DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

442 IWGIA – THE INDIGENOUS WORLD – 2014 DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO Indigenous Peoples is the term accepted by the government and civil society org...
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IWGIA – THE INDIGENOUS WORLD – 2014

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO Indigenous Peoples is the term accepted by the government and civil society organisations when referring to the Pygmy people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The government estimates that there are around 600,000 Pygmies in the DRC (1% of the Congolese population), while civil society organisations argue that there are up to 2,000,000 (3% of the population). They live in nomadic and semi-nomadic groups in ten of the country’s eleven provinces and are divided into four main groups: the Bambuti (Mbuti), the Bacwa (Baka), the Batwa (Twa) of the west and the Batwa (Twa) of the east. The life of indigenous peoples in the DRC is closely linked to the forest and its resources: they live from hunting, gathering, collecting and fishing and they treat their illnesses with the help of their pharmacopoeia and medicinal plants. The forest forms the heart of their culture and their living environment. The situation of the indigenous peoples in the DRC is alarming. In the face of external pressure they are increasingly being stripped of their ancestral land and forced to adopt a sedentary life under marginal conditions. This is leading to a weakening of their traditional economy, the irreparable abandonment of their cultural practices and increasing poverty. If their rights as indigenous peoples, as enshrined in international law, are not taken duly into account, pressure from logging and ongoing forest reforms risks diminishing their living space still further, depriving them of the resources on which they depend for their survival and resulting in the disappearance of their culture and their traditional knowledge. There is no law or policy for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in the DRC. However, a draft law on the rights of indigenous peoples has now been developed by civil society organisations in collaboration with parliamentarians. The DRC is a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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Specific law on indigenous peoples in the DRC

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he first draft of the Law on Indigenous Peoples was elaborated in early 2013 by the Parliamentary Group for the Defence and Promotion of the Rights of Indigenous Pygmy Peoples in the DRC (DGPA) and its 43 member organisations. In an effort to open the process up and make it more participatory, the draft law was then sent for comment to several international and regional institutions and experts in order to strengthen it on the basis of regional and international legal instruments. The different observations made were compiled and incorporated into the draft, which was then sent for review to members of parliament, Congolese civil society organisations and other representatives of the country’s institu-

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tions, meeting in a workshop organised for this purpose in Kinshasa in June 2013. Following this crucial stage, in September 2013, civil society actors, MPs and indigenous representatives received training on the methodology to be applied during local consultations with indigenous peoples.

The consultation process on the draft law on indigenous peoples in the DRC The draft law was presented to indigenous community members by means of a process of national consultations in 10 of the 11 provinces of the DRC. The consultations took place in two rounds, the first five provinces (Equateur, Bandundu, Orientale, South Kivu, Katanga) covering a total of 13 villages incorporating indigenous peoples’ settlements (September 2013), followed by the remaining five provinces (North Kivu, Maniema, Kasaï Oriental, Kasaï Occidental and Kinshasa) covering a total of 11 villages (October-November 2013). The aims of this consultation process were to: • Test the draft law in different real-life settings in order to quantify its effectiveness once adopted and promulgated; • Ascertain the specific features of indigenous peoples coming from different provinces of the country in order to incorporate them into the proposal; • Enable MPs who were members of the group to construct their argument on the basis of experience and not hearsay; • Correctly discern the local problems and challenges in order to take them into account in the final proposal for submission to parliament; • Create a solid database that could be used to produce the implementing regulations once the law was adopted and promulgated; • Enable all stakeholders; including provincial edicts, development programmes etc., to clearly understand the local context in which indigenous peoples live in order to adapt future initiatives to it.

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Sub-regional exchange and experience-sharing workshop on indigenous issues between Congo Brazzaville and the DRC In October 2013, the DGPA organised a sub-regional workshop to share the initial findings of the consultations with all national stakeholders in order to usefully inform the second round of consultations. The workshop was also aimed at exchanging information with actors from Congo Brazzaville in order to draw on their experience of indigenous legislation. The workshop furthermore enabled an evaluation of the way in which the indigenous law adopted in Congo Brazzaville in 2011 had been implemented in order to strategically inform the process of drafting implementing regulations in the DRC once the law has been passed by the Head of State.

Indigenous peoples’ Festival in Kinshasa A National Indigenous Peoples’ Festival was held for the first time in December 2013 with the aim of celebrating indigenous culture and mobilising public opinion around indigenous issues by using the festival as a strong advocacy and lobbying tool for the adoption of a specific law on indigenous peoples in the DRC. The festival provided an opportunity for exchanging, discussing, promoting and enhancing knowledge of indigenous peoples and different elements of their culture (dance, song, basketwork, arts). The aims of the festival were to: • Encourage the general public to discover the indigenous world in order to revitalise an indigenous image that has been long tarnished and thrown on the scrapheap of history; • Revive indigenous culture and practices; • Demonstrate the fundamental contribution of indigenous peoples to the sustainable management of forest ecosystems and, consequently, to combatting climate change; • Incorporate indigenous knowledge into the DRC’s national cultural heritage;

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Demonstrate the need and importance of putting specific legislation in place for indigenous peoples in order to put an end to the social injustices they suffer and encourage their responsible integration into Congolese social life, while respecting their free, prior and informed consent. Following all these events in 2013, both national and international public opinion mobilised strongly around indigenous issues in the DRC and it is hoped that this will lead to the adoption and promulgation of a law to improve the living conditions of the indigenous peoples of the country since, despite these positive elements, indigenous rights are still largely ignored.

Armed conflicts and their impact on indigenous peoples 2013 was characterised by multiple ethnic conflicts in which various armed groups continued to violate the rights of indigenous peoples. These groups included, in particular, the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) in North Kivu, the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in south Kivu, Bakatakatanga in Katanga and other unidentified armed groups in Orientale Province. These conflicts have resulted in an atmosphere of desolation within the indigenous community due to the pillaging and arson of their settlements, the rapes of indigenous women, the use of indigenous women and youths as gun bearers for the rebel groups, and the massacres and mass displacements of indigenous peoples.

Access to justice A number of indigenous organisations in the DRC are working to support indigenous peoples to take cases to the country’s courts regarding abuses and violations of their rights. One ongoing case is that of the Kahuzi Biega National Park (PNKB). Some 6,000 indigenous individuals were removed from the park by the government in 1975 without any compensation or relocation measures. The community, supported by an organisation called Environnement, Ressources Naturelles et Développement (ERND), has established a group of 66 indigenous claimants to defend the case in court. The case went before the Kavumu Court in 2009 but this latter declined to exercise jurisdiction, saying it was not competent. The claimants then initiated an appeal through the Bukavu Court of Appeal, which

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also stated that it was not competent to hear the case. In 2013, the ERND, in cooperation with the DGPA, assisted the claimants to take the case to the Supreme Court of Justice, the highest jurisdictional body in the country. Preparatory work is now underway in the hope that the Supreme Court will hear the case in 2014 and issue a final ruling in favour of these people, who have been stripped of their lands and ancestral territories. 

Patrick SAIDI HEMEDI, is a development worker and defender of minority rights in charge of the Planning and External Relations Department of the “Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones de la RDC” (DGPA), Coordinator of “CONGO WATCH”, Technical Advisor on climate issues to the “Réseau des Populations Autochtones et Locales pour la Gestion Durable des Ecosystèmes Forestiers de la République Démocratique du Congo” (REPALEF RDC), and Deputy Editor of the “Revue Africaine des Peuples Autochtones” (RAPA).