas Eve. A subsequent postmortem report revealed that three of the victims had drowned and exhibited signs of injuries.

In response to media inquiries, Del Monte has asserted its full cooperation with Kenyan authorities’ investigations into the matter, alongside conducting an internal investigation to ascertain further details surrounding the incident.


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